Women’s fellowships aiming for brighter future

Mar 8 2018

The Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) has launched its first Women in Medical Research Fellowships initiative today, aiming to redress career inequality and stem the ‘silent brain drain’ impacting female researchers.

Celebrating and responding to International Women’s Day, a funding pool has been established to support both part-time and full-time fellowships for female mid-career researchers over three, five or 10 years.

Uniquely, the scheme includes a research support grant, along with secured salary, to help sustain the recipient’s own research project. This could lead to further research grants, government funding and commercialisation opportunities.

HMRI Director Professor Michael Nilsson says the goal is to recruit and retain top female scientists and clinicians by providing job security with flexibility for family commitments.

“The translation of medical research requires continuity over a sustained period, as one discovery often leads to another,” Professor Nilsson says. “So if half of our intellectual capital is potentially being wasted at the critical mid-career juncture, then HMRI wants to be a leader in stemming that flow.

“It’s not a glass ceiling, more like a leaking floor – women drain out of the academic system particularly at the mid-stage of career progression. Significantly, more than half of all PhD graduates are women yet fewer than 20 per cent are professors in senior leadship roles.”

University of Newcastle researcher Associate Professor Nikola Bowden received the Vanessa McGuigan HMRI Research Fellowship in Ovarian Cancer last year, supporting her work for 10 years. Without it, she feared having to shelve her project and change career paths. 

“I can’t say enough about how important a Fellowship was to me at this point of my career,” Associate Professor Bowden said. “At a time when financial support is scarce, it gave me certainty and the confidence to continue my research, focusing on better treatments for patients.”

Mid-career researchers often have to devote considerable time to applying for grants at the expense of their projects, whereas fellowships guarantee their funding.

“Medical research can’t reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all,” Professor Nilsson adds. “Diversity leads to innovation, so a gender imbalance will have a consequence for today’s research agenda and tomorrow’s clinical practice.

“We’re inviting companies, foundations and members of the community to help secure equal futures for the next generation of women in research. It has already begun, with a fund-raising luncheon held last week at the Bushrangers Bar & Brasserie, and every extra dollar will help.”

Donors can nominate to support the initiative via hmri.org.au/support-women or by contacting HMRI Donor Relations on (02) 4042 1000 or donate@hmri.org.au

HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.