Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

First Ladies of Science

Cathy Foley is President of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technolo

Cathy Foley is President of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies.

By Bill Mackey

Australasian Science profiles 12 women who have made outstanding contributions to science and technology in Australia. What are the secrets to their success, and what barriers did they have to overcome?

Lyn Beazley AO FTSE Chief Scientist of Western Australia
Lyn Beazley was appointed Chief Scientist of Western Australia in 2006 and was reappointed in 2009. She is also Professor in Zoology at the University of Western Australia, where her research career has spanned 30 years.

Beazley graduated from Oxford University before undertaking her doctorate at Edinburgh University.

She transferred to Perth in 1976 and built up an internationally renowned research team that focused on recovery from brain damage. Her research also changed clinical practice in the treatment of infants at risk from pre-term delivery.

Beazley has served on numerous peak bodies advising state and Federal Governments, such as the NHMRC Fellowships Committee (2006–09). She is currently a board member of Neurosciences Australia.

Internationally she has served on a panel assessing research performance for the Swedish Research Council and is a member of the Education Committee of the International Brain Research Organisation. She was a Trustee of the Western Australian Museum from 1999 until 2007.

Beazley says her career highlight has been “my research into protecting the foetal brain from injury while still maturing the lung [thus] minimising respiratory distress in the newborn,” and says she’s struck no career barriers.

Her mentor of choice was the Principal of Somerville College at Oxford, Dame Janet Vaughan, whose research into the body’s uptake of radioactive isotopes was relevant in the wake of the nuclear threat during the Cold War. She chaired the UK committee that recommended blood donations should be free – in contrast to the US system and all the inherent equity issues.

She attributed her success to choosing the right partner in life (Prof Richard Tarala), having three wonderful daughters, working hard (“the harder you work, the luckier you get”), giving more than you ever think can be repaid (“but it nearly always is!”) and remembering the slogan “Trust, Respect, Integrity”.

She says that “as long as you and those you love are healthy, nothing’s good or bad”. She says her Eureka! moment has not come yet, and that her future ambitions are to work to ensure science, technology, engineering and mathematics make a positive contribution to the health and social, cultural, environmental and economic life of Western Australia, Australia and, if possible, the world. Most importantly she wants to address the burgeoning skills shortage by encouraging education from toddlers onwards, both girls and boys, since education is a gift no one can take away.

Megan Clark FTSE Chief Executive, CSIRO
Megan Clark grew up in Perth and completed her first degree, a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Economic Geology, at the University of Western Australia in 1981. She then moved to Canada to study for a Doctor of Philosophy in Economic Geology at Queen’s University in Ontario, graduating with her PhD in 1987.

Her professional life began as a mine geologist, forging a career in the world of mineral exploration and mine geology. During 15 years with Western Mining Corporation, she worked in research and development management, venture capital and technical strategy areas. More recently she was Vice President – Health, Safety, Environment, Community and Sustainability with BHP Billiton, and before that Vice President – Technology. Clark also served on the Expert Panel for the Review of the National Innovation System.

Clark is a member of the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC), the National Research Innovation Committee and the Automotive Industry Innovation Council. Since joining CSIRO in 2009, she has presented on a number of topics, most notably with Dr Greg Ayers of the Bureau of Meteorology on the state of Australia’s climate.

Clark has been a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering since 2006 and has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of WA and an Honorary Doctor of Applied Science by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

She says all her career highlights have come from being part of a team that has done something that no single team member could have don, such as being part of the exploration team that discovered the Defiance ore body in Kambalda, WA; contributing to the investment into functional genomics in the 1980s; and every day seeing the profound impact that CSIRO scientists are making.

Did she encounter any barriers to her career? “I had a few early on, particularly when the Mines Department sought to prosecute me for working underground. The support of my colleagues and senior leaders like Sir Arvi Parbo got me through. Since then I have learnt to side-step barriers that come up in every journey.”

