“With a career in science, it’s extremely rare that you get to dress up and attend red carpet events,” says Dr Dharmica Mistry, reflecting on last year’s awards when she was recognised in the Science category for her groundbreaking work in breast cancer research. “I had the most fabulous night, and I got to meet some truly inspirational women who I have looked up to over the years.”
No doubt many women in that room would have returned the sentiment. The 32-year-old microbiologist is responsible for revolutionising how the disease—which strikes one in eight Australian women—is diagnosed. While studying the link between breast cancer and hair, she found that sufferers of the disease have alterations in the levels of phospholipids in their bloodstream, meaning a simple blood test could reveal the cancer’s presence. The next step is commercialising her research to “bring it to life”—her goal is for the tests to be rolled out globally so all women have access to the technology.
Since her win, Mistry has used her platform to spread the word about the limitless potential of careers for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). “The entertainment and fashion industry have lots of visible role models, but young women need to see the full landscape and be inspired to do whatever their heart desires.” As someone who “challenges the scientific stereotype”, Mistry speaks of the passion and perseverance needed to make her mark in a male-dominated field, and the way her multicultural upbringing has shaped her. “Telling my story is important in demonstrating that no matter who you are [or] where you come from, you can set out to do all you aspire to do.”
On failure... “When I was young and first starting my career, I was so hell-bent on getting it right every time and not making mistakes. [But] the scars from your failures will be the things that truly help you grow.”
The ultimate woman of style... “Ellen DeGeneres had to overcome so many obstacles in a time when her ‘style’ was unacceptable. She was defiant and stayed true to who she was, and, as a result, became an inspiration for so many.”