Gender Equity Fund Backs Two Mother Scientists

5 November 2021

The recipients for this year’s John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) Gender Equity Fund have been announced by the JCSMR Equity Committee.

Two mother scientists—Dr Amandeep Kaur and Dr Yvette Wooff—will receive $10,000 per person to support their career progression.

“I felt lucky to be part of an institution which has such generous funding to support women scientists,” said Dr Kaur from the Gardiner Group.

“It is a privilege to be chosen as a recipient of this award,” said Dr Wooff from the Clear Vision Research Lab.

Initially provided by a donation by Professor Carola Vinuesa, the Gender Equity Fund has supported four female researchers between 2015 and 2018.

With continuous support of Mr Richard Miller and the John Curtin Medical Research Foundation, the Committee decided to fund two early career researchers (ECR) this year.

“Amandeep and Yvette have shown incredible achievements as young female scientists while they experienced significant career interruptions due to childcare responsibilities,” said JCSMR Equity Committee Chair Dr Bahar Miraghazadeh.

Catching up and going beyond

Dr Amandeep Kaur.

Dr Kaur sees motherhood as “a wonderful experience”, but becoming a mother as an ECR is challenging.

“One of the biggest challenges is to return to work and catch up with research work where you left.”

The funding will support Dr Kaur to establish efficient childcare management and help her catch up with her research work after a 6-month break.

The project she leads investigates how a new class of anticancer drugs affect one’s production of platelets.

“Anticancer drugs almost always carry the important side effect of loss of platelet production leading to increased bleeding risk and cancer treatment cessation,” explains Dr Kaur.

But the drugs they are examining have shown the ability to elevate platelet production while killing cancer cells.

“This exciting and previously unreported property will have major implications for treating people with solid tumour and haematological malignancies.”

The funding will also enable Dr Kaur to present her work at the International Society for Thrombosis and Haemostasis Congress, a major international meeting of her field, in London in July 2022.

Looking back, Dr Kaur said a maternal leave gave her a fresh mind for achieving more when returning to work—with good planning and support.

“Outsourcing the work is a good way to catch up quickly. It’s also good to look for financial resources available for women scientists,” she said.

“A most important thing is the support of your supervisor and help from your fellow lab members.”

Making time to treat the untreatable

Dr Yvette Wooff.

Being a young independent researcher and a mother of three at the same time, Dr Wooff is constantly juggling the responsibilities of work and family life.

“I am really grateful to the award funders for making this balance a little bit more manageable and less stressful,” she said.

With support from the funding, she will have more flexible time for her research, knowing that her children are taken care of at childcare.

In the lab, Dr Wooff investigates how extracellular vesicles—small cell-to-cell communication vehicles—function in the healthy and degenerating retina.

The research may unlock novel therapeutics for retinal degenerations, including the currently untreatable age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

“The goal of this work is to uncover the molecular message of health transported within these communication vehicles and harness this message to develop novel therapeutics for the treatment of AMD.”

Along the way, the Clear Vision Research Lab led by Associate Professor Riccardo Natoli has been supportive to Dr Wooff and “has made all the difference” in allowing her to thrive in both aspects of her life.

“I am lucky to have never felt like being a mum has held me back from achieving my career goals,” said Dr Wooff.

“I hope that through committees and grant opportunities, such as the GE fund and committee, that this becomes more commonplace for young mother scientists in the future.”

About the JCSMR Gender Equity Fund

The JCSMR Gender Equity Fund is open annually and exclusively to female JCSMR researchers who will or have experienced career disruption in the past 12 months due to having a baby. The fund seeks to support female ECRs and PhD students to return to work after having a baby.