Strategic Grants for Outstanding Women

The inaugural round of the Melbourne Medical School's Strategic Grants for Outstanding Women, assisting talented female academics with career progression, attracted an unprecedented number of high-calibre applications.

Almost 80 applications were subject to a rigorous assessment process which involved senior representatives from the nine academic departments across the School.

Senior academic leaders from other schools in the Faculty also generously contributed their time and effort to this process.

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), and most recently the Royal Women's Hospital (RWH), partnered with the School on this exciting new initiative.

The additional funding contributions from our external partners made it possible to increase the number of grants awarded in this round.

From the strong and highly competitive field, eight outstanding women were awarded funding.

The successful applicants are enthusiastic about the School's commitment for this new initiative contributing to #BalanceforBetter and welcome and embrace their role as ambassadors for women in STEMM.

Introducing the 2019 Outstanding Women

Katie AyersDr Katie Ayers, an Honorary Fellow at the Department of Paediatrics, Melbourne Medical School (MMS), and Team Leader at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), is an emerging leader in the field of Sex Differentiation research.

As a passionate and committed researcher in understanding and improving genetic diagnosis and clinical outcomes for patients born with Disorders of Sex Development (DSD), Dr Ayers acknowledged the Award has come at a great time for women in science.

"I'm very grateful for this Award and see it is an amazing opportunity for women, with successful applicants in a range of areas, from basic research through to clinicians," Dr Ayers said.

"The School and MCRI have been implementing a number of new schemes for women and carers, and it is great to see this important support address the equity gap in science," she said.

Dr Ayers recently commenced an innovate research project using human stem cells, as a model for DSD, before she had to step away for maternity leave.

"This is an exciting, challenging and time intensive project in a very competitive space; and if successful, it will be career defining," Dr Ayers said.

"This Grant means I can employ an experienced research assistant to continue the work we had started in the lab, and I can participate in meetings, as an invited speaker, which I would have struggled to attend with a newborn," she said.

Dr Ayers will also utilise part of the grant to evolve more professionally from a management and team leadership perspective.

"Reducing my time in the lab and improving my workflow efficiency means I can dedicate more time to teaching, outreach, leadership and assisting other women to develop in science," Dr Ayers said.

Dr Ayers is the recipient of a jointly funded MMS-MCRI grant.


Penelope BryantAssociate Professor Penelope Bryant, Department of Paediatrics, Melbourne Medical School (MMS), is a Paediatric Infectious Diseases Physician at the Royal Children's Hospital and the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI).

As a clinician-researcher, Associate Professor Bryant is focused on improving antibiotic use to reduce resistance in children in hospital and at home.

She has a particular interest in using antibiotics better to get children out of hospital earlier, to improve their mental health and to avoid hospital-acquired infections.

Associate Professor Bryant will utilise the Award to employ a research assistant to further develop her research program to ensure she is well-positioned to be competitive for new funding opportunities.

"This is a wonderful initiative as there are limited opportunities for this amount of funding with this breadth of opportunities for its use," Associate Professor Bryant said.

"I am honoured to be among the first recipients and proud to be an ambassador for women in STEM," she said.

"It's not always an easy conversation because women are not asking for an unfair advantage, but this Award truly recognises, and starts to address, the silent opportunity cost facing many women in STEM."

Associate Professor Bryant now leads a collaborative MCRI flagship initiative where clinician-researchers in paediatric infectious diseases have come together to answer the big questions about antibiotic use and resistance in children.

"Our new major collaborative project, Vive La Resistance, will map antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Australian children aged under 12 months," A/Prof Bryant said.

"The pilot study will generate preliminary data to be used for applying for additional grant funding opportunities, developing targeted interventions, and contributing to a biobank for genomic analysis," she said.

"We need to understand how and where antibiotic use in children is impacting on AMR, targeting specific interventions to areas of high rates of AMR and to find meaningful ways of detecting AMR and measuring its reduction at scale."

Associate Professor Bryant is the recipient of a jointly funded MMS-MCRI grant.


