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Meet some of our female health researchers

1 March 2017
Discussing their careers and their advice for other women

Leading researchers from across the health disciplines discuss their work and their working experiences. 

Wednesday 8 March is International Women’s Day, a day that aims to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, further women’s education, challenge conscious and un-conscious bias, promote gender-balanced leadership, create flexible and safe working cultures and value women’s and men’s contributions equally.

This year, the campaign theme asks Australians to #BeBoldForChange by encouraging inclusive and better working environments.

At the University of Sydney, we are thankful for the many women students, alumni and employees that are bold for change. We stand firm in our commitment to advancing gender equity, promoting women in leadership and furthering women’s education.

Among these influential women are female health researchers from Sydney Nursing School, Sydney Medical School, Faculty of Pharmacy, Faculty of Dentistry and the Faculty of Health Sciences. We caught up with some of these researchers to learn more about their work, why they do it and their working experiences. 

What drives you to do research?

As a nurse researcher, it is my desire to be able to play a key role in supporting and improving the health and wellbeing of older people through my research. My research focuses not only on making a discovery of new evidence or developing new knowledge, but also on translating and implementing research evidence in practice and care delivery, with a goal to make a positive difference to lives. Knowing what I do matters to the lives of older people in our community is the main driver.

What piece of advice would you give to a woman looking to begin a career in health research?

When it comes to your potential, the sky is the limit. Focus on what matters to those who are in need of health and aged care, and be authentic to yourself.  

What drives you to do research?

During my time as a clinical nurse, I have seen how trauma and injury affects people and I wanted to do something to help in the long term. This led me to work clinically as well as conduct research that aims to make a difference to emergency and trauma patients. I have a special interest in making sure the research we conduct is meaningful, translatable and involves those that will be impacted by any changes in clinical practice. For my field of research, being at the coalface is crucial - it facilitates the generation of ideas, fosters good research conduct and enables speedy translation of research evidence into clinical practice. 

What piece of advice would you give to a woman looking to begin a career in health research?

Mentorship is incredibly important, as is being patient, persistent and a good communicator. Overall, nursing is challenging, extremely rewarding and the best career decision I ever made.

From Sydney Medical School

What drives you to do research?

The conviction that treatments for overweight and obesity can be improved through research, and the knowledge that better treatments will markedly reduce the individual and societal burden of obesity. 

What piece of advice would you give to a woman looking to begin a career in health research?

Medical research can be an enormously rewarding career, and it can offer a lot of flexibility in terms of where and when you do the work, as long as your workplace is on board with flexible working arrangements. This means that medical research can fit around childcare responsibilities. It is highly competitive and the hours are long, so you need to be driven by making a difference to the world to stay involved.

From Sydney Medical School

What drives you to do research?

During my studies, I struggled to see where my degree was taking me but once I started working in a lab and conducting research at the end of third year and into honours, I fell in love with experimental science and I have never looked back.

What piece of advice would you give to a woman looking to begin a career in health research?

STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) needs you to help solve the complex problems of today’s world. My main advice is do what makes you happy. I know that sounds cliché, but if you love science, then follow your passion. Women can do it! I know there are not as many role models for young women to look up to, but there are successful women that juggle other commitments with academia and research and are great at what they do. Expand your networks both within the university and externally, identify role models and have coffee with people who inspire you, ask them how they got to be where they are today – the good, the bad and the ugly. Write down your career goals, make (several) plans, regularly re-evaluate those plans, support your female colleagues, and enjoy the journey.

From Faculty of Pharmacy

What drives you to do research?

The research I conduct, which is to develop treatments to alleviate anxiety, depression, pain, epilepsy and improve motor function after stroke by understanding how small molecules alter the function of ion channels in the brain, comes from passion and a love for what I do.

What piece of advice would you give to a woman looking to begin a career in health research?

Follow your passion, don’t give up, find the right support and get involved and network. Being a researcher in a STEMM field is challenging but rewarding. It requires persistence, dedication and a passion for knowledge. I would also like to see more support and mentorship for early and mid-career researchers and making sure it is not biased

From Faculty of Pharmacy

What drives you to do research?

Since childhood, I could see this unlimited passion and drive to do research in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Drug Discovery. For me, I have always thought of it as a truly amazing adventure to mix different colorful inert solutions and create a drug that can save lives.

What piece of advice would you give to a woman looking to begin a career in health research?

Always have drive and never forget an articulate “why” to feed your research initiatives, be passionate and tenacious. The obstacles for women in STEMM research are more manifest when it comes to the area of innovation. Entrepreneurship demands a culture of risk-taking and I believe that the science culture consistently excludes a diverse range of talented and hard-working women because they do not trust their potential.

Never hesitate to pursue the path you are determined to choose as your future career because “You are a woman and might not be successful”. 

From Faculty of Dentistry

What drives you to do research?

I am attracted to working in science because it enables me to try and help solve significant health problems, such as the issue of dental decay. Additionally, working in a STEMM area is rewarding because it enables me to apply problem-solving skills and is constantly changing and challenging.

What would you like to see more of, in terms of gender equity, in your field?

I would love to see more female academics in leadership roles. It can be disheartening as an early career researcher to not see many females in senior roles. When I was beginning my career in science, I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic role model in my honours supervisor, Dr Denise Donlon from the University of Sydney. She had great advice for starting in science: research something you are passionate about, get advice from mentors and be prepared for the ups and downs!

From Faculty of Health Sciences

What drives you to do research?

I do research in ageing and dementia to develop and evaluate programs and rehabilitation to improve the lives of people with dementia and their families. As an applied researcher, I am able to have an impact beyond the individual client. I’m proud that my research has had an impact on policy and services that are delivered. The people that I meet spur me to do more – there are inequities, gaps, problems with our health and aged care system that I want to draw attention to and find solutions for.

What piece of advice would you give to a woman looking to begin a career in health research?

For women considering research, I recommend choosing your workplace thoughtfully, know your values, strengths and weaknesses, and choose jobs and managers that align with your values and will utilise your strengths and help you develop your weaknesses. It doesn’t matter how individually talented you are, the organisation you work with and teammates are critical to your career.

 

From Faculty of Health Sciences

What drives you to do research?

My research area is how the voice works and how to assess and treat voice disorders more efficiently and effectively. I have the opportunity to develop improved practices in speech pathology and voice treatment and training, thereby helping people communicate more effectively and achieve their professional and personal goals.

What would you like to see more of, in terms of gender equity, in your field?

I would like to see more acknowledgment of the unique and consistently innovative work that women do in allied health sciences to improve quality of life as allied health and primary care health practitioners. Also, my advice to women looking to do research is to do what you love, pursue it with passion and commitment, and know that this alone can make a difference in the world. 

Find out more about how the University of Sydney supports the promotion of gender equity and equality in education, not just on International Women’s Day, but every day. 

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