Of her mentors she says that “Roy Woodall stands out. He mentored so many of the young geologists and exploration professionals in this nation.”

When it comes to her secrets of success, Clark says the greatest satisfaction comes from helping those around her achieve their goals and reach beyond where they believe they can go.

For her Eureka! moment she says: “It took me a long while to realise that values and culture are the keys to unlocking the full energy of a team or organisation. Working every day to live by the right values will blow away even the most ambitious strategic plan.”

What are her future ambitions? “I have always been so dedicated to what I am doing that I have never worried about the future. At any given time in my career if you had told me what I would be doing in 5 years’ time I would have laughed. The only thing I knew from early on was that I wanted to do a PhD and work in science and discovery.”

Adrienne Clarke AC FAA FTSE Chancellor, La Trobe University
Adrienne Clarke is a former chairman of the CSIRO and Lieutenant Governor of Victoria, and has been a director of public companies including Woolworths, Alcoa, WMC, AMRAD, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, Hexima and AMP.

She is author of four major scientific books dealing with chemistry, cell biology and genetics, and has served on the Prime Minister’s Science and Engineering Council and on the Victorian Business Round Table. Clarke is Laureate Professor at The University of Melbourne and is also on boards including the Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, the Australian Advisory Board of The Nature Conservancy. She has been a member of the La Trobe University Council since August 2010.

She says: “I have been exceptionally fortunate in being a biologist in what has truly been the Age of Biology. I have also contributed to science through service to government and to business through membership of various company boards.

“The great enablers for me were, firstly, wonderful friends, and secondly, a rigorous training in the scientific method.

“I studied chemistry and biology at The University of Melbourne while being resident at Janet Clarke Hall. The friends I made from different disciplines at this time have woven in and out of my life over the past 50 years. We have helped each other through all sorts of highs and lows and drawn on each other’s strengths and experiences. This is a lifelong legacy of my education.

“Progress in science is based on asking a question which, if answered, will move our knowledge of the world to a different level. The question is answered through experimentation, data gathering, interpretation, reframing questions, designing the next experiment and so on. The outcomes of the research are subjected to critical peer review and are published in sufficient detail for others to repeat.

“Out of this process is born the culture of science:

1. Honesty – If the data is not robust, it will be revealed either in the peer review process or the attempts by others to repeat the experiments. This reinforces the fundamental honesty in the process of scientific discovery.

2. The handling of uncertainty – At each stage of moving knowledge from relative uncertainty to relative certainty, there is a process of careful design of experiments and interpretation of data.

3. Openness to admitting ignorance – Scientists are very comfortable with a position of “not knowing” and setting out to find answers.

4. Treating criticism as an input to an improved position.

“These characteristics of science have really stood me in good stead for my careers in business and in government organisations.”

Suzanne Cory FAA President, Australian Academy of Science
Suzanne Cory was raised and educated in Melbourne. A Year 9 teacher first sparked her interest in science, and a university lecturer got her hooked on DNA. In 1966, fired with enthusiasm for the new science of molecular biology, she went to learn from the experts and undertake PhD studies at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.

Having overcome the gender bias in available scholarships – many of them were open to men only – Cory counted herself lucky to work in Cambridge and learn from Nobel laureates. There she also met her future husband, Jerry Adams. They have been scientific partners and life partners ever since, raising two daughters while working side-by-side.

Cory’s research has had a major impact on the understanding of immunology and the development of cancer. At Cambridge, Cory and Adams had studied RNA. When they decided in 1971 to move to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne their first breakthrough was discovering the structure of the ends of mammalian messenger RNAs.

They helped to introduce the controversial technology of gene cloning to Australia, and later discovered the mutation that activates the oncogene that causes Burkitt's lymphoma. In 1988 they switched their attention to genes that block the normal processes of cell death, and the institute is now a world leader in this area.

Cory became director of WEHI in 1996, saying she wanted to repay the Institute for the opportunities it had given her and to make sure young Australian scientists had the same opportunities. Under her guidance it has branched into new areas including structural biology, medicinal chemistry, the genetics of breast cancer and bioinformatics.