Lisa CheshireDr Lisa Cheshire, Doctor of Medicine (MD) Course Director, Department of Medical Education, Melbourne Medical School (MMS), is passionate about teaching, learning and enhancing flexibility for students.

Leading the current MD review, Dr Cheshire will utilise the Award to establish the knowledge foundation, through literature reviews and visiting international universities which offer flexible programs, to redesign the curriculum.

"I want to ensure our new MD is recognised as a world leader in providing innovative and tailored learning solutions which meet individual needs and career trajectories," Dr Cheshire said.

"I feel incredibly privileged and honoured that my work has been acknowledged, amongst a strong field of many outstanding women, and there is recognition of advancement potential as a teaching specialist," she said

In addition to her commitment to medical education, Dr Cheshire has been providing healthcare as a general practitioner to the regional city of Ballarat for more than 20 years.

She is passionate about rural and regional medicine and ensuring students are prepared for their future in healthcare.

"I have worked closely with students for many years, and have been enabling and encouraging students to reach their full potential in education and their future lives," Dr Cheshire said.

"At the moment, most traditional medical courses have a relatively rigid structure, and we need to ensure we provide flexibility and suitable pathways for individuals to extend their interests alongside medicine," she said.

"With support from this Grant, I will be able to develop the evidence base for change, and ensure our new MD program provides students with the ability to direct their studies within a flexible learning structure."


Kate DrummondAssociate Professor Kate Drummond, Department of Surgery, Melbourne Medical School (MMS), is the Director of Neurosurgery at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Director of the Neuro-Oncology Tumour Stream at the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

As a clinician-scientist, she is focused on the care of patients with tumours of the brain and spine and oversees the Central Nervous System (CNS) Tumour Bank database which captures and tracks patient outcomes following surgery.

Associate Professor Drummond will utilise the Award for administrative support to assist in data analysis, manuscript preparations and grant application development.

"I have existing projects which require data analysis and publication and wish to commence new projects to build research capacity and improve the quality of life of our patients," Associate Professor Drummond said.

"I spend four days a week operating and seeing patients and I plan to utilise this grant to employ a research assistant to keep my research progressing," she said.

"I'm very grateful to be considered by the University as clinician-scientist who will maximise their investment and I see it as a huge responsibility."

"I was the fourth woman in Australia and New Zealand to qualify in neurosurgery and I have spent my career encouraging women in surgery and science through mentoring, speaking engagements and serving on committees as an ambassador in this field."

The Award will also assist with extending research capacity and establish treatment protocols to optimise patient outcomes with a particular focus on quality of life.

"This grant means I will be able to keep my research on improving the quality of life of people with brain tumours, which is real-world practical research, to build the evidence base to change practice world-wide."


Amy GrayDr Amy Gray, Director of Medical Education at the Royal Children's Hospital, and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Paediatrics, Melbourne Medical School (MMS), is focused on improving hospital care for children through increasing healthcare worker capacity and strengthening the translation of evidence into practice.

She has spent her career balancing both local and global health expertise, conventional teaching and research alongside global health development work, capacity building and mentoring trainees pursing similar paths.

"Lessons and evidence about how we work and learn better in complex hospital environments for the benefit of our patients need to be shared, and co-constructed," Dr Gray said.

"This Award will support the development of a cohesive program focusing on ways we can better utilise educational interventions to improve health worker capacity and quality of care in both high and low-resource settings using appropriate technology," she said.

Dr Gray intends to pilot a mobile learning platform to create building blocks for curricula utilising the expertise of teachers, training doctors and students.

"Whilst online content is available it is not always relevant, adaptable or accessible to regional colleagues who do not have sophisticated IT access or English as a first language," Dr Gray said.

"We intend to understand how an online platform for mobile learning could be used to generate material for teaching and learning, and develop learning communities regionally with our academic partners," she said.

"It is exciting to have the support of this Grant to progress these ideas and it has been heartening to see the support given to myself and others who have received grants, from colleagues around us."


Amanda GweeDr Amanda Gwee, Senior Lecturer, Department of Paediatrics, Melbourne Medical School (MMS), is a general paediatrician, infectious diseases physician and clinical pharmacologist at the Royal Children's Hospital.

