We are handing over our blog to women working in the health and medical research field so they can share their personal and professional stories with us. This is a way to get to know other Franklin Women, learn about different health and medical research related careers (not just academia!) and promote the great contributions women make to the health and medical research field every single day! We will also use our blog as a way to share with you other important tit-bits as they come our way.
To see posts made by each of the authors, click on their name from the list to the left.
Meet Gill Stannard, naturopath, mentor, cancer survivor and advocate. Read on to learn more about her role as a healthcare consumer collaborating with researchers to improve outcomes for women with ovarian cancer.
What is your current role and how did you get to be there? I’m a cancer advocate and consumer in research. As the Survivors Teaching Students (STS) program run by the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG) so eloquently puts it, I gained a ‘Personal history of Disease’ when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013. I’m currently working with three research teams as a consumer, am a member of Consumer Advisory Panel of the Translational Cancer Research Network (TCRN), an STS presenter and a consumer advisor for the Cancer Council NSW Cancer Research Division internal ovarian cancer research program.
I’ve always had a passion for health and moved to Australia in the late 1980s to study naturopathy, graduating with the freshly minted Diploma of Applied Science and a passion for research. Having an ability to understand medical research isn’t necessary as a consumer, but I find it incredibly useful. Prior to naturopathy I gained a political science degree, worked as a research assistant on the Australian Veterans Health Studies into the effects of Agent Orange and at the Anti-Cancer Council in Victoria (as it was previously known).
How does your work contribute to the field and/or the overall health and wellbeing of the community? It’s deeply satisfying to know that sharing my experience of ovarian cancer may ultimately improve outcomes for other women with this disease. As a consumer, my involvement is to bring a greater understanding of how proposed research will impact patients. For example, after sharing my experience of chemotherapy with one researcher, they changed the slant of their grant application. I’ve visited labs, attended team meetings and edited a lot of plain English research summaries.
While most of this work is with individual research teams, one aspect of our work on the TCRN Consumer Advisory Panel is to run a number of workshops every year with TCRN members. These are a bit like speed dating, with scientists and clinicians having 15 minutes to pitch their research to a small group of panel members. We provide feedback about their proposal with fresh eyes. I usually come away from those days exhausted but inspired!
What is a project you would love to get off the ground or a skill you would like to develop, if you had the opportunity? Just one? I’ve got a pretty big wish list! I would love to be involved with researchers investigating less toxic and more effective first-line treatments for ovarian cancer. The current chemotherapy regime hasn’t changed in the past 30 years and still eventually fails at least 70% of women who undergo it. While there are some promising projects focused on disease recurrence, we’ve got to find a more effective and less debilitating initial response.
Involvement in the STS program, sharing our stories with clinical groups and allied health students, goes part of the way to raising greater clinical awareness of ovarian cancer. But there’s scope for research into why most women present multiple times to their doctor before being referred for investigations. Creating effective strategies for earlier detection can save lives now.
And of course, as a naturopath, I’d like to see greater collaboration between CAM practitioners and oncology teams to help our patients minimise the side effects of, and improve recovery from, invasive cancer treatments.
What are your loves outside of work? Meeting interesting people, sharing food and exploring nature. I love travel and am always planning my next adventure (which was supposed to be Scandinavia!). As an ex–food blogger, I’m a bit obsessed about cooking, eating and growing veggies.
What is one piece of advice you could pass onto others following their own career in the health and medical research sector? Get to know yourself. I mentor complementary health practitioners and my biggest advice is to always be authentic. Life’s too short to follow a career shaped by other people’s expectations. Your gut doesn’t lie, it tells you when you’re straying off course. Listen! Be brave, follow your passions and carve your own path. We need more mavericks.
Meet Fontaine Foxworth, Product Manager at Google. She is passionate about building ‘humane technology’ and, when not building software, is talking about feelings, hosting philosophy nights, salsa dancing or sailing on Sydney Harbour. Below she talks about her career and why she believes EI > AI.
