Celebrating our School of Biomedical Sciences’ mums this Mother’s Day

Combining a career in STEMM and motherhood is hard, but the rewards are immeasurable say our School of Biomedical Sciences Mums.

My mum works with cells, she looks at them and feeds them - Issac, 6yrs

With mothers day around the corner on Sunday 12 May we highlight some of our super hero mums who are breaking the glass ceiling in science whilst nuturing young families. And we look at the UoM’s new parental leave provisions, and highlight how some of the Annual UoM Prizes and Awards have helped our mums’ with their career momentum.

It’s important to ensure all our mums feel supported as they transition to motherhood. In general attitudes have changed, but more work needs to be done to ensure they feel connected, supported and encouraged, such as:

  • Celebrate and empower women to make healthy adjustments that cater for the role of motherhood without it being seen as a sacrifice or demotion in their career.
  • Recognise the ongoing ‘career-interruption’ of motherhood beyond the initial maternity leave, particularly when you consider all of the challenges that happen within the first two years of having a new addition to your family.
  • Support women in regaining momentum upon their return to work, particularly when they return part-time.
  • Support women to access flexible working arrangements.

We know that direct supervisors and teammates are a major contributor to a new mum’s transition, so a special thank you to those of you making this important impact – you know who you are!

Image:  Issac, Saophorn, Ezra and Lou at Siem Reap, Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia

Research Fellow, Dr Lou Fourriere-Chea, Gleeson Lab, Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology, is investigating the intracellular trafficking of the ß-secretase (BACE1) and the amyloid precursor protein (APP), two proteins involved in the production of amyloid ß (Aß) implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.

Mother to Isaac, 6, and Ezra, 2, Lou says “having children confirmed how important it is to share scientific advances and knowledge with the next generation. I like to explain to the kids what I am doing, how we are 'looking inside the cells’, why it is important, what are our challenges and how we can do better.”

Issac often says to me ‘say hi to your cell' in the morning when I leave for work. That's cute.

“Isaac and Ezra teach me how to be more patient, resilient and to always stay curious. They remind me of the “pure happiness” feeling and how important it is to enjoy the present. They are always very supportive, much more than reviewer C on my last funding application! They are proud of me, with unconditional love and always brighten my days".

This mothers day Lou and her family are looking forward to enjoying a short stroll at the zoo and a coffee / babyccino!

Lou says kids can help you have a better balance of work vs life outside the lab. And encourages others to "Go for it! - It will be hard but very rewarding and amazing.”

Image: Kennan Family

Senior Lecturer and Laboratory Head, Dr Christine Keenan, Keenan Lab, Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology, is investigating epigenetic mechanisms in the immune system with the hope of developing new targeted treatments to restore healthy immunity from an overactive state (e.g. allergy / asthma / autoimmunity), or an underperforming state (e.g. ageing / immune deficiency).

Mother to Mason, 5, and Luca, 1, Christine says “Motherhood is full of highlights and challenges. The pure joy the kids get from the smallest things is just infectious. The greatest challenge has been the utter re-structuring of life – the juggle is real!”

Having children has changed my perspective on pretty much everything including my role in science and health.

“I now have much greater appreciation of the impact of disease, especially childhood diseases, and feel a strong imperative to develop new treatments to address this. I also feel a responsibility to improve scientific literacy amongst the general public and often find myself communicating science with other mums, --sometimes dads but mostly mums-- at playgrounds”.

This mothers day Christine will celebrate with a lot of coffee and a lot of love!

Christine encourages STEMM women thinking about family planning to talk with our strong network of science mums, particularly those that were at a similar career-stage when having kids.

Image: Amelia

Research Officer, Dr Susan Christo, Mackay Laboratory, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, is a senior postdoc working on T cell immunology.

New mum to Amelia, who will be just 10 weeks old on Mother’s Day, says “It's a love like no other. My happiest moment was the first time I held my baby after delivery. I have also enjoyed watching my husband become a father, and observing the joy that our baby brings to our family.”

“I have also learnt that 'sleeping like a baby' is a rather ironic phrase!”

I want to credit all the strong and powerful mothers before me who paved the way for establishing equality in the workplace, particularly in wet lab sciences which already pose many challenges even without kids.

Susan says her mum has been her biggest role model her whole life -- “I watched her simultaneously work, study and create a loving home for us without ever complaining or making a fuss. She is practically super woman.”

This mothers day Susan will be celebrating her first Mother’s Day with her mother and mother-in-law over lunch, to say thank you for their support and love.

Susan says “women researchers are literally trained for motherhood! You already have the skills – passion, persistence, resilience – You've got this!”

Image:  Steffi & Hailey

Research Fellow, Dr Steffi Cheung, Micheal Parker Lab, Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology, is a postdoctoral research fellow working in crystallography, the structure of proteins at the atomic level, and structure-based drug discovery.

Mother to Hailey, 2, with a second on the way, Steffi says the highlight of motherhood so far is “the unconditional love that I am given everyday by my daughter, her kisses and cuddles.”

“Every time my daughter is sick, I am even more grateful for the hard work done by scientists in finding cures and contributing to the understanding of the biology of the human body”.

My mom inspired me to be hardworking and to pursue my interest in Science since I was a young child. This definitely geared my ambition to pursue a career in STEMM.

Steffi highlights her biggest challenge as getting the work-life-balance right “as your lifestyle completely changes when you have a little person depending on you daily.”

Adding “we don't need to choose between a career in science or family life, it's just about finding the right balance. Don't feel guilty if sometimes one requires more attention than the other, it is just part of life.”

This mothers day Steffi will enjoy time with her little one and her husband, who do not cease to surprise her every year.

Happy Mothers Day to all our SBS Mums, we hope you have an amazing day!

Various awards and prizes are helping our mums to continue the momentum of their careers and research, for example:

  • The MJ Gething Award allowed Lou to travel with her kids to attend an international conference, spend two days at the Institute Curie Paris and reconnect with peers.
  • The Career Continuity Grant allowed Susan to continue ongoing research collaborations.
  • There is also The Fabienne Mackay Award to help high performing, independent researchers maintain research momentum following the birth or adoption of a child.

The University of Melbourne’s new Enterprise Agreement, now in effect, features significantly improved parental leave provisions such as:

  • Paid parental leave entitlement (for maternity leave, partner primary carer leave, and adoption, surrogacy and permanent care leave) of 26 weeks, irrespective of the employee's length of continuous service as at the expected date of the birth or placement of the child (excluding casual employees).
  • Paid concurrent partner leave entitlement (not primary carer) of 5 days’ leave.
  • Flexible working arrangements now available for employees who have responsibility for care of a child (not just the parent).
  • Retention benefit.