Her research, as a clinician-scientist fellow at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), employs pharmacometric modelling to produce simple, practical solutions to optimise antimicrobial therapy for drug-resistant infections.

"It is really forward thinking that the School and MCRI are providing these types of initiatives to support women," Dr Gwee said.

"I'm ecstatic and honoured that I will have two years of support; having someone to assist me in my research activities will increase my productivity and help me to better balance my work and family commitments," she said.

"It will allow me to surface from the smaller tasks and focus on moving to the next level of being an academic by focusing on the bigger picture."

The MMS-MCRI Grant will assist Dr Gwee to build research capacity and expertise at the University and MCRI, extend her research network and secure additional research funding.

Her cutting-edge research on effective use of antibiotics to tackle antimicrobial resistance includes manipulating the pharmacokinetics of drugs, developing new dosing regimens to improve treatment outcomes and preserving first-line antibiotics.

"By reducing dose frequency, I will improve access to intravenous antibiotics at home and improve adherence to antibiotic courses," Dr Gwee said.

"My goal is to establish the University of Melbourne and MCRI as a global leader in paediatric drug-dosing studies," she said.

Dr Gwee is the recipient of a jointly funded MMS-MCRI grant.


Natalie HannanAssociate Professor Natalie Hannan is a NHMRC CDF Principle Research Fellow, at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Melbourne Medical School (MMS), and leads the Therapeutics Discovery and Vascular Function Group.

Her research focus is on women's health and understanding serious pregnancy complications, especially preeclampsia for which there is no cure, through leading preclinical discovery and supporting translation to the clinic.

"It is really great the School is supporting women to strategise and develop their career to try to help retain the top women in their field, and I am excited to be part of this inspiring initiative," Associate Professor Hannan said.

"It's amazing I was selected by the committee for this prominent and eminent Award amongst such a strong field of outstanding women," she said.

"I take my role seriously as an ambassador for women in STEM."

"I passionately believe to have the best medicine, research and science we need to support and retain women and reduce the attrition of women at senior levels."

Associate Professor Hannan will utilise the Grant to complete a women's leadership course and employ administrative support to streamline workflow and increase research output.

"The aim is to drive my research in a commercial direction over the next five years; I need industry support to develop an innovative therapy to prevent women losing their own life or their child to preeclampsia," Associate Professor Hannan said.

"Preeclampsia is a terrible syndrome in pregnancy which claims the lives of more than 60,000 women each year and the loss of more than a half a million babies," she said.

"This Award will help me professionally, as well as help empower other women."

"Importantly but more broadly, supporting me has the potential to help women worldwide, as the scope of my research is to develop a novel therapy to effectively treat preeclampsia."


Yasmin JayasingheDr Yasmin Jayasinghe, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Melbourne Medical School (MMS), is a paediatric gynaecologist and translational researcher with a particular focus in oncofertility in children.

Her research, based at the Royal Children's Hospital and Royal Women's Hospital (RWH), is transforming the way fertility is addressed for children who have medical conditions or receive cancer treatments that can cause irreversible damage to fertility.

"My vision is to facilitate national translation of equitable and informed fertility care through a paediatric ethical lens," Dr Jayasinghe said.

"Developing the evidence base for good quality care has life-changing benefits for families and serves to also meet the needs of clinicians at the forefront of clinical practice," she said.

"I'm incredibly honoured to receive this Award in recognition of our hard work towards establishing this discipline and the School's commitment to women in medicine and academia."

"Inclusivity and diversity are foundational to the oncofertility program and helping us work towards solutions to the seemingly intractable problems in this field."

Dr Jayasinghe will utilise the support for the next two years towards hosting the National Oncofertility Summit at The Royal Children's Hospital, to be held in December, and for program management to increase her productivity and research output.

"This Award will assist me to bring key stakeholders together during the Summit in order to establish a pathway for national translation," Dr Jayasinghe said.

"The funding will also allow me to balance clinical and research time," she said.

"There is an underrepresentation of female academics in surgical disciplines, so this Award is meaningful to me."

Dr Jayasinghe is the recipient of a jointly funded MMS-RWH grant.