What is your current role and how did you get to be there? I'm a Product Manager at Google – that means I work with a team of software engineers to prioritise and build new features for various software products at Google. Currently I'm working on Blogger, though I've also worked on Google Maps and Google Analytics. Before coming to Google, I worked at an eCommerce site called ModCloth – kind of similar to The Iconic, but in the United States. I studied Civil Engineering (fun fact: I used to work on a construction site!), but I took a computer science course at the end of my degree, and discovered what I really loved was building things with technology, not concrete. I love how quickly we learn, and ultimately how you can apply a computer-science way of thinking to almost any problem you encounter. Most things I've learned about technology have been from the job, not from the classroom. I always find that it's not what you know, it's how fast you can learn. This is a fast-moving industry, and I love how many fields I've gotten to learn about while in it.
How does your work contribute to the field and/or the overall health and wellbeing of the community? Tech deeply shapes how we communicate and learn as human beings, so when I think about ‘the community’, I think about the society we live in. I have a lot of fears and anxieties about what tech has done to people's ability to communicate and connect (online bullying or social media loneliness are great examples), so I always try to bring mental health and emotional impact of products into the discussion. Looking at mental health or the ethics of what we build isn't part of the traditional job description, but I think it's important nonetheless. One of the communities I've been partnering with over the last year is the Center for Humane Technology, a non-profit addressing the harmful extractive attention economy by inspiring a new race to build humane technology that aligns with humanity.
What is a project you would love to get off the ground or a skill you would like to develop, if you had the opportunity? I want to teach more people emotional literacy skills! I think emotional literacy is at the crux of a lot of challenges we are dealing with as a society today, and I am constantly looking for opportunities for people to develop and exercise these skills. Among these might be active listening, presenting with confidence, naming emotions, social awareness, empathy, etc.
What are your loves outside of work? I am a big sailor, salsa dancer and reader! One of my favourite things to do is ask people, "what are you reading?" It's a great way to learn about who they are and what they value.
What is one piece of advice you could pass onto others following their own career in the health and medical research sector? Get to know yourself. In a world where computers are starting to know us better than we know ourselves, self-knowledge may become the real differentiator in work and life. You can get to know yourself in a million ways – which one will you choose.
Meet Simran Kaur, a PhD student researching Rett syndrome at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and recipient of our Round 2 2019 Carer’s Travel Scholarship (congratulations!). Below she talks about her career and how this scholarship has helped its progression:
Tell us about your current role and how you got to be there? I was all prepared to be an engineer when I tasted a bit of biology flavour from one of our family friends; so Bachelor of ‘Engineering’ in ‘Biotechnology’ (from Panjab University, India) was the best bet for me! I then went on to complete two master’s degrees. Later I was welcomed by Prof Kathryn North and the late Dr Nigel Clarke to work with them at the Institute of Neuroscience and Muscle Research. They provided a very supportive environment that matured me into a confident researcher.
Currently, I am (hopefully!) in the last stage of my PhD studies at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. My constant desire to be involved in research, support and blessings from my parents, and constant guidance from other researchers have helped me a lot to continue my studies. There was a lot of social pressure before and after marriage, but I only remembered my parents saying “Just keep going and never look back”.
How does your work contribute to the health and wellbeing of the community? My work is currently focused on Rett syndrome (RTT) which is a severe brain disorder that affects 1 in 10,000 girls and even fewer boys. My work involves a combination of genomics and functional genomic techniques to identify and functionally validate the identified causative gene(s) in RTT patients. As an RTT researcher, I feel blessed to work towards finding the causative gene in these genetically diagnosed cases so as to end their long arduous diagnostic odyssey and pave the way to future specific therapeutics.
Congratulations! You were a recipient of the Franklin Women Carer’s Travel Scholarship! Could you tell us a bit more about what that meant for you, your family and/or your career? For some (including myself), life changes a lot after marriage and becoming a parent, especially when you are a student and there is not much help around. Despite all the odds, I was determined to pursue my PhD and take care of my son along the way. But suddenly, when he turned 1, he constantly suffered from extreme breathing problems such that we would turn up in hospital after every 3–4 weeks, including a visit to the intensive care unit. So during the first 3 years of my PhD, I focused on only attending local conferences. But then I got this amazing opportunity to present a poster at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) in Houston, USA. I was also keen to visit my supportive collaborators at the University of Michigan and University of Washington.
