The University of Queensland School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Centring Indigenous Knowledge in UQ's Science Curriculum 

Are you eligible for Breaking Barriers Category: Yes


As a Yuggera woman, an undergraduate science student and research assistant in UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, I have been closely involved in and responsible for the design and production of a new course for students studying a Bachelor of Science - ‘Centring Indigenous Knowledge in Science’. The second-year course will be one of the first of its kind, not just at UQ but at universities around the state and country. The information and content within the course are 100% that of Indigenous people – Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Indigenous Scientists and over 90% of these are women. 

With a clear focus on delivering content that privileges Indigenous voices, students undertaking the course will learn about the importance of recognising Traditional Knowledge as science. As well as Core Concept and Cultural Competence modules, I developed and/or am in the process of developing, seven different Traditional Knowledge modules, including agriculture, cultural burning, ecosystems, bushfood, and biomedicine. Each module will outline the major scientific findings of Indigenous Australians, emphasise their societal and cultural significance, and demonstrate the links between Traditional Knowledge and Western understandings of science. The course is set to be available by Semester One, 2023. 

I have also developed and pitched a business venture to UQ – EmpowerHealth, a mentoring and support program for and by Indigenous women in health. In its formative stages, the venture has already promised success and I have been able to uplift the Indigenous women in my circles, to our mutual benefit, and will continue to as I move through my studies, towards medicine. 

BENEFIT – A description of the benefit of your work to Queensland (max 500 words)

The best way to understand the benefits of any project is to identify the key stakeholders. For the ‘Centring Traditional Knowledge in Science’ project, key stakeholders are: students enrolled in Science programs at UQ and staff affiliated with the Science Faculty; Indigenous Queenslanders, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other tertiary (and even secondary) institutions. 

Science students at UQ will directly and immediately benefit from their participation in the ‘Centring Indigenous Knowledge in Science’. Successful students, those who actively participate and pass the course, will be more culturally sensitive, aware, and considerate. They will have a significantly better understanding of the ways Indigenous Australians have used science to their advantage – a major contributor to the fact that Indigenous Australians are the world’s oldest civilisation. Students will see Traditional Knowledge for what it is – meaningful science and be able to contribute to scientific discussions and forums in a way that gives voice to, or even privileges, Indigenous people. They will be better prepared for careers in the science industry and can leverage their learnings to support Indigenous Australians – whether they are students or staff at a tertiary intuition, or an Elder from a rural and remote community. Staff affiliated with the science faculty will benefit in a similar way and will liken the value of Traditional Knowledge and ‘Centring Indigenous Knowledge in Science’ to the value of their own courses, modules and understanding of (usually Western) science. 

In the creation of this course, Indigenous people, most of whom have been women, were given the opportunity to share their knowledge in an academic setting. This makes the course a primarily female and all-Indigenous source of information. The subsequent benefits of hearing from scientists who identify as women and Indigenous will introduce or strengthen students’ understanding of the concept of intersectionality and give them an opportunity to learn from people they may otherwise not listen to. This will hopefully produce a ripple effect as these undergraduates move through their careers and start researching or working themselves. It is hoped they give Indigenous people, especially women, more opportunities to tell their stories, share their experiences and discuss their Traditional Knowledge, with the definite outcome of mutual benefit. With time – and a lot more work, other tertiary education intuitions should notice the effect of the course on students, staff and Indigenous communities and implement similar programs or refer to a possible MOOC adaption of our course.

The final, but perhaps most critical, stakeholders - Indigenous people, particularly women, are at the centre of this course. They will be given more opportunities to share their knowledge in spaces where they are not only listened to, but financially compensated for their time and effort, and legally recognised for their knowledge. UQ will continue to act as one of these spaces, while still recognising that there is always room for improvement. As possibly the very first course of its kind, with a led research assistant and future head tutor who is an Indigenous woman herself, this project is innovative and deserves all the attention it can get. 

ROLE MODEL – Why do you think you are a good role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM? (max 500 words)
The pressures and factors that played into my inner turmoil while deciding what I was to study at university were sometimes unclear, however, what was clear were the reasons I stuck science out. It was the strong women around me – my mother, my grade 8 science teacher and a research fellow at UQ who took me under her wing, among others. These women were hard working, unapologetically themselves and not worried in the slightest what anyone thought about them. I have heard, either first-hand or through stories they have told me, that their work has been scrutinised and ignored. They have been called ‘bossy’, ‘bitchy’, and much more vulgar terms. 

I too have been called some of these things and others, including ‘too young’ or ‘too pretty’. I have been told (numerous times) that I don’t look Aboriginal. Most recently (i.e., March this year!), it was in Public Health tutorial, by someone who wants to be a doctor and service rural communities. I believe it is a mixture of my mentors, my past experiences and who I am as a person that makes me a great role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM, particularly those who are Indigenous. I don’t want Indigenous women to have to explain themselves to others or change who they are to be validated or respected in their cohorts and fields. Indigenous knowledge is science. Indigenous women are powerhouses. I want the academic community, the health community and Australia to know it. 

