Sixteen female graduates to watch in 2014 | Women's Agenda

Sixteen female graduates to watch in 2014

They’re ambitious, innovative and highly intelligent – and they’re set to soon graduate from their chosen fields of study and launch careers that will inspire and change the world. Below are our 16 female graduates to watch in 2014 who’ll be leading the next generation of female talent in science, medicine, law, business and research. 


Asha de Vos, PhD, University of Western Australia

Marine biologist Asha de Vos has big ambitions to help protect blue whales, the world’s largest animal. It’s a goal that’s seen her work featured on Channel 7 Australia, the BBC and in The New York Times. She’s also appeared as a panellist representing the world’s youth on the United Nations Rio+20 Sustainable Development Dialogues in Rio de Janeiro and has been named a Zonta woman of achievement. Vos is expecting to finish her PhD later this year, before working on her goal to increase the world’s awareness of blue whales and save the whales in the waters around Sri Lanka. She’s also keen on using the blue whale as a species for weaving science and story together to inspire the next generation of marine biologists and ocean protectors.


Cleo Loi, Bachelor of Science, University of Sydney

She’s just 21, but Cleo Loi has already co-authored a number of research papers in three subject areas while studying her undergraduate science degree. She has received recognition from NASA regarding an investigation into a young supernova remnant G306.3-0.9, during which she led a team of researchers at Sydney University, and has also researched other areas such as atom probe microscopy and brain dynamics during her full-time studies. “I want to make an impact in my chosen research field and contribute to the collective knowledge of humanity, whether it be by solving a problem that no one has solved before, answering a question that no one has been able to answer or perhaps even thought to ask before, or discovering something that no one knew existed,” she says.


Dianne Ruka, Engineering PhD, Monash University

Dianne Ruka’s been busy balancing study with a young family, but she’s found plenty of time for some remarkable achievements in engineering. Ruka has published two papers, won the Borland Forum hosted by industry body Materials Australia, and has been named best speaker at Monash University engineering conferences. She is currently working on the next generation of biodegradable materials that could be suitable for medical implants or packaging materials and hopes the research will amount to the actual development of such materials. But, like plenty of women, Ruka’s found balancing two little children with work and study challenging, saying she often feels torn between work and family time.


Edwina Chai, Bachelor of Finance (hons), University of Technology, Sydney

Edwina Chai plans on becoming a leader of a global investment banking firm and/or launching her own major business, and at 21, she is already well on her way. A recipient of Citi’s 2012 women in banking scholarship, Chai’s completed internships at KordaMentha, Macquarie Bank and Citi and has been offered work at RBC Capital Markets. She believes the biggest challenge to her ambition could be competition, given the investment banking industry is full of like-minded, intelligent and driven individuals with an eye on success. “Reaching my goals would mean that I would have to perform above and beyond my peers, which can sometimes prove to be difficult,” she says. Meanwhile, volunteering is important to Chai and something she hopes to continue throughout her career. She’s spent time teaching English in rural China and participating in Project Homeless Connect in Colorado.


Emma Downsborough, Graduate Diploma of Psychology, Charles Sturt University

Having grown up on a farm in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia, Emma Downsborough is passionate about agriculture and making a positive contribution to the local food industry. Combining a science and commerce degree provided the right fit for getting the business of food production right and raising awareness of the need for more effective local branding campaigns. Now studying psychology, Downsborough hopes she can also work on changing the stigma associated with mental health problems in rural Australia. “I’d really like to make a difference to rural and regional communities through actively promoting mental health services,” she says. “I think there is a lack of funding and support for mental health issues in both regional and metropolitan areas.”


Erin Nugent, Bachelor of Physiotherapy, University of Newcastle

Erin Nugent’s not yet sure which area of physiotherapy she’ll specialise in, but knows she wants to spend time travelling in order to get experience in as many different areas as she can and continually learn about the best possible treatments for patients. Already, Nugent’s carried out some significant research into the field, having developed her own method of investigating isokinetic leg strength, where the same tension is maintained as muscles shorten or lengthen. “Ultimately, I would love to run a private practice that actively works in the community to promote healthy lifestyles, and develop programs to educate adults and kids about the importance of physical activity, proper nutrition and health in general,” she says.


Jacqueline Savage , Bachelor of Engineering (product design), Swinburne University of Technology

Jacqueline Savage looks set to achieve her aim of contributing to society through the creation of useful and meaningful products, having already designed and engineered an interactive knee model for Johnson & Johnson Medical, which was showcased at the Australian Orthopaedic Association exhibition last year. She believes a focus on user-centred design will assist in her developing medical products to provide a holistic approach to patient care, and ultimately to developing products that make a difference. In an industry that’s still heavily male-dominated, Savage also hopes she can pave a way for strong women through great product innovation and continually building on her own designs. “Finding the balance between knowing that you can always do better and knowing when something has reached a level that any further work will not yield results is crucial,” she says.


Jessica Skelton, Molecular Biology (hons), Murdoch University

With plans to further establish herself as an academic in biomedical research and to eventually complete a PhD, Skelton is currently developing a project investigating the role of dietary iron in the development of colorectal cancer. Her latest study builds on an eclectic mix, having already completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Forensic Science (Courtroom Practice) and Postgraduate Certificate in Business Administration – receiving a University Medal and two Vice Chancellor’s Commendations in the process. “My mother has always told me that I can achieve any goal I set for myself as long as I am prepared to put in the work,” Skelton says. “I haven’t always believed her, but her unwavering faith in me has always been enough to propel me forward until self-belief kicks in.”