The real challenge was to manage the care of my son. It would be challenging for his health to travel to the USA with me, so my husband would have to take unpaid leave from work to take care of our son, which would have been financially challenging for us.
I am so thankful for the support of the Franklin Women Carer’s Travel Scholarship that allowed me to focus on the conference and lab visits instead of juggling with day-to-day finances.
What advice do you have for other women in the sector who are juggling primary caring responsibilities with international conference participation? (besides applying for the FW Carer’s Travel Scholarship of course!): “Where there is a will, there is a way”. The other options that you can try are:
- Make a budget and keep an eye on conference travel schemes way ahead of time
- Check if your institute/university has a conference carer’s travel scheme
- Speak with your supervisors to see if they could help
- I reached out to the sales representatives of companies that we usually get our bulk products from to see if they would be interested to contribute towards small expenses
- I also checked our city council community to see if there was any support for travelling mothers
- Approach philanthropic communities
But I strongly feel that we need more institute-wide carer scholarships to help struggling parents to pursue their dreams while taking care of their loved ones. Franklin Women has initiated this effort but other organisations should also join hands as well.
Do you have any side interests or passions that you are looking to develop? I am very keen to develop my skills in leadership and science communication along with volunteer teaching
Meet Rachel Mudge! Rachel is Head of Research Partnerships at Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. She is also mum to two boisterous boys and enjoys weekends full of their sporting commitments, sewing, and squeezing in the odd social event of her own with and without her husband.
What is your training in the health or medical science field? My formal qualifications are a Bachelor of Science (Hons) and a PhD from The University of Melbourne. My PhD was in breast cancer metastasis to bone, in the lab doing molecular and cellular biology and preclinical models at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research (SVI) in Melbourne. My husband and I then chose where in the world we wanted to live and looked for opportunities in Paris. I was very lucky to work at the Institut Curie, a big cancer hospital and research institute, on cancer metastasis for nearly 3 years, then returned to SVI.
Tell us about your current role and how you got to be there? I’m Head of Research Partnerships at Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. It’s a fantastic, interesting role that combines lots of the skills and knowledge that I’ve picked up over the years. I’m thrilled to still be involved in medical research and using the expertise I gained as a research scientist, 10 years after I left the lab.
I started in grants administration after leaving benchwork and having had two boys. That grew into a management role including grants management and research integrity and governance. I even did a year as Fundraising Manager, promoting the amazing medical research at SVI to supporters.
It was time for a change though and after about 6 months off, my current role came along at exactly the right time. It was a perfect fit for me, I don’t think I could have dreamed it up, so it pays to be open to the opportunities that arise.
What is one of your favourite projects you are currently working on? I’m excited to be establishing the National Endometriosis Clinical and Scientific Trials (NECST) Network. Having had a colourful personal gynaecological and obstetric history myself, including endometriosis and adenomyosis, I have a great personal interest in helping to coordinate the fantastic research around Australia to benefit women with endometriosis. It has been a greatly underfunded area of research, and it’s exciting that new funding of $9 million for research through the MRFF was announced following on from the National Action Plan for Endometriosis recommendations.
What are some of the major ‘outputs’ from your work? This year we have established a Jean Hailes for Women’s Health Travel Fellowship program and I have the joy of strategically choosing institutions and researchers to benefit. In turn, we are able to access their expertise for our communications and to disseminate their results to women and health professionals. This will culminate each year in a Jean Hailes Women’s Health Symposium bringing together the fellows, their supervisors, and other researchers and clinicians with an interest in women’s health, which should qualify as a major output!
How do you think your work contributes to the field and/or the overall health of the community? Jean Hailes is doing fantastic things for the health of Australian women. We are inspired by Dr Jean Hailes herself who said, “If a woman is in good health, her family, community and the society around her also benefit.”
