Q&A with Dr Samantha Grover, Superstar of STEM

August 20th, 2019

Soil scientist and Exploring Soils author Dr Sam Grover shares her experience so far of being part of a national program designed to increase the visibility of women in science.
Sam Grover holding microphone standing in crowd

Samantha attended the “Science Meets Parliament” conference at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra last year. (Photo: Mark Graham, Science & Technology Australia)

Last year Dr Samantha Grover, soil scientist and author of children’s book Exploring Soils, was accepted into Superstars of STEM (external link), a program run by Science & Technology Australia with the aim to smash society’s gender assumptions about scientists and increase the public visibility of women in science, technology, engineering and maths fields. Half a year into the program, we decided to touch base with Samantha to find out more about this incredible experience.

How were you chosen to be part of the Superstars of STEM program?

The short answer is: I applied. The more interesting answer is: hundreds of women apply to be part of Superstars of STEM every year. I was devastated when I wasn’t successful in my first application. Meeting the inaugural Superstars at the 2018 Science Meets Parliament, and seeing their rise to fame over the year was awe-inspiring. I put aside my pride and asked for help from three of the 2018 Superstars and applied to the program a second time. I put my whole self into my application: a two minute video, five short answer questions including one about my biggest professional mistake and a CV – revealing more of my personal life than any previous grant application. Asking for help, taking advice and being brave enough to put my whole self on display paid off. I was super excited when I heard the good news, and feel doubly lucky as the 2019 program runs over two years.

What sort of activities have you been doing as part of the program?

We have had two workshops so far, in Melbourne and Sydney. We have learnt about and practised public speaking, personal brands, strategic use of social media for scientists and much more. From the first workshop I was inspired to apply to speak at TEDxPerth, and have been accepted to talk about soil science in September (external link). At the Superstars of STEM International Women’s Day Breakfast the Melbourne cohort shared our “moonshot” ideas with Dr Amanda Caples, Victoria’s Lead Scientist and I met up with her afterwards to discuss soils in Victoria. Earlier this week I met my incredible Superstars of STEM Mentor Sarah Browne, who will work with me over the next 18 months. Now I am writing a media release for our upcoming workshop on media training. Later in the year we will be taking part in Science Meets Parliament and we have another couple of training workshops to look forward to. Next year our public speaking to high school and other audiences will take prominence as we apply what we have learnt this year.

Sam Grover outside holding up had covered in soil

Samantha is passionate about sharing her research with diverse audiences to created real change in society. (Photo: David Tatnall)

What has been the highlight so far, or what are you looking forward to before the program ends?

The amazing women scientists both in the program with me and delivering the program have definitely been my highlight. Emma Johnson spent the morning with us in Sydney – wow, what an inspiration. So successful yet so down to earth. As a soil scientist, I don’t have many female role models ahead of me, successfully combining parenting and research. The breath of disciplines encompassed by the Superstars participants enables me to see how things can be different.

How do you think being a Superstar will benefit your career beyond the program?

The skills and networks that I develop as part of the Superstars of STEM program will continue to support me for the rest of my (hopefully long and successful!) career. As I develop my confidence and connections to speak about soil and science to a wider audience, I hope to inspire children and adults, parents in the supermarket and politicians in Parliament House to think about soil every day, to remember the connections between how we grow food and our climate as they chose bread to buy and policies to support. Science and soils affect everyone, every day and the Superstars program is helping me to learn how best to share that important message.

What advice do you have to young aspiring Superstars, such as the readers of Exploring Soils?

Follow your interests, read and explore and study what most appeals to you. Don’t worry about where it might lead or how exactly you will make a job out of it. If you focus on what you are interested in, then you will put your best effort into it and make it a success. People often say to me “Soil? That’s pretty weird/niche/specialised!” But everything they ate today probably came from the soil, and there are more than 1000 soil scientists in Australia alone. If you are lucky enough to find something you are really interested in, you can become a Superstar too.

Book cover with illustration of soil and text

Samantha’s children’s book, Exploring Soils

Inspired by sharing her work as a soil scientist with her young sons, Samantha wrote her first picture book Exploring Soils, which takes readers to an underground world filled with activity and discoveries.

Exploring Soils went on to be a ‘Notable Book’ in the 2018 CBCA Eve Pownall Award for Information Books and shortlisted for 2018 Wilderness Society’s Annual Environment Award for Children’s Literature.

Find out more about this book or order it on our website.