Lauren Nisbet, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of surgery/PhD, Monash University

Studying to become both a clinical and academic doctor, Lauren Nisbet has already presented her research on sleep disorders at international conferences and has been published in peer-reviewed journals. She won the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Section Investigator Award for Childhood Sleep Disorders and Development in Boston last year, as well as the New Investigator Award at the Australasian Sleep Association Annual Scientific Meeting in Sydney in 2011. Nisbet’s discovery that young children with sleep-disordered breathing have not yet developed adverse cardiovascular effects has featured on ABC Radio National and, earlier this year, she travelled to Michigan to investigate the sleep traits of children with Down Syndrome. “Health is inextricably linked to quality of life,” she tells Women’s Agenda. “I chose to study medicine and to undertake higher degree research because I knew that it would not only challenge and develop me both personally and professionally, but also offer a career in which I could positively impact other’s lives.”


Madelaine Willcock, Doctor of Philosophy (Volcanology), Monash University

Madelaine Willcock’s research into caldera, bowl-shaped depressions that can remain after a volcano erupts, has seen her present at international workshops and conferences and put her on track for a career that will help bring a greater understanding of Earth and all its processes to the general community. Willcock’s work on little-studied caldera has already contributed to a wider area of knowledge on super-eruption processes and has been accepted for publication by the Royal Society London. “Geoscience enables us to better understand the Earth we all live on, which is very important as we are all affected by geologic processes to some degree,” she says of her chosen field of study. “This has been highlighted in recent years by natural hazards, such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Such hazards and their potential impact on society and the natural world emphasise the need for continued support of the geosciences.”


Tessa Henwood-Mitchell, Social Work and International Relations, University of South Australia

Tessa Henwood-Mitchell was inspired to study social work following a volunteering trip to South Africa and Kenya after finishing high school. Since then she’s spent time in an orphanage in Bolivia and established Tia International Aid as a result of her frustration with the lack of opportunities and support available to the children she worked with. Now with more than 60 volunteers in its fundraising team, TIA has installed a water system, created a music program for the visually impaired and developed a transition centre for those in orphanages to aid them in becoming independent young adults. She says she’s chosen this field after learning the value of human connection in Africa. “I learned that communities in developing countries were not what the media paints them to be – ‘desolate’, ‘sad’, ‘lacking hope’ – but they are quite the opposite, full of joy, optimism and generosity,” she says. Henwood-Mitchell wants to see TIA expand further, internationally.


Tshibanda (Gracia) Ngoy, Bachelor of Communication and Media Studies /Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Wollongong

Tshibanda Ngoy is a refugee advocate, caseworker for refugee families, youth motivational speaker and tutor who shares her own experiences fleeing conflict in Congo with her family when she was 10 years old to connect with refugees. Having long-held ambitions to become a journalist – a field she believes she can use to advocate against social injustices – Ngoy can also see herself eventually holding an executive position in a global humanitarian organisation. Meanwhile, Ngoy has plans to engage in more direct development work: “I hope to build 10 all-girl high schools in developing countries that will provide women with the opportunity to study and get empowered because in many countries in the world, education for women is still a luxury in the 21st century,” she tells Women’s Agenda. Ngoy published her first book, A Little Recipe for Success, last year and has seen her community contributions recognised by being awarded NSW Young Volunteer of the Year, Wollongong Young Citizen of the Year, Australia’s Young People’s Human Rights Medal and receiving the Outstanding Leaders Award by the African Australia Inc.


Nimesha Fernando, PhD, University of Melbourne

Nimesha Fernando has faced two challenges while completing her PhD: juggling work with being a new mum and undertaking her research in English, a second language. But despite these challenges, Fernando has published an award-winning paper exploring the effects of rising carbon-dioxide levels on the nutritional properties of grain, and will soon complete her PhD on the effect of elevated atmospheric C02 concentration on wheat grain quality. She hopes to make a significant contribution to the environment throughout her career, with ambitions to become a senior scientist in the field.


Willo Grosse, Doctor of Philosophy in Nanobionics, University of Wollongong

Inspired by the invention of the cochlear ear implant, Willo Grosse hopes to assist epilepsy sufferers through her PhD research into the design of a sophisticated bionic drug delivery device for epilepsy treatment. While there are plenty of anti-epileptic drugs available, their side effects can be debilitating, and Groose is adamant there must be a better way to help the quality of life of epilepsy suffers. She says she’ll consider herself successful when she delivers a ‘gadget’ that can improve somebody’s quality of life. “I want to be a mentor and role model for young scientists trying to find their feet because I love working with people and am passionate about innovating quality and useful science,” she says. “Imagine the job satisfaction you would get when you hear that you changed someone’s life!” Grosse is also involved in numerous charity fundraising activities and has proudly completed a number of physical challenges including The Kokoda Trail, climbing Mount Rinjani and a 20km obstacle run Tough Mudder – all of which have helped shape her attitude to work and life.


Laura John, Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws, Monash University

Human rights advocate Laura John hopes to challenge current refugee policies through her legal work, and the timing of her thesis, ‘Breaking the people smugglers’ business model: Does deterrence work?’ couldn’t be better. John has worked with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in New York and non-profit organisation Human Rights First. She’s got big ambitions to not only become a barrister but to also create a stronger, fairer legal system that protects vulnerable community members, and says one of her biggest challenges will be to stay motivated on the issue of refugee protection given its continued politicisation. “My goal is to help build our refugee protection system through onshore processing of all asylum claims and assistance to refugees to resettle in Australia,” she says.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox