LIMS launches fellowship to support women in science

The La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) is establishing a new, 3-year fellowship which aims to reignite the careers of high-achieving women in science.

The fellowship, named after renowned biochemist Emeritus Professor Marilyn Anderson AO (LIMS and School of Agriculture, Biomedicine and Environment), aims to support women who have experienced a career interruption by offering a targeted opportunity to develop their own research direction and research group within the Institute.

Professor Anderson is excited to be named for this fellowship, which she hopes will help women in science progress at a crucial time in their careers while inspiring the next generation.

“Not only do we want to promote individuals because they do fabulous science – we want them to be examples to younger women. We want more women and girls to enter STEM. So, we need women in leadership roles, whether in academia, industry, or in other parts of the scientific community,” she said.

LIMS Director Professor Patrick Humbert said that the new fellowship was not only a chance to foster and promote diversity in science but also to celebrate Professor Anderson’s contribution as a scientist and mentor.

“Professor Anderson has been one of the core people in the biochemistry department here for more than two decades. In that time, she founded a spin-out biotechnology company, was an instrumental founding member of LIMS, and has become a fantastic leadership role model for everyone but particularly women in science,” he said.

The Marilyn Anderson Fellowship will be the third offered by LIMS, and is open to women at the mid-career academic Levels C and D.

It will sit alongside the Institute’s existing fellowships – the Bruce Stone Fellowship in Chemical Biology and the Nicholas Hoogenraad AO Fellowship in Molecular Sciences.

Professor Anderson is not only delighted and humbled to have her name recognised alongside these two respected scientists; after seeing the success of the first two fellowships; she is also excited at the prospect of LIMS extending its support by offering a third.

She said the track record of women who have gone through the existing fellowships is outstanding and hopes this new opportunity will attract even more high-achieving women in science.

“It will be good for LIMS, it will be good for the University, but most importantly it will be good for these fantastic scientists. They’ll set up labs, they’ll attract other students, and they’ll build their career,” she said.

Data from Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) shows that more than 50 per cent of early career scientists at academic Levels A and B are women.

But after this stage participation plummets, with less than 30 per cent of women in science research making it beyond Level C.

Professor Anderson said that women at this career stage have many demands on their time.

“If you’re lucky enough to get to this stage, you might have a young family, and you’re trying to maintain a lab. Women also often take on extra teaching, administration and committee roles, which are beneficial in other ways but can restrict their time for research,” she said.

She said this means women often cannot compete on an even playing field with men when applying for fellowships and grants.

“You can’t just do good research to receive funding, you have to do extraordinary research. A very low percentage of grants get funded, and many women are disadvantaged because their research is impacted due to other calls on their time,” she said.

LIMS Deputy Director Professor Stephanie Gras hopes that offering support at the critical mid-career stage will ensure high-achieving women can continue with their research and progress to senior roles.

“If we want to have more Level E professors who are women, we need to be able to retain them at Levels C and D. If they’ve been successful enough to get that far, they’re already on the right path, so we need to provide the right framework, opportunities and support to ensure they progress to more senior roles,” Professor Gras said.

Applications for the Marilyn Anderson Fellowship will open soon.