This is why I have I worked tirelessly to share the knowledge of Indigenous women in the new science course. I want to uplift the Indigenous women in STEM around me – with the added bonus of learning and growing from them. This is why I have also begun the journey to develop EmpowerHealth. I know I am not the only Indigenous woman in STEM who can benefit others, and even benefit themselves in such a program. Knowledge sharing and yarning is a big part of Indigenous culture and oral communication has been the primary transmission mode of information for thousands of years. Simply sharing our stories and lived experiences with each other will open more doors and provide individuals with access to a much wider range of experiences and opportunities in STEM and the health industry. 

I am comfortable sharing my lived experiences – with mental illness, trauma, academic life, social life, and everything in between. I have done this in various forums, including at Queensland Health’s annual state senate (2020) and UQ’s International women’s day panel event (2022). This takes both integrity and honesty, not everyone is willing to share their bad experiences and the times they have failed. I think my ability to be the rawest and truest version of myself is my greatest attribute and one of the reasons I think I am a good role model. I believe I am a perfectly imperfect example of how to be a woman in STEM – I am true to myself, supportive of my peers, particularly those that are female, and love what I do. These are things I want to continue sharing with women and girls aspiring to or currently working in STEM.
ENGAGEMENT – Describe any STEM promotion or engagement activities that you have undertaken, including both scientific and non-scientific audiences, particularly with women and girls (maximum 500 words)

The primary STEM promotion/ engagement activity I have undertaken is my work towards developing the new course for UQ Science - Centring Indigenous Knowledge in Science’, however, I have been involved in a range of activities, from representing my all girls boarding school at a UQ STEM competition as a 12-year-old, to writing a chapter on Traditional Knowledge for a book UQ is publishing nearly ten years later. 
Within UQ, I am an ITAR tutor (Indigenous Tutoring and Retention) and provide direct assistance to Indigenous students (all of whom have been women) studying biomedical and psychological sciences. The courses include second-year statistics, second-year learning and cognition and second-year biomedical anatomy. The program is focused on providing academic and more general assistance to students, to increase the number of Indigenous students who finish a degree once started. As a tutor, I feel I go above and beyond, not only by tutoring them in the assigned course/s but by promoting opportunities at UQ and beyond, particularly those pertaining to STEM. It is so rewarding to be able to help someone achieve their full potential, especially when you were in their shoes no more than a few years ago. 

I am fortunate enough to be a CareerTrackers intern (i.e., Indigenous internship program) and have been given countless opportunities by them to work and learn in various relevant fields. To show my gratitude, I have been a volunteer mentor for CareerTrackers for most of my time with them and have been on various industry panels for their high school program, usually taking the role as a keynote speaker. As a STEM representative, I have shared my experiences in STEM with Indigenous students, the majority of which are young women and girls. These events can range from 1 hr to a 1 week and have given numerous Indigenous students the opportunity to understand the opportunities a career or education in STEM can provide.  

I have also worked with Health Consumers Queensland (HCQ), Children by Choice and The Children’s Hospital Foundation to improve the delivery and promotion of health services to Indigenous communities and other at-risk demographics. At HCQ, I have been a part of their Youth Reference group as a mental health consumer representative and the First Nations COVID-19 rapid response team. This work has directly contributed to Queensland Health’s approach to delivering health services. For Children by Choice, I facilitated a yarning circle with Indigenous women to discuss Unplanned pregnancy and the various options available to women within Australia’s healthcare system. 

I believe that health, including mental health, is often overlooked in terms of STEM and are better encapsulated by the more-recent acronym STEMM (addition of Medicine, which includes health sciences). The science underlying healthcare is obvious. What is less obvious is the ways in which we can and should change the delivery of science, to make sure all people can equitably reap the rewards. Women and Indigenous people, all around the world, have historically been ignored and not considered in the development and delivery of health and more generally, science. As a result, I believe my work towards giving autonomy and agency to vulnerable groups, by improving health services, is worthy of being considered STEM promotion and engagement. 

As I have mentioned, I am also venturing into the business world and hope to launch EmpowerHealth in the coming months. This program is the epitome of STEM promotion and engagement. It will begin with high school-based information events and yarns, where Indigenous girls and young women can understand the opportunities available to them in the health industry – including, but not limited to, scholarships, application and interview support, alternative pathways, peer and industry mentors, etc. For tertiary students, the program will be peer-supported, and all participants will be respected as individuals, with the power to make meaningful change in the health system.  Support in community doesn’t stop at a certain point, instead it is lifelong – support from Empower Health will be lifelong too.