Vanessa Peterson Vanessa Peterson

Vanessa Kate Peterson

Neutron Scattering Instrument Scientist and Research Project Leader at the Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering

Honorary Professorial Fellow at the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials at the University of Wollongong, Australia

(Information collected in October 2018)

Your studies? Scientific field?

The research project I lead is focussed on the atomic-level characterisation of materials with the aim to understand the origin of materials function and for over a decade my research has focussed predominantly on materials central to energy systems. I have developed a particular interest in real-time studies of materials function.

Neutron-scattering background?

I started using neutron scattering techniques of analysis at the now decommissioned High Flux Australian Reactor (amongst other facilities) during my PhD in 2000, following which I worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Center for Neutron Research in the USA. I relocated back to Australia in 2007 where I continued to work in neutron scattering until 2007 where I gained a position commissioning the two neutron powder diffractometers at the new Open Pool Australian Light-water (OPAL) facility, which I now co-operate as an instrument scientist.

Step by step to my position?

1995: B. App. Sc. (First Class Honours – Chemistry), University of Technology, Sydney.
1997: Research Officer, Advanced Materials, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology and
Sustainable Technologies Australia.
1998: Honours Research, Materials Division and Accelerator Groups, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.
1998: Research Officer: UNASCO Engineers in High Technology Polymers.
2000: PhD (Awarded May 2004) University of Technology, Sydney and the Australian Neutron Scattering Group.
2003: Assistant Researcher, School of Chemistry, Materials, and Forensic Science, University of Technology, Sydney
2004: Research Associate, University of Maryland working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Center for Neutron Research, USA.
2006: Research Associate, School of Chemistry, The University of Sydney
2007: Neutron Instrument Scientist, Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering.
2010: Principal Research and Neutron Instrument Scientist, Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering.
2016: Honorary Professorial Fellow, Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials, University of Wollongong.

Publications?

I have over 160 research publications with more than 4100 citations, and am first and/or corresponding author for the majority of these. My H index = 35 and I have 12 publications with over 90 citations.

Any difficulties because of your gender?

Casual sexism as perpetuated by gender stereotypes is rife. Once noticed, it can be quite overwhelming, and I have taken the approach of always pointing it out. I find that I have to earn credibility, which is never assumed. For example, I have been mistaken for administrative staff, assumed to have a junior role in teams that I lead, and told by new collaborators “wow, you really do know what you are doing”. There is an onus on women to prove ability, and consequentially I feel they usually have to work harder than men.

Percentage time for your family/ work/ for you?

Before child: 10/80/10
After child: 40/60/0
As my young child grows, this is gaining some rebalance

Who or what is your mentor or greatest inspiration?

Marie Curie and Margaret Elcombe

What is the most challenging thing you have faced in your career?

Self doubt. Starting a family. Being denied deserved co-authorship of a high impact publication. The misnomer that experimental science and instruments produce data where they actually produce knowledge. Our industry’s reliance on metrics that inadequately capture impactful and quality science and the overarching culture that supports this.

One piece of advice you would give to a woman interested in a career in science.

Believe in yourself. Do the right thing both scientifically and by the people you work with. Look after yourself – eat well, exercise, be involved in community.

Contact details

Vanessa Peterson
Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering, Building 87
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
Locked Bag 2001 Kirrawee DC NSW 2232
Australia
vanessa.peterson@ansto.gov.au

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