Our website is full of evidence-based articles and information on a broad variety of issues, and includes information for health professionals and an anxiety portal. Whoops, feels like I’m spruiking for us now, but you should check it out! Being a part of raising awareness for women’s health and promoting collaborations amongst researchers is motivating and rewarding.
Who do you collaborate with and how did those work relationships come about? I have an exciting long list of collaborations as befits my role in research partnerships. We have been approached to be a partner on NHMRC Partnership Grants or Centres for Research Excellence in some cases, and in others we have approached institutions or researchers to work with us. We have great relationships with The George Institute of Global Health, Monash University, the Women’s Hospital, University of Queensland, other research institutes and the Heart Foundation – just some examples of the variety of collaborations.
Do you have any side interests or passions that you are looking to develop? Women’s health has long been an interest so I’m happy to be developing this passion. I’m also keen to learn more about leadership and enjoy encouraging women in science to find a flexible career path to suit them!
What food have you eaten too much of in your life? Can I say red wine?! Otherwise it’d be cheese, which usually involves the red wine too...
Meet Professor Jenny Martin! The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) at the University of Wollongong. She is an avid blogger and a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion in science and was one of the founding drivers of the Science and Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative in Australia. She will be the guest speaker at our upcoming event In Conversation with Jenny Martin.
What is your training in the health or medical science field? Pharmacy, including a Bachelor degree, Masters and a PhD in protein crystallography.
What is your current role and what previous key roles have you held in your career journey? I am currently Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) at the University of Wollongong, and previously Director of the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (Griffith University) and ARC Laureate Research Fellow (University of Queensland).
What is one of your favourite projects that you have worked on? DsbA, a bacterial enzyme, has been my constant companion since my postdoc days in Rockefeller Uni, NY; that was more than 25 years ago!
What was one of your most memorable collaborations and how did those relationships come about? About 10 years ago, a collaboration with Defence Science and Technology in the UK came about when their scientists discovered that knocking out DsbA from a bacteria they were investigating rendered the bacteria harmless. The scientists contacted me to see if I would like to collaborate. It so happened that at the time I was on sabbatical in the UK, and simply had to drive down the M34 to meet with them. The collaboration continues to this day. Timing is everything.
What about your career are you most looking forward to sharing with the Franklin Women audience during the upcoming In Conversation event? My shadow CV, which includes the aspects of a track record not usually included in a CV because they weren’t successful.
Do you have any side interests or passions that you are currently working on? Walking, baking, pilates, catching up with friends and family, the arts/theatre, searching the world for the ultimate cream tea.
What one piece of advice would you offer a woman following a career in the health and medical research sector? Carve your own path.
What food have you eaten too much of in your life? Vitamin C (chocolate)
Meet Harriet Swearman!! PhD candidate with the University of Sydney and the newest member of the Franklin Women Peer Advisory Group (Student Representative). Learn about her role at FW, her research into fertility, and her love of travelling and the great outdoors (definitely a lot more fun in the Australian climate than her native UK!):
What is your training in the health or medical science field? I completed my undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh in 2009, and a Masters in Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ART) shortly after. Since then I have trained in clinics in the UK and Sydney and am a fully qualified Clinical Embryologist (the person who sits behind those giant microscopes and injects sperm into oocytes to make babies!). In parallel to my Embryologist role, I am currently in the 3rd year of my PhD through the University of Sydney.
What is your role with Franklin Women, and what motivated you to join? My role within Franklin Women is to make sure the student population is represented. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to join FW as Women in STEM is something I feel very strongly about. However, importantly in my role as Student Representative, I think it is vital to help students in research degrees understand their options on graduating and how to navigate their way into industry. FW offers a unique platform through which we can help bridge this gap.
What is one of your favourite projects you are currently working on? As part of my PhD, I have had the amazing opportunity to work closely with some of our patients at the fertility centre on a clinical trial. I have been involved in the end-to-end process for this, including writing and securing our ethics license, devising the trial protocol, and recruitment. It has been an invaluable learning curve, and encouraged me to consider more broadly potential roles in industry clinical trial management on completion of my PhD.
