IWD 2023: International Women's Day

Meet our women leaders, researchers, alumni and students from the School of Biomedical Sciences who are championing gender equality and diversity through their outstanding accomplishments.

This year’s theme for International Women's Day is ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future’ and highlights the role that bold, transformative ideas, inclusive technologies, and accessible education play in combatting discrimination and the marginalisation of women globally.

"This important day represents the largest global movement for gender equality and the opportunity to come together to celebrate the outstanding achievements of our women researchers in biomedical sciences," says Professor Jenny Wilkinson-Berka, Head of School and leading vascular biologist.

“We need improved access to opportunities, pathways and investment for women to innovate and transform all our futures, for the better. But we cannot innovate without education. Women and girls everywhere require access to education and pathways to careers in technology, engineering and science, represented at every level, to ensure full and equal participation and ensure inclusive workplaces.”
[UN Women Australia, 2023]

In recognition of IWD 2023, we invite you to hear from just some of our inspirational women in biomedicine as they share their journey, tell of how their research is directly improving the lives of women, provide advice to younger generations and talk about what drives their success.

Bold, transformative ideas

Last year, Professor Laura Mackay (Dept Microbiology & Immunology) became the youngest fellow elected to the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences and is leading ground-breaking work on tissue-resident memory T cells and their involvement in viral and tumour immunity.

“Myself, and many other young researchers, are breaking barriers and I hope it encourages younger generations to pursue a career in science – it’s a career path that truly allows you to be curious, creative and make an impact," Laura says.

Dr Hui-Fern Koay

Dept Microbiology & Immunology

As an emerging scientific leader, Hui-Fern Koay is passionate about communicating science, to inspire the younger generation to follow in her footsteps, while championing diversity.

Since 2015, Hui-Fern has been at the forefront of research into unconventional T cells, and her work has been recognised with many prestigious awards like the L’OrĂ©al-UNESCO FWIS Fellowship and a 2022 Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA). Fern says representation matters.

Representation of lecturers and senior leaders in Australia is not reflective of the diversity of the student pool or the younger generation, but I had a few extraordinary women to look up to within my group of mentors.

"This has inspired me to step up and promote representation for the younger generation,” she says.

Read more

Professor Justine Mintern

Dept of Biochemistry & Pharmacology

Justine Mintern is a vaccine biology expert and has recently been appointed as Associate Dean of Graduate Research where she will focus on enhancing the graduate research experience.

"I want to strengthen the wellbeing, career development training opportunities and supervision for all of graduate research students across the School and Faculty,"  says Justine.

Dr Robyn M Brown

Dept of Biochemistry & Pharmacology

Robyn M Brown leads an all-female research group focused on addiction neuroscience, drivers for overeating including identifying precise neural circuits driving emotional eating in females.

As a strong advocate for women and workplace gender equality, Robyn has driven change through her involvement in the Equality in Science committee (Florey Institute) and was part of a Women in Science Parkville Precinct [WiSPP] taskforce focused on increasing the number of women in scientific leadership positions.

During the pandemic, Robyn received a veski career recovery grant and said this provided a lifeline of support.

The veski grant supported me - and allowed me to support other women in STEMM to realize their potential.

Read more

Dr Jessica Briffa

Dept of Anatomy & Physiology

Jessica Briffa, an Early Career Researcher and 2022 NHMRC Ideas Grant recipient, is pursuing her research interest in pregnancy complications and their health impacts to children.

With complications affecting up to 15% of all pregnancies, Jessica says this has both short and long-term health implications for both mother and child.

Understanding the complications and their effect is crucial for developing targeted therapeutics to enhance maternal health and fetal outcomes.

Read more

Alexa Rheann Prawdiuk

Dept Anatomy & Physiology

Alexa Rheann Prawdiuk, Medical Student and PhD Candidate has a research focus on sensory neural pathways underpinning respiratory behaviours such as cough.Alexa says her experience learning from global leaders in the Anatomy and Physiology fields has taught her how to think critically in a research context.

I have always been encouraged to ask questions which challenge our current knowledge.

Take a look inside the Dept of Anatomy & Physiology in our five part micro-documentary series - and discover your pathway into academia or industry.Watch In the Lab

Inclusive workplaces

The School supports the career development and momentum of female researchers through a variety of grants, including the MJ Gething Gender Equality Award to help early career researchers continue career momentum while also having significant caring responsibilities.

This year, the award’s founder, Prof Emeritus Mary-Jane Gething AO, received an Order of Australia for the outstanding contributions she has made to biochemistry, molecular biology and tertiary education. Read more about Mary’s influential journey here.

The $100,000 annual Fabienne Mackay Award was introduced in 2021 to help one or more high performing, independent researchers to maintain research momentum following the birth or adoption of a child. Meet our inaugural recipient, Dr Laura Edgington-Mitchell who says initiatives like this seek to redress imbalance.

Meet Laura

An avid promoter of women  in research, Professor Leann Tilley (Dept of Biochemistry and Pharmacology), established the Georgina Sweet Awards for Women in Quantitative Biomedical Science in 2016-2020, as part of her Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship. Fifteen female scientists from across Australia who demonstrated excellence in Quantitative Biomedical Science were supported through this program.

Clear pathways to STEMM careers

Ashleigh Hayes

Dept Microbiology & Immunology

The School’s annual e-Meet a Biomedical Scientist program connects secondary schools from across Australia with some of our leading biomedical scientists. Last year, this included Research Assistant Ashleigh Hayes whose research focuses on understanding how major human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) adapts to its environments and treatments.

“I chose to take part in the program as I would have loved to have had this opportunity when I was at school and wanted to provide this opportunity to current high school students,” Ashleigh said.

I thought it would be a great way to showcase biomedical science to budding young women scientists looking at a career in biomedical science.

Ashleigh has also been invited to present to the Victorian Biology Teachers Network and share her insights.

Read more

Accessible education

Here are just a couple of our outstanding alumni, Masters students and undergraduates who started their career trajectory in the School of Biomedical Sciences.

Meet our talent

Jas Singh

Bachelor of Biomedicine alumni

Biomed alumni Jas Singh developed a strong passion for First Nation’s Health, rural and remote medicine and surgery during her undergrad studies. Last year she received the Medical Student of the Year Award for 2022 from the Rural Doctors Association of Australia.

I’ve always strived to ‘give back’, to create change towards a healthier, more sustainable and community-oriented world.

Taylah James

Master of Biomedical Science 

Taylah James is focused on a research career in genomics and chose the Master of Biomedical Science for its large research component.

"It provided me with incredible learning opportunities across infectious disease,” she says.

The School of Biomedical Sciences gives great emphasis to the incredible females in science our University has – it was really motivating and inspiring to see so many women within SBS excel.

Zahraa Hameed

Bachelor of Biomedicine (Pharmacology)

Hansen Scholar, Zahraa Hameed, was born and raised in Iraq – and wants to address the health inequities that exist, on a global scale.

"In Australia there are many healthcare services readily available – but there are still inequities that need to be addressed for many people - including those living with disability, intergenerational trauma or facing cultural and linguistic barriers," says Zahraa

Receiving the Hansen Scholarship gave me the chance to continue my studies and pursue a career in the field that I am passionate about...it has opened for me a door of opportunities and success that seemed inaccessible

Are you interested in pursing a career in STEMM?

Explore these School resources to get started: