Queensland research centre challenges norms for women in research

By boasting an academic research workforce that is predominantly female, a Queensland research centre is flying the flag on International Women’s Day for women in STEM research positions.

More than 70 per cent of researchers at the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR) are women.

QCMHR Director, Professor John McGrath, said he sees a strong future for the research centre with many female staff members now running large national and international research projects.

“In 2016, Australian statistics reported that women comprised only about 31 per cent of STEM academic and research staff, but QCMHR is lucky to have many emerging female research stars within our research centre.”

Professor McGrath acknowledged that gender equity is not just about hiring larger numbers of female researchers, but also about providing opportunities for their career progression.

“As with many research groups, our high proportion of female academics is not currently reflected at the highest level of our organisation, with only two of our nine research streams currently led, or co-led, by women. This is not good enough” Professor McGrath said.

“In response, QCMHR has committed to increasing the proportion of women in senior leadership positions via a strategic planning process that will feature equity and diversity as a core objective.”

QCMHR has many exemplary female researchers who are highly successful in their field and who are making inroads to improving outcomes for people with mental disorders here in Australia and around the globe. With too many talented female researchers in the centre to mention by name, exemplars include:

Andrea Baker leads our Clinical Support Unit at QCMHR and oversees a range of high profile observational and clinical trial studies, that aim to provide better outcomes for people with psychosis through safer and more effective treatments.
Dr Xiaoying Cui from our Developmental Neurobiology Research Stream is based at UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute. Her molecular skills have been central to many of the discoveries made by the group on the molecular effects of vitamin D on developing neurons, in particular developing dopamine systems. Her work has helped to unravel how vitamin D deficiency could contribute to the onset of schizophrenia and/or autism.
Dr Alize Ferrari is a stand-out female researcher from our Policy and Epidemiology Research Stream whose research achievements have seen her acknowledged on the annual Clarivate™ highly cited researchers list for 2020.  As a burden of disease and epidemiology expert, Alize has recently been handpicked by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, to lead COVID-19 forecasting work in the Australia Pacific Region.
Associate Professor Meredith Harris

Associate Professor Meredith Harris co-leads QCMHR’s Mental Health Outcomes and Case Complexity Research Stream. This team has been commissioned by the Australian Government since 2003 to undertake the analysis and reporting component of the Australian Mental Health Outcomes and Classification Network (AMHOCN), which aims to support and promote the implementation and use of mental health outcome measures in routine clinical practice in specialised public mental health services in all states and territories.
Dr Carla Meurk is a Principal Researcher in our Forensic Mental Health Research Stream. She excels in the coordination of complex translational research projects including Partners in Prevention: Understanding and Enhancing First Responses to Suicide Crisis Situations. This program partners with police and emergency services to provide better care for those individuals who come into contact with police and paramedics while experiencing a suicide crisis.
Dr Rachel Suetani from our Psychiatric Genomics Research Stream is an active researcher, as well as a strategic support, advising on the group’s broader research direction. Some of her most impactful work has been in identifying genes linked to schizophrenia, and genes linked to the onset of metabolic syndrome in some schizophrenia patients. In addition to her busy schedule as a postdoctoral researcher, Rachel also has a keen interest in teaching and student mentorship.
Dr Hannah Thomas
Dr Hannah Thomas from our Child and Youth Mental Health Research Stream co-led the research that resulted in the inclusion of bullying victimisation as a risk factor for major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders in the Global Burden of Disease Study. She also developed and validated a survey tool for measuring bullying experiences with adolescents that has now been translated into numerous languages: Bullying and Cyberbullying Scale for Adolescents.

 About QCMHR

QCMHR is a research partnership between Queensland Health and The University of Queensland via the School of Public Health and Queensland Brain Institute. Hosted by West Moreton Health, QCMHR is funded to work state-wide in Queensland and contribute to the Australian and global research effort to improve mental health.

Media Contact: Kate Gadenne, Research Development Manager, 0438 727 895

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