What are some of the major ‘outputs’ from your work? The nature of my work is heavily translational, working very closely with patients, which means I can see the direct benefits of the research being put into practice clinically - through the clinical trial we are trying to improve the fertilization rates for patients undergoing IVF. Besides the human trial, I am also involved in studies using animal models – more specifically, we are looking into the effect of the laboratory environment on organelles inside the oocyte and how this may impact the result of an IVF cycle. As part of this, we have shown the impact of changing pH on the meiotic spindle inside mouse oocytes. The next piece of work will be to understand what the effect of this change to the spindle has on the embryo which is created once the egg is fertilized.
How do you think your work contributes to the health of the community? The impact of our work has a direct effect on those individuals undergoing fertility assisting treatment. The field has broadened significantly in recent years with the introduction of newer sequencing techniques to test embryos in a bid to combat genetic disease, and perhaps more controversially, the potential to edit the genome and remove faulty sequences. It’s an area of clinical science whereby ethical consideration already plays a key part, and will increasingly continue to do so given the wide implications on the community.
Do you have any side interests or passions that you are looking to develop? I am a bit of a keen cyclist – a few years ago I took part in Ride Across Britain and cycled from John O’Groats in Scotland to Lands End in Devon, 1580km in 9 days! I loved it and am keen to explore a bit more of Australia by bike (that’s if I can persuade my husband to Lycra-up and join me)…
What food have you eaten too much of in your life? CHEESE... any cheese with a nice glass of red wine – perfection!
Meet Dr Erin McGillick! A NHMRC Early Career Research Fellow focussed on investigating the effect of pregnancy complications on fetal lung development and identifying ways to improve the transition from fetal to newborn life.
What is your training in the health or medical science field? I’m a very proud Adelaidean, completing both my undergraduate and postgraduate study at the University of South Australia. I trained as a medical scientist, completing my Bachelor of Laboratory Medicine in 2012. During my honours year, I focussed on investigating the effect of pregnancy complications on fetal lung development, particularly understanding how preterm birth, maternal obesity and maternal diabetes affects lung development at the molecular level. A field of research I continued in to complete my PhD (2012-2016). As part of my PhD research, I also had the amazing opportunity to work at the University of Cambridge to gain a greater understanding of the effects of severity and timing of chronic hypoxia during pregnancy on lung development.
What is your role and how did you get to be a research fellow at The Ritchie Centre? Upon completion of my PhD in 2016, I was recruited to The Ritchie Centre (Hudson Institute of Medical Research and Monash University) in Melbourne, which is Australia’s leading perinatal research centre. During my honours and PhD, I had closely followed the fascinating research being undertaken in The Ritchie Centre and I had established networks with their researchers while attending conferences, so it was the perfect fit to expand my research focus as a postdoctoral fellow. In my current position, I’m able to bring together a strong background in molecular, structural and functional aspects of fetal and newborn physiology to identify mechanisms and interventions to improve the transition from fetal to newborn life. My research is currently supported by a NHMRC Early Career Fellowship.
What is one of your favourite projects you are currently working on? An absolute highlight of my research is synchrotron imaging studies both in Australia and Japan. The synchrotron accelerates electrons close to the speed of light, producing X-rays one million times brighter than the sun, which allows us to see what is happening in the lungs from the first breath in our pre-clinical models. The knowledge from these studies can then inform clinical trials to improve outcomes for newborn babies. This work will also progress to a clinical trial to implement interventions in the delivery room to reduce the risk of babies developing this condition, which I am very excited to be a part of!
What are some of the major ‘outputs’ from your work? I have published 21 peer reviewed articles on factors regulating normal and abnormal fetal lung development, maternal diseases affecting the newborn and understanding factors regulating the transition from fetal to newborn life.
