In conversation with Vaishnavi Muddam

Vaishnavi Muddam

Hi Vaishnavi, thanks for chatting with us!

What sparked your interest in wanting to explore STEM as a field of study?

I recently heard a mathematician define mathematics as the study of anything that can be made precise. I have always been drawn to the logical nature of mathematics and its ability to explain the universe in such a complex yet beautiful language. The extension and application of this language is physics. My interest in mathematics and physics stemmed from these fundamental ideas, and I began grasping opportunities to explore this further.

One of the most life-changing experiences was attending the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) Year 12 Program in 2021. Hearing from leading scientific researchers, Nobel Laureates, including Professor Brian Schmidt and Professor Barry Marshall, and industry professionals, my eyes were opened to how STEM disciplines are at the core of what we accomplish as a human race. I was fortunate enough to return as part of the Student Staff team for NYSF 2022. By facilitating parts of the program and encouraging the next group of Year 12 students and future STEM leaders to pursue their interest in STEM, my own passion was further enriched.

Being a part of the Girl Power in STEM with the University of Melbourne from 2018 to 2021 was another pivotal experience. I gained great insight on the scope of opportunities in the academic setting of STEM for women, the applications of fundamental maths and physics concepts to wider disciplines and the significance of female leadership in STEM in diversifying thought.

Where do you hope your STEM journey might take you?

In NYSF 2022, I heard Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Cathy Foley speak about how STEM disciplines allow one scientist to influence many through their work. I am passionate about mathematics, physics, and astrophysics, and I hope to contribute to advancing society using the available resources and environment through scientific research. I am a first-year student, studying the Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours) – Science at The Australian National University, focusing on mathematics and physics, which will allow me to pursue scientific research even in my undergraduate study. I hope that encompassing diverse abilities and perspectives is at the core of my endeavours in my STEM journey. Ultimately, for me to aid in deciphering the coded beauty of the universe would be a privilege.

Who are some of your STEM role models?

Advocating for equality in society calls for individuals looking up to role models and raising their voices to make a change. I had the opportunity to hear from Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, a leading astrophysicist, and the Women in STEM Ambassador in Australia, in NYSF 2021. With only 20% of physicists being female, she pioneered her way into promoting an inclusive and positive environment, not focused on gender but on what each individual contributes. Female representation in STEM fields has grown significantly, yet a massive gap remains. And Professor Harvey-Smith’s words that stuck with me were, “We need all the greatest minds and perspectives solving the problems faced by our world and society,” and the beginning of this is women empowerment in STEM.

Could you share 2 or 3 recommended reads or podcasts that you think would be of interest to others interested in STEM?

Hannah Fry’s ‘Hello World’ is an excellent introduction to science books. She explores the mathematics of algorithms impacting human life in every facet. One must look no further than Dr Karl for some fantastic science, so I recommend the podcasts ‘Science with Dr Karl’ and ‘Great Moments in Science’. And of course, if you enjoy science fiction, ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams is a classic!

What would you say to other girls and young women considering a STEM journey?

A little bit of curiosity can take you a long way – that is the beauty of STEM. I am only at the beginning of my journey, but all I would say is find those things in science that challenge you and keep questioning, keep exploring and above all, keep loving science. American astronaut Mae Jemison said, “It's your place in the world; it's your life. Go on and do all you can with it and make it the life you want to live.” With every young woman pursuing a STEM discipline, we add to the pool of knowledge that connects every individual and promotes autonomy and freedom. And above all, it advances an inclusive and well-diversified atmosphere, fostering growth, innovation, and progress.