Mater’s outstanding female researchers awarded

Mater’s outstanding female researchers awarded

To mark International Women’s Day, two researchers have been awarded Mater Research Strategic Grants for Outstanding Women valued at $180 000, funded by Mater foundation’s generous supporters.

The recipients of the grants, to assist in closing the research and academic gender gap, have been awarded to Mater Foundation Research Fellow Associate Professor Katharina Ronacher and Professor Josephine Forbes, both Group Leaders at Mater Research Institute – University of Queensland.

Chair of the Gender Equity Working Group at Mater Research Associate Professor Allison Pettit said the grant scheme provided funding for two awards per year. 

“Each award provides $45 000 per annum for two years to support the research and career progression of high potential female researchers at Mater," she said.

Dr Pettit said there were a number of barriers for female researchers. 

“Combining motherhood and being the primary carer with being a clinical or biomedical researcher is demanding.  Research can be quite unforgiving and the attrition rate is high for women.

“The Australian Academy of Science has recognised that women comprise more than half of science PhD graduates and early career researchers, but just 17 per cent of senior academics in Australian universities and research institutes.

“In light of this, this grant has the potential to make a real difference in the career progression of Mater Research female research academics," A/Prof Pettit said.

With three children aged ten, eight and six, Dr Ronacher said the grant would reduce the pressure of balancing home and work life.

“With the grant money I have been able to recruit another staff member who can assist in my research work around stopping the spread of tuberculosis (TB) in Australia; so it’s a huge help.

“My research looks at why patients with diabetes are more susceptible to tuberculosis, the development of new therapies and assessing how big the problem is in Australia – the rates haven’t declined over the years despite good control programs,” Dr Ronacher said.

Similarly, Dr Josephine Forbes is balancing a young family and a high-level research career.

“My husband is a fantastic contributor to our family but as a mum you have to be very innovative about how to use your time.

“It becomes particularly challenging for a woman at this level, where you are a professor and a group leader and you have to sustain the funding for your group and your own funding, in balance with home life. It becomes very difficult.”

Dr Forbes explains her research in the midst of a global diabetes pandemic, with a third of patients with diabetes going on to develop cardiovascular and kidney disease.

“We’ve recently discovered that kidney disease starts much earlier than previously appreciated. We’re particularly interested in the function of ‘cell power stations’ which are called mitochondria.

“We know that young people aged 15-25 have evidence of dysfunction in these cell power stations but we may be able to detect this in 10-15 year olds, and start treatment earlier to prevent progression,” Dr Forbes said. 

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