I absolutely love science communication and getting the opportunity to share my research with others. I have had the opportunity to present my research at over 50 occasions, at national and international conferences, which has given me the chance to travel internationally to the UK, Italy, USA and Canada. One of the most rewarding experiences was having the opportunity to run a delivery room audit workshop integrating my knowledge of fetal/newborn physiology with observations from the delivery room during my time working in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Who do you collaborate with and how did those work relationships come about?I am very fortunate to work as part of a large multidisciplinary team. My studies involve national and international physiologists, physicists, synchrotron scientists and clinicians. This ensures that we are researching and generating the necessary findings to address the most critical issues in perinatal medicine and that these findings can be translated back into clinical studies to improve newborn outcomes. I absolutely love the diversity and that there is always something to learn or a different way to think about a problem! The biggest highlight to date was having the opportunity to gain international clinical research experience with collaborators working on a clinical trial at a neonatal intensive care unit in the Netherlands. This study was based on some findings from my group’s synchrotron imaging studies to improve the transition to spontaneous breathing in the delivery room in premature newborns. During this time, I was incredibly privileged to attend births and work as part of a team caring for the most vulnerable babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Do you have any side interests or passions that you are looking to develop? I am passionate about sharing the wonders of science and physiology with others through science communication in any way possible. I particularly enjoyed engaging with the general public as a science curator at ‘The Amazing Bodies’ anatomy and physiology exhibition. I was fortunate to take part in the Fresh Science program where I won a prize for best science communication by limerick at a public engagement event. I am also focussing on expanding my leadership training, as I work towards establishing myself as an independent researcher in perinatal medicine.
What food have you eaten too much of in your life? Chocolate…I highly recommend Haigh’s truffles and mint peppermint frogs!
Meet Gal Winter Ziv! Microbiologist and course coordinator for the Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences at the University of New England. She believes that education is everywhere and owes much of her biomedical knowledge to binge watching medical TV shows. Gal will also be presenting at Soapbox Science in Sydney in August (you can read more about this event in our recent June newsletter edition)
What is your training in the health or medical science field? I have always been fascinated with food and nutrition so I enrolled in a bachelor degree in food science and biochemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Through that I discovered the world of microorganisms and the major role that they play in food preparations and in our bodies. I continued my studies in the field of molecular microbiology and completed a Masters in Food Science and Biochemistry. I then moved to Australia to commence a PhD on wine microbiology at the Australian Wine Research Institute and followed that with a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Queensland focusing on microbial biotechnology. A few years after, I changed my focus and use my expertise towards biomedical research at the University of New England (UNE) – one of the most satisfying career moves I’ve made!
Tell us about your current role? I am a lecturer in the biomedical discipline and a course coordinator for the Bachelor of Biomedical Science at UNE. I also run a research program looking into the gut microbiome and its connection with the brain. Transferring from a biotechnological background to a biomedical discipline was a steep learning curve; however, I found that with a strong scientific background, tons of motivation and a very pressing list of deadlines, everything is possible!
What is one of your favourite projects you are currently working on? That’s an easy one – understanding the role of the gut microbiome in the development and treatment of mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety. It still amazes me that microorganisms can be related to such mental processes. This is something that not too long ago we would have never conceived as logical and all of a sudden, it is common knowledge. I’m excited to contribute to this understanding and look forward to new developments in the field.
Who do you collaborate with and how did those work relationships come about? I collaborate with colleagues from UNE that specialise in different areas to mine, mainly neurobiology, psychology and immunology. Together we complement each other, which creates an awesome working environment! Outside UNE I collaborate with a bioinformatics expert in Europe that I’ve met through a mutual colleague. Always happy to create new collaborations – it brings out the best of both worlds.
Do you have any side interest or passions that you are looking to develop? Hmmmm…Professionally I’d like to develop more leadership skills and science communication. On the personal front, I’d like to have more time to do absolutely nothing ‘productive’ and just BE with my family. I was at a meditation workshop the other day and they asked us to visualise our idea of a ‘perfect day’. I realised then that my perfect day had nothing special about it, no exotic vacation or amazing experience. It was just about being at home at ease with my family…I find that life is getting too busy and I’d like to pursue the art of doing nothing!!