Cory’s list of firsts as a woman is long, and includes first woman to be elected President of the Australian Academy of Science; first female director of the WEHI; first Australian to win the L'Oreal UNESCO award for women in science; and first Australian woman to be awarded the Royal Medal for Science by the Royal Society in Britain.

Cory champions the careers of young women in science, telling women considering juggling a research career and a family that it is a major challenge, but worthwhile.

Cathy Foley PSM FTSE Chief, CSIRO Division of Materials Science and Engineering
Cathy Foley is one of the country’s top applied physicists. As President of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS) she represents 68,000 scientists and technologists in Australia. She is also Past President of the Australian Institute of Physics and is Chief of CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering, CSIRO’s largest division with more than 850 researchers.

In 2009 she won the prestigious National Telstra Business Women’s Award and this year has won the AUSIMM Mineral Industry Operating Technique Award. Both awards were given primarily for her invention of a method to make a highly sensitive magnetic field sensor using high temperature superconductors (HTS). The sensor is the basis of the mineral exploration tool LANDTEM™, for which she led the initial development in collaboration with BHP Billiton and Canadian mining company Falconbridge.

This application was recently identified by Nature Materials as the most signficant development since the discovery of HTS in 1986. LANDTEM™ has since been licensed to an Australian start-up company, Outer-Rim Development, and has ultimately helped to unearth around $6 billion of new mines worldwide.

Foley is acknowledged for her business savvy as well. Not only has she taken out the NSW and national Nokia Business Innovation Award in the Telstra Women’s Business Awards in 2009, she has also been acknowledged as a “Distinguished Lecturer” by the IEEE Council of Superconductivity.

For her service to physics, the promotion of science and to women in science, she has received a Public Service Medal and a Eureka Prize. She is a plenary speaker, invited or keynote speaker at many national and international conferences and symposia, and has been the Chair of three international conferences. Apart from her invited work at conferences, she is the rapid communications editor of a high impact international journal in the field of superconductivity.

Foley has been an advocate for women in science since the 1980s – most recently running the Women in Science and Engineering Summit at Parliament House in Canberra, where she invited 160 science leaders and policymakers to commit to changes to increase the number of women at all levels. Her commitment to this cause has resulted from her own experience, where she has had many “firsts”.

Catherine Livingstone AO FTSE Chair, Telstra
Catherine Livingstone is Chairman of Telstra Corporation Ltd and a Director of Macquarie Group Limited and Worley­Parsons Limited. She is also a member of the New South Wales Innovation Council and a Director of Future Directions International and The Royal Institution of Australia.

After finishing her degree in accounting in 1977, Ms Livingstone joined Price Waterhouse, working in both Sydney and London. She then held several accounting and management roles at Nucleus Ltd, reaching the position of Chief Executive, Finance, before being made the CEO of one of its subsidiaries, Cochlear Pty Ltd in 1994. A year later she floated the company for $125 million on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Cochlear is best known for its development of the “bionic ear”. By the time she resigned from her position in 2000 these were being exported to more than 50 countries around the globe.

Livingstone was the Chair of CSIRO from 2001–06, director for the Sydney Institute from 1998–2005, director of the Rural Press Foundation, and chair and director of the Australian Business Foundation from 2000–05.

She has been a strong advocate of research and innovation. As Chair of Telstra she advocated an unprecedented technological assault, noting that large-scale scientific programs tend to unearth a wealth of knowledge and industry potential. “The world is looking for solutions and technologies,” she said. “It is an area in which Australia could take a lead with enormous economic rewards, if we are able to make it our knowledge and technologies that are sought out. It would produce an innovation yield the likes of which we have never seen before. But it needs to be articulated at the national leadership level, and there needs to be a greater alertness in government and boardrooms to the power of science.”

