Publication Details

Carey, J. L. (2012). "What's a nice girl like you doing with a Nobel Prize?" Elizabeth Blackburn, "Australia's first women Nobel Laureate and women's scientific leadership. In R. Francis, P. Grimshaw and A. Standish (Eds.), Seizing the Initiative : Australian Women Leaders in Politics, Workplaces and Communities (pp. 271-289). University of Melbourne: eScholarship Research Centre.

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Seizing the Initiative

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ISBN: 9780734047977


In 2009 Elizabeth Blackburn (along with two of her American colleagues) won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, confirming her position as a global scientific leader. She was immediately celebrated as Australia’s first woman Nobel laureate. However, although 2009 was a ‘bumper’ year for women Nobel laureates, with five winners in total, the media coverage soon became highly negative and discouraging. Much discussion focused not on Blackburn’s scientific work but on her gender – the difficulties it was assumed she must have faced individually as a woman scientist, and her wider leadership role in encouraging and supporting other women to overcome these obstacles. In this chapter I suggest the continuing highly negative ways the possibilities for women’s participation and leadership in science are discussed are counterproductive. Journalistic, policy and scholarly discussions of the ‘problem’ of women in science misconstrue the extent of women’s participation in the field and the nature of their experiences. In all these spheres, science continues to be understood and represented as an unhappy place for women to be. This misrepresentation, I argue, undercuts the leadership roles women scientists are seeking.