Scholarship keeps on giving

Image of Professor David Celermajer

“There is a particular stage in every doctor’s career when they are at a crossroads,” says Professor David Celermajer. “You’re in your mid-20s, you’ve done some training, some clinical work, and been exposed to an amazing mentor. You wonder what your place in the world is going to be.
“Will I be able to work in the teaching hospitals environment that my role models are working in, the place I have spent so much time with them?” The pathway is daunting, and there is a lot of uncertainty.

“That was why the Sir Zelman Cowen scholarship was a key moment in my career – because it happened so early,” says Celermajer, now Scandrett Professor of Cardiology at Sydney and a trustee of the (Zelman Cowen) foundation for the past eight years.

The Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In its earliest days, the fund raised money and distributed small grants to individual scientists from the University of Sydney and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, while also building a larger body of funds for distribution to the two universities.

In 1990, a medical research fellowship was established and Celermajer was the inaugural recipient for his research project on Pulmonary Vascular Disease at the Hospital for Sick Children in London during 1991. Although the scholarship was initially for one year, the British Heart Foundation chimed in with additional funding, enabling him to spend nearly four years studying in London.

“The fellowship gave me an environment to undertake high quality research and an insight into ways of managing research that you can’t do here,” he says. There was another, less visible benefit. “This was at an age that you might want to get married and start a family. There are financial pressures to stay in Australia and take a high-paying job here, especially if the alternative is a poorly-funded job overseas.”

Professor Celermajer has strong views about the long-term benefits of such scholarships. “Fellowships hothouse potential. Without them, people like me might go into community or suburban cardiology. There’s nothing wrong with that but this provided a window to a different career trajectory.”

The Fund continues to support a wide range of research initiatives for the two universities, from laboratories to grants, student and academic exchanges. The grants include a Prize for Discovery in Medical Research, with recent winners researching cystic fibrosis, bioinformatics and iron-overload disease, and an Alzheimer’s Disease research grant valued at $100,000.