Livingstone says one of her career highlights was leading the team at Cochlear as CEO, taking Australian science to global innovation success. Another was chairing the CSIRO Board at a time of significant change in the organisation, describing the launch of the Australian Research Flagship Project concept as a world-first in terms of collaborative science focused on addressing major national problems and opportunities.

“Leadership is a collective dynamic, not an individual one,” she says.

Tanya Monro FTSE Director, IPAS, University of Adelaide
Tanya Monro is an ARC Federation Fellow and Director of the Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) at the University of Adelaide, which pursues a transdisciplinary research agenda to create knowledge at the boundaries of physics, chemistry and biology and disruptive new technologies for health, defence, the environment and agriculture.

She is also the Director of the Centre of Expertise in Photonics which, in partnership with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, develops new optical fibres for defence, sensing, non-linear optics and fibre lasers.

Monro is a member of the Future Manufacturing Industry Innovation Council, the South Australian Premier’s Science and Research Council, and an inaugural Bragg Fellow of the Royal Institution of Australia. She is South Australia’s “Australian of the Year” for 2011, and in 2010 was named South Australian Scientist of the Year and Telstra Businesswoman of the Year at both national and state levels in the Community and Government category.

In 2008 she won the Prime Minister’s Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.

Monro obtained her PhD in 1998 from The University of Sydney, and was awarded the Bragg Gold Medal for the best physics PhD in Australia in that year. In 2000 she received a Royal Society University Research Fellowship at the University of Southampton in the UK.

Monro came to the University of Adelaide in 2005 as the inaugural Chair of Photonics. She has published more than 350 papers and has raised more than $65 million for research.

She says that a career highlight has been recognising the power of bringing together insights from different areas of science to create new technologies. Career barriers include the challenge of building a team of the scale and composition required to tackle significant research challenges under the Australian funding system.

Monro acclaims David Payne, Director of the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton, as a mentor who “shows that it is possible to be a dynamic leader of a large research organisation without leaving behind an immersion in the science and technical issues”.

She lists the secrets of success as:
• the driving need for effective communication of your work to different audiences, from the layperson to the expert;

• resilience, persistence and drive; and

• understanding the shifting opportunity landscape and how to use it to drive forward a long-term vision.

Her words of advice to young scientists are to “be passionate and positive about your work – learn how to build effective teams and never give up”.

Her Eureka! moment was “when I realised that the vast majority of biological science is driven by access to the latest commercially available measurement tools”.

Her future ambitions are to show that it is possible to blend top-quality fundamental research with more applied research. She hopes to drive forward the translation of innovations from her research to create disruptive sensing technologies that improve health outcomes, are of benefit for our defence and national security, and can be used to monitor our environment.

Mary O’Kane FTSE Chief Scientist and Engineer, NSW
Two years since being appointed NSW’s first Chief Scientist and Engineer, Mary O’Kane still bubbles with enthusiasm for the research strengths and opportunities in NSW. “Several of our indigenous high technology companies are by-products of large high-impact research centres in our universities and CSIRO,” she says. “It’s been enormous fun and a great honour” advising the NSW government at this time, she says.

Dr O’Kane is also Principal of a Sydney-based consulting company, Mary O’Kane & Associates Pty Ltd, which specialises in major reviews for governments, universities and the private sector – challenging work that can have a big impact. Some of the well-known reviews include the Review of the Bureau of Meteorology in 2007 and the Review of the Cooperative Research Centres Program in 2008.

She also serves on several boards. For the Commonwealth Government she chairs the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy, a key component of the $5 billion Clean Energy Initiative announced in May 2010. In the international development field she chairs the board of the Development Gateway, a Washington-based not-for-profit organisation that specialises in provision of open source software to aid transparency and governance in the world’s very poorest counties. And she still has a major involvement with research bodies, including as Chair of the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information.

O’Kane had a classic research and academic career, building Australia’s earliest speech recognition group in the 1980s and having all the fun of working in an interdisciplinary field at a time when the field was most competitive, with groups competing from around the world and comparing results on a daily basis.

