What is your current role and how did you get to be there?
I’m a cancer researcher and lead the Gynaecological Cancer Research Group at UNSW Sydney. Our research is focused on ovarian and endometrial cancer, where we aim to develop better detection methods and treatments to improve outcomes for women. Our research is centred on women and focused on the needs of patients and clinicians. My interest in translational research started back in my PhD, which I undertook at the Virology Research Laboratory at Prince of Wales Hospital. Working alongside a busy diagnostic laboratory and coming to the hospital each day contextualised the science for me and inspired me to seek out projects that improved health. .
.My PhD investigated links between viruses and cancer, and during the course of my PhD, I became more drawn to the cancer side. I then headed overseas to learn more about cancer cell biology and signalling, undertaking two postdoctoral fellowships, the first in Toronto, Canada, and the second in Malmö, Sweden. Living and working overseas in a different and dynamic culture was a fantastic learning experience and massively influenced my research and leadership approach. After 5 years overseas I came back to Sydney and set up my lab at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at the end of 2009 and have been there ever since.
How does your work contribute to the field and/or the overall health and wellbeing of the community?
Gynaecological cancers have poor outcomes and remain under-researched compared to other diseases. This results in delayed diagnosis and few treatment options for the women diagnosed with these diseases. As well as our projects focused on therapies and clinical trials, my team has a major focus on the development of an early detection test for ovarian cancer. We’ve partnered with the fashion brand CAMILLA AND MARC to develop the Ovaries. Talk About Them campaign, which has been running for the last 2 years. This partnership has not only helped fundraise for our research but also massively increased our reach and ability to raise awareness around ovarian cancer.
What project would you love to get off the ground, or skill would you develop, if you had the opportunity?
I still think so much needs to be done in raising awareness around women’s health. I’d love to reduce the stigma around women’s reproductive organs, and broaden the conversation around menstruation, gynaecological diseases like endometriosis and PCOS, and menopause. These are such crucial aspects of women’s lives yet are still discussed in hushed tones or with unnecessary shame and embarrassment. I want more open conversation across communities, better education and more money for research into these areas. I would love to develop skills in advocacy and policy to prioritise these issues on the national agenda.
What are your loves outside of work?
Family, friends, beach, books and art! My happiest day would be spent with a morning swim, visiting an art gallery, hanging with my joy-filled 5‑ and 7-year-old kids, catching up with friends and settling down with a great read. I’ve loved being able to connect with other readers and incredible women across STEMM through the STEMMinist Book Club which I founded back in 2018.
What is one piece of advice you could pass onto others following their own career in the health and medical research sector?
Don’t be afraid to forge your own path. Role models are great, but don’t be alarmed if you don’t see anyone quite like you. I spent the early parts of my career feeling like I didn’t fit in and that my interest in books, art, fashion and feminism made me less of a true scientist. I spent too long thinking I needed to ‘fix’ myself to succeed in the system. Focus on your perceived weaknesses and you might make it to average. Build on your strengths and you’ll be extraordinary (and have way more fun)!