What food have you eaten too much of in your life? There are two foods I’m absolutely obsessed with – tomatoes and dark chocolate! I have been obsessed with tomatoes since I was a child and probably eat a few kg per week…raw, cooked, large, small – I eat them all :). My challenge is to combine chocolate and tomatoes in one dish. I’ve had multiple attempts and they were all pretty disgusting!
Meet Dr Sarah Best, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, who talks on her career to date and the experience of winning the Griffith University Discovery Award in the 2018 Research Australia Awards! Quintessentially Melbournian, she is passionate about a good coffee and brunch. Applications for the 2019 Research Australia Awards are open until July 5 – what are you waiting for?
What is your training in the health or medical science field? This could be a really long-winded answer so I’ll keep it simple: BSc(Hons), PhD (Medical research).
Tell us about your current role and how you got to be there? I am a Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI). It’s a bit of a circular story really, because I was a PhD student at the WEHI too. My research focuses on epithelial tumour biology, so I’m interested in cancers that arise in solid organs, their genetics and their cell-of-origin. My PhD research was in breast cancer, then I moved to the USA and worked on non-melanoma skin cancer. When I looked to come back to Australia, it made the most sense for me to come back to the same Division at WEHI, where the research focuses on epithelial cancers and cells-of-origin. I was really fortunate to get a postdoctoral position with Dr Kate Sutherland to investigate lung cancer. All the experience working in these different organs has helped form the way I investigate the lung today, so it’s a really nice perspective to come from.
What is one of your favourite projects you are currently working on? I research an aggressive type of lung cancer that currently has no effective therapy. That sounds pretty grim, but it means that every time I identify a new way to treat this type of lung cancer, it can have a real impact for patients. The road from ‘bench to bedside’ is long, but being part of the initial research that can eventually help people is amazing.
Who do you collaborate with and how did those work relationships come about? I collaborate with a lot of people! There are plenty of cliffs in my expertise that need to be bridged by collaborators who can help me keep my research cutting-edge, clinically relevant and well-informed. That means I work with a lot of other researchers and clinicians. It’s important to share that all of my research has been performed not just by myself, but by teams of people contributing their expertise.
Tell us about your experience of winning a Research Australia Health and Medical Research Award last year, and what impact this may have had on your career? It was such an honour to be nominated for the Griffith University Discovery Award last year, let alone to win the award! To be selected in the top two finalists and invited to the awards dinner was just fantastic – I got to bring my lab mates with me and we had such a fun night. Winning the award has definitely helped to publicise my research, and reach out to the broader community. I think importantly it plays a role in validating my research and will always be a key factor in my CV. I find it hard to avoid feeling imposter syndrome, especially as a basic research scientist. The other finalist was doing outstanding research for the community, and as a clinician he was directly impacting the lives of patients. Imposter syndrome can often hold us back from applying for awards, and allowing ourselves to enjoy them if we are successful. So I think it’s important to listen to those around us when we’re encouraged to apply for these opportunities, and to allow ourselves to be proud of our achievements.
Why would you recommend women of your career stage to nominate themselves, or their colleagues, for awards such as this? Since winning the Griffith University Discovery Award (for early career researchers, within 5 years of PhD completion), I have slipped out of the early career bracket. This is such an insidious event, moving from early- to mid-career postdoc. I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that I finished my PhD! I would definitely recommend women to nominate for this award – I know the feeling that if you wait until next year, maybe there is another discovery/publication before nominating for awards such as this. But really, something else is always around the corner and time keeps moving forward! So you have to jump on every opportunity that comes your way.
Do you have any side interests or passions that you are looking to develop? I always have a long list of interests that I would like to spend time on and develop. I have a half-finished letter to the editor, a pile of New Scientistmagazines to read, and I would like to take a course on Indigenous medicines. Good thing I can organise my time at work, because I’m a bit hopeless at home!
What food have you eaten too much of in your life? I am an absolute lover of mushrooms. I would happily have them every day and have even turned an old housemate into a mushroom-hater from all the exposure!