Her career highlights include her role as the first female Dean of Engineering; her appointment to the to the Australian Research Council in 1993, aged 38; her appointment as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide in 1996; and – shortly afterwards – her appointment to the boards of CSIRO and F.H. Faulding & Co Ltd.

“I’ve been lucky – and particularly lucky to have parents who let me do engineering experiments in the back yard and lucky to have a wonderful first-degree education in maths and physics from the University of Queensland,” she says.

Susan Pond AM FTSE Researcher and Director
Susan Pond has a distinguished record in medicine, science and business. After graduating MBBS from the University of Sydney, she obtained her Fellowship in the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and qualifications in therapeutics and toxicology at the University of NSW and the University of California, San Francisco. She was working in San Francisco in the early 1980s when the first AIDS patients were being diagnosed and hospitals were struggling to cope as their intensive care units filled with the mysteriously and extremely ill.

She missed an opportunity to participate in the beginning of the genomics era in San Francisco when she returned to Australia in 1984 to become Associate Professor and subsequently Professor of Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Queensland and Princess Alexandra Hospital. This appointment involved responsibilities for patients, students and 30 research staff funded by a blend of different grants. Her main research focus was on the liver, the engine-room of the body and the principal organ responsible for detoxifying drugs. She served in senior roles on numerous committees, including as Chairman of the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee (ADEC).

It was at an ADEC meeting that Pond experienced a career-defining moment: the approval of recombinant GM-CSF as a new life-saving therapeutic product. Unable to participate in the early promise of genomics in San Francisco, in 1997 she did not hesitate to accept an appointment with Johnson & Johnson Research Pty Ltd in Sydney, where she went on to become the CEO and deliver a landmark study of gene transfer in patients with HIV infection. Her time at the helm corresponded with “pharmageddon”, which led to closure of the company’s doors in 2009.

She went walkabout and fishing for a few months before joining the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney where, because of her concerns about the health of the planet, Pond is working on the challenges of manufacturing energy at scale from sustainable biological sources such as dedicated energy crops.

Pond also serves on the Boards of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Commercialisation Australia and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

Deborah Rathjen FTSE CEO and Managing Director, Bionomics Ltd
A seasoned biotechnology executive for almost 20 years, with significant experience in research, business development and licensing, Deborah Rathjen joined Bionomics in June 2000 from Peptech Limited (subsequently named Arana), where she was Manager of Business Development and Licensing.

Rathjen was a co-inventor of Peptech’s Tumour Necrosis Factor (TNF) technology and leader of the company’s successful defence of its key TNF patents against legal challenges. This provided Peptech (Arana) with a strong commercial basis for securing license agreements with BASF, Centocor and other companies with anti-TNF products and for developing their own TNF products.

In 2004–05 Rathjen identified, negotiated and successfully completed the acquisitions of both Iliad Chemicals and Neurofit. The successful integration of these businesses into Bionomics resulted in two drug candidates that are in clinical trials for the treatment of cancer and anxiety. BNC210, Bionomics’ drug candidate for anxiety, has recently provided outstanding results from its phase Ib clinical trials.

Rathjen is Chairperson of the AusBiotech Board, and in 2004 was awarded the AusBiotech President’s Medal for her significant contribution to the Australian biotechnology industry. In 2006 she received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Flinders University, and has since received the 2009 BioSingapore Asia Pacific Woman Entrepreneur of the Year and the 2010 Bio Innovation SA Industry Leader Award.

Rathjen is a frequent speaker at scientific forums and has presented to numerous national and international conferences covering topics such as intellectual property, deal-making and other commercial issues significant to the biotech industry.

She says her major personal achievements include leading Bionomics to generate opportunities for improved outcomes for patients with cancer and anxiety. She also lists her membership of the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council and her subsequent contribution to the generation of two roadmaps directed at providing solutions to the big issues – “water for our cities”, “adaptation to climate change” and strategies for capturing the benefits of nanotechnology.

