Professor Wilkinson-Berka shares her vision for life during – and after – COVID-19

Here's how the new Head plans to navigate the School through 2020 and beyond, plus her future research goals and the importance of mentoring.

Professor Jennifer Wilkinson-Berka has urged students, researchers and teachers to be resilient as they work through Melbourne’s stage 4 restrictions, but to also take care of themselves.

“I want you to know that although as a Head of School I should be telling you to work hard and keep going, what I really want you to do right now is take care of yourself.”

The leading vascular biologist spoke with Professor Matt Watt, Head of the Department of Physiology, as part of the School’s BYO Coffee series on Tuesday 18 August. Almost 250 viewers tuned in on Zoom.


After starting as the new Head of School on 3 August, Professor Wilkinson-Berka has been meeting online with department and laboratory heads and teaching specialists to understand the challenges and opportunities ahead.

“I see this time as an opportunity rather than a negative,” Prof Wilkinson-Berka said.

“It comes back to honing our abilities to look at the work that has the most impact. For early career researchers this is also when you need to think about what you’re doing, who you’re working with and what you want to achieve.”

Prof Wilkinson-Berka encouraged researchers to diversify their portfolio looking for opportunities in clinical and non-clinical work, teaching and research.

“Being flexible and agile is what this COVID world is about. And, in many ways, this is how it should always be in science. You don’t just stick to one thing, you need to move about.”


Fostering communication and collaboration between the School departments, as well as with other Schools within the Faculty, is high on Professor Wilkinson-Berka’s list of priorities.

“We are the largest School of Biomedical Sciences in Australia. Among us are great researchers and teachers, but we’re not always connected very well, we’re in the silos of our departments.

“It’s very hard to know how to bridge those gaps, but it really boils down to communication, building critical mass and true scientific rigour and quality.”

Passionate about commercialisation, the Head of School expressed an interest in establishing a contract research platform.

“Within some of our laboratories there are models of disease or platforms that national and international Pharma can use to work together to answer important questions in medicine and science.

“This is the sort of initiative that will…build our brand, our income and, most importantly now in the face of COVID, it has the capacity to build jobs.”


Outside of biomedical science, Professor Wilkinson-Berka is a fanatical Collingwood Football Club member juxtaposed with her love of fine arts.

When Professor Watt asked her to choose between her two great passions, the Head of School replied: “We often talk about science and art, and I would choose art. If we had the AFLW in my day I might not answer that way because when you play the sport, it changes everything you think about it.”

Read more about Professor Wilkinson-Berka’s research as a global leader in vascular biology and hear from her and other School researchers about why this is the greatest era of scientific discovery.