Meet one of the presenters at next month’s Women and Heart Disease Forum, Principal Research Fellow (Lifestyle Medicine and Rehabilitation) and Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow at the School of Medicine, Deakin University. She writes on her career journey straddling mental health and heart health, and working with her passions
What is your training in the health or medical science field? My background is psychology and public health and I am also a trained Family Violence Practitioner.
Tell us about your current role and how you got to be there? This week, I launched the Heart and Mind Research (HaMR) group, of which I am Director, and commenced my co-appointment as Deputy Director of the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in Geelong.
For almost 15 years, I have been researching the link between mental and cardiovascular health, now sometimes referred to as psycho-cardiology. After doing my PhD at Monash University, and an NHMRC ECF at Deakin and Stanford University, I returned home and commenced a Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowship at the University of Melbourne where I was for 5 years. A big part of my work is investigating the role that lifestyle plays in the onset and outcomes of depression and cardiovascular disease (CVD), both respectively, in relation to each other and when they co-occur.
What is one of your favourite projects you are currently working on? An interesting part of my new position at Deakin will be working with world experts in lifestyle medicine, particularly in psychiatry, like Professor Felice Jacka (President of the International Society of Nutritional Psychiatric Research and founder of the sub-discipline of nutritional psychiatry) and Professor Michael Berk (Director of the new NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence for the Development of Innovative Therapies in Psychiatry). We will be applying what we know works and doesn’t work in cardiac rehabilitation and other areas of chronic disease management to the management of common mental disorders like depression. CVD and depression share many risk factors and pathways that are affected by the way we live, so it makes sense to address both in a uniform way. The idea is that if we can prevent the depression occurring in the first place, we will prevent or at least delay the onset of CVD. That’s how intricately mental and physical health are linked.
What are some of the major ‘outputs’ of your work? About 5 years ago, my team and I showed that Australian women with clinical depression have double the risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the following 18 years compared with women without. This is a really important finding because many people – both clinicians and patients – don’t recognise poor mental health as being associated with poor cardiovascular health. The good news is that Medicare now subsidises GPs to check a patient’s blood pressure, cholesterol, lifestyle factors, smoking status and family history to estimate their risk of a heart attack in the next 5 years. This is a great time for GPs to ask their patients about their mental health in the context of their cardiovascular risk, or for patients to flag any concerns with their GPs, so that they can get help managing their mental and physical health at the same time. This work really kicked off my interest in gender (as a social construct) and sex (as a biological variable) as determinants of cardiovascular health. I’ll be speaking about mental and cardiovascular health in women at the upcoming NSW Heart Foundation and George Institute’s Women and Heart Disease Forum on June 19.
How do you think your work contributes to the field and/or the overall health of the community? I hope in two ways. I’ve always straddled psychiatry/mental health and cardiology/chronic disease management, so while sometimes I feel like a fish out of water, I also feel like I can approach things from a different perspective. Being able to contribute to improving the cardiovascular health of people with mental illness, and the mental health of people with cardiovascular disease, is a real passion. I have family members who are affected by both conditions and every day I try and think about them and others who are managing these chronic diseases. Second, as a woman in science – and a privileged one at that – I somehow feel that it is my duty to provide professional opportunities and support to not just other women but those who are less fortunate than I. I guess I try and apply a social justice lens to both my research and mentoring.
Who do you collaborate with and how did those work relationships come about? I look to collaborate with others in the field who show ethical leadership, integrity in their science and people management, and who are just nice and fun people! – Professor Jacka and Berk being two of them. And very talented early career researchers like Anna Scovelle and Emma Thomas, who are emerging stars in public health, are others.
Do you have any side interests or passions that you are looking to develop? I am extremely passionate about improving diversity and equity in science and more broadly across society. We still have a very long way to go, even in public health where it is assumed that because there are large numbers of women these issues are less pronounced than in male-dominated sectors. It is just not the case, from my experience or from what the data show –, which is, of course, why I love the work of Franklin Women!
What food have you eaten too much of in your life? Chocolate. I have a terrible sweet tooth. I’m best to avoid having it in the house at all