“Definitely not last – and not all of my own doing! – a lasting partnership of over 30 years with my husband David and together raising three happy, considerate, healthy, engaged and energetic children.”

Margaret Sheil FTSE CEO, Australian Research Council
The early part of Margaret Sheil’s career followed a fairly standard academic trajectory – undergraduate degree and PhD in chemistry at the University of NSW, postdoctoral positions in the USA and the Australian National University followed by an appointment in chemistry at the University of Wollongong in 1990.

At Wollongong she established a very successful mass spectrometry group during a time when the technology was changing and expanding rapidly into biology. With time, the skills she used in building a successful group became evident as she was drawn into leadership roles within the University and the profession. Becoming Dean in 2001 and then Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) in 2002 were the key appointments in her rise through the ranks. However, Wollongong was an institution where talent was given scope to grow into a role and where the leadership encouraged innovation.

Being appointed to lead the Australian Research Council just before the 2007 federal election was also somewhat of an unknown but has turned out to be a very exciting time for the ARC and university research more generally. The ARC has been involved in new schemes and initiatives, such as the Future Fellowships and Excellence in Research schemes, reshaping existing schemes to provide more opportunities for women, early career researchers and indigenous researchers, and increasing the international focus of the ARC’s work. “It is a great privilege to be doing one of the most interesting jobs in the country,” she says.

The secret of her success, she says, is seeking advice when she needs it and being a good listener in response; taking risks at critical times; and being straightforward and clear in person and in writing.

Her best advice for researchers and leaders alike comes from Winston Churchill: “If you have an important point to make, don’t try and be too subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once and then come back and hit it again.”

She says a challenge for all those involved in science, and research more generally, is “to continue to make the case for the importance of what we do in a simple and accessible way to the general public, potential students, industry and other end users”.

Judith Whitworth AC FTSE Chair, WHO Advisory Committee on Health Research
Judith Whitworth is chair of the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Health Research (2004–11) and a member of the Foundation Council of the Global Forum for Health Research. She also co-chairs the NSW Health Care Advisory Council.

She graduated MBBS from the University of Melbourne in 1967, MD in 1974, PhD in 1978 and DSc in 1992. She has been awarded doctorates (Honoris Causa) by three universities and is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Whitworth has practised medicine and researched extensively in Australia and overseas. She chaired the Medical Research Committee of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, is a Past President of the Australian Society for Medical Research and the High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia, and an Honorary Life Member of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Nephrology.

Her previous appointments include Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer of Australia and Prof of Medicine at St George Hospital, University of NSW. Whitworth recently retired as Director of the John Curtin School of Medical Research, Convenor of the Australian National University College of Medicine and Health Sciences and Howard Florey Professor of Medical Research at the ANU, where she also headed the High Blood Pressure Research Unit. Whitworth was an Ambassador for Canberra and an Ambassador for Women.

She was Telstra ACT Business Woman of the Year in 2002 and in 2004 was ACT Australian of the Year. Her current appointments include being a Board Member of the Menzies Research Institute, Tasmania; member of the WHO Expert Advisory Panel on Health Science and Technology Policy; Patron of The Wesley Research Institute, Queensland, and Visiting Fellow of the John Curtin School at ANU.

She describes her career highlight as the adoption of a research strategy for WHO by the World Health Assembly, and says that career barriers are more societal than professional, “although sexism is alive and well in some academic institutions”. She lists her mentors as Priscilla Kincaid-Smith, a towering figure in Australian and international medicine,, and “my PhD supervisor, John Coghlan, who has been a great champion of women in research and academia”.

She says the secret of success is to “hang in there – persistence”. Her words of wisdom are: “You can do anything as long as you don’t care who gets the credit!”

Whitworth says her Eureka! moment was overturning conventional dogma around the cardiovascular effects of anti-inflammatory steroid hormones, paving the way for better medications. Her future ambitions are to focus on seeing evidence used to inform not just medical practice but policy across the spectrum of government.