Inspiring and developing women in science

Dr Jodi Sita Deputy Head of the School of Behavioural and Health Sciences (Melbourne) reflects on the wonderful contributions of women in science at ACU:

International Women’s Day was held on Monday this week and I hope everyone celebrated its 46th year. As a woman who has grown up and been educated through that time, I am so thankful to the women who came before me, for those who fought for change, and for those who inspired and led the way.

Working in the health sciences, I am particularly drawn to take stock of our women in science and their achievements – of those who push the boundaries to lead change in the world, and the many women across our faculty who fit that bill.

It’s not possible to call out all these women, so her is a snapshot. Their research is driven by core aspects of ACU’s mission: the pursuit of knowledge, the dignity of the human person and for the common good. I am in awe and humbled by these amazing women who are leading cutting-edge research with worldwide impact, as well as mentoring and inspiring the next generation of women and scientists.

  • Ms Simeon Dale, Clinical Research Fellow at the Nursing Research Institute, has been the trial manager of a 15-year program of research at ACU that started with a seminal trial and has resulted in an intervention introduced across all 36 stroke units in NSW and, internationally, into 58 hospitals in 17 European countries.
  • Associate Professor Laura Miller, from the School of Allied Health, is passionate about childhood disability and development and recently was successful in her third ENVISAGE grant.
  • Dr Francesca Fernandez, from Biomedical Sciences, teaches in the field of neuroscience and works in the areas of migraine, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis. Through her research and her teaching, she is building new understandings and inspiring a new generation of scientists.
  • Dr Valentina Lorenzetti Deputy Director of the Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre, conducts research focusing on mapping brain, cognitive and mental health outcomes in addiction.
  • Professor Shona Halson, Deputy Director of the SPRINT Research Centre, was named as one of Exercise and Sport Science Australia’s three female leaders on International Women’s Day 2019. Her research focuses on the important areas of recovery, fatigue and sleep.
  • Professor Janet Mooney, a Yuin woman from the South Coast of NSW, is a passionate researcher in the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education who has dedicated her career to improving educational outcomes for Aboriginal people.
  • Professor Sandy Middleton, Director of the Nursing Research Institute, has won multiple national and international awards for her research around stroke. She was the lead investigator on the landmark NHMRC-funded QASC cluster trial, which demonstrated decreased death and dependency following implementation of nurse-initiated protocols to manage fever, hyperglycaemia and swallowing post-stroke.
  • Professor Ester Cerin, from the Mary Mackillop Institute for Health Research, is leading the Institute’s Behaviour, Environment and Cognition Research Program focused on the nexus of the built environment, physical activity, and cognitive and mental health.
Showcasing great work

Each year ACU hosts a high-profile seminar series in high performance sport. This year, ACU announced on International Women’s Day that it is putting together a special edition: the Women in High Performance Sport Seminar Series. A fantastic array of amazing women will speak on their research at this midyear online event.

Building a strong future

ACU has much to celebrate but there is always more to learn and more to strive for.

In the Faculty of Health Sciences, the Associate Dean Research’s Office is pursuing a three-step strategic initiative that aims to promote research opportunities for staff.

We are kickstarting that program this week with a workshop that will unpack and discuss one of the main issues impacting many women: planning for and returning from a career break. This leads to a larger initiative around flattening those roadblocks. Second, we are undertaking a benchmarking exercise across the higher education sector to determine how workload can be allocated to help staff returning from a career break to restart their research careers. Third, we are designing a structured and formal mentoring program that aims to scaffold and support researchers.

Each of these activities will help inform and strengthen research capacity for staff. These measures will have a demonstrable impact on the capacity of women in our faculty to continue to push the boundaries in science.

Dr Jodi Sita
Deputy Head of School, School of Behavioural and Health Sciences (Melbourne)

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