From ‘Worm Woman’ to science educator. Milada Safarik on aquaculture and encouraging more girls into science


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Originally published on Women’s Agenda, who are profiling women working in agriculture and related fields, with the support of AgriFutures Australia.

Inspired by her father, and tapping into her natural curiosity of marine life, Milada Safarik set out to explore the very unknown aquaculture that was slowly emerging in Australia.

Together, they developed an entire industry from scratch, designing and overseeing the construction of pond farms in order to harvest worms.

It was these early family and career experiences that saw her develop a love for science and made her want to become an educator in the field. These experiences also saw her named “worm woman”, having achieved significant world firsts in marine worm production for the aquaculture industry, and was named the 2003 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award NSW/ ACT Winner, formally RIRDC.

Her love for marine biology has now taken her to the other side of the country and led her to become a dedicated science teacher, with the hopes of encouraging more women to pursue a career in science.

She also shares a love for adrenalin sports, something she’d love to see more women involved in — and teaches kitesurfing on the weekends in Perth.

Below she answers our questions.

How would you describe your key areas of work what you’re aiming to achieve, especially in science education?

I have always been an advocate for sharing knowledge that I am passionate about, and creating an enriching educational experience by enlightening students with the wonders of the world, particularly science, but also for anything I love, e.g. marine environment, the ocean, animals, water sports such as kite surfing and anything else I fall into that makes my world a better place.

I believe in continuous learning, this never ends, and by instilling this notion into my students, I am hoping it motivates them to also be a lifelong learner, we never know everything.

Most importantly, I try to encourage women to pursue careers in science and question the world around us. I also encourage women to step into their passion and follow it, believe in themselves and have enough self-worth to reach for the stars in their life choices. This may look like everything from encouraging my senior students to believe in themselves enough to pursue tertiary education and find their path, to pushing women to try an Adrenalin sport that pushes their boundaries!

In short, my key areas of work are: Inspiring the next generation of curious minds, and learning more along the way.

Is there any key turning point that put you on the path?

My pathway in education has paved the way for how I do things now. I have always had to bend the stereotypes that were thrown at me, and wish I had half the encouragement available today for women in many fields.

The key turning points are many and varied, and I can see clearer as I get older, how these early influences could have easily discouraged me. I want to make sure I never discourage someone in their chosen pathway.

In 2003, you were described as ‘Worm Woman’ by Catalyst, for your science research into marine worms and worm farming. Are you stull pursuing this research and work?

My time as “worm woman” resonates deeply in my heart with my family, I was inspired so much by my father to pursue this dream, that I devoted myself to his passionate plans to create the first marine worm farm in Australia. This was an easy choice and it involved both my heart, mind and my natural curiosity of the world.

Currently, I am slightly diverted from this direct research that I was heavily involved with, although this does not mean this chapter won’t reopen in the future. These days I am developing myself as a science educator and instructional designer, and a busy mum of a toddler!

How can we get more women and girls excited about pursuing a career in science?

Currently, I am involved with senior students in the vocational education sector and can see the work we are doing to inspire science education in these students, who are predominantly women, into pursuing a career in science, when they felt they could not actually get into tertiary education at all.

I am excited to be apart of an alternative pathway for women and students alike, to find their passion and self-confidence to continue their learning journey. This is where the motivation resides, I feel, where these young adults are making a big choice by visualising where they can get to in life. This is the golden time to create that excitement about a career in science, this is were the magic happens! I also encourage students to get out there and volunteer in their dream job, it’s the best way to begin!

Can you share what a ‘day in your life’ looks like for you?

My day is a balance of family life and creating engaging lesson plans for my students. Currently, due to having a 3 year old boy, I am working part time and still working on my science education capacity and developing courses along the way. This balance is important to me at this point in time in my life.

My day begins with an exercise routine at my local beach, then family chores, breakfast and getting Arthur to pre kindy. After this I balance the week with either going into work in Health Science Hub, Perth city, or by spending the day with my boy keeping him busy! Weekends I am on call for wind conditions to teach kitesurfing booked in with Action Sports WA. Afternoons are spent watching the sunset at Scarborough beach.

How did winning an award from Agrifutures help support your work and career?

Winning the 2003 NSW/ ACT RIRDC Rural Women’s Award was fundamental in shining a light onto a very unknown aquaculture emerging in Australia. The first of its kind, it put this science into the limelight and helped to gain recognition with various important processes to occur, including council approvals, and for the next phase to be built.

The award opened many doors to future collaborations and relationships with important stakeholders. The award also gave me the opportunity to travel to Spain and England to meet with other marine polychaete operators and visit future aquaculture facilities. This certainly contributed directly to published work that evolved from my Masters thesis.

This opportunity has led me to become involved in various facets of my marine science career, it gave me propulsion to connect and join research boards that I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to be apart of, and gain job opportunities in various times of my life thereafter. The experience has been incredibly supportive and has enabled me as a woman to get ahead in my career. This is all due to the recognition the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award holds, and the amazing mentors and women that I have met along the way.

This network of women is extremely powerful, supportive and inspirational. I am still on an ever evolving journey, one that will continue well into my later life.

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