April 2022

7 April 2022

I hope you enjoyed the new ‘In Conversation’ format of our first All Staff webinar of the year. We have had an overwhelmingly positive response from staff through comments and feedback. My warmest thanks to Professor Clare Wright, who was our fantastic host, and to the other guests who appeared with Clare on camera or on video. Thanks also to Claire Bowers, Sharyn Brady, Tory Dillon and the whole production team who worked so hard to get the new format up and running. If you missed the session, you can watch the recording.

I am keen to ensure that the new format retains the openness and transparency that was the hallmark of the All Staff webinars in 2020 and 2021, while enabling us to show the great work being done across the University as we emerge from the pandemic.

An important issue, raised with me by Clare, were the results of the recent National Student Safety Survey, released last month. As I said to Clare, I found them disappointing, both for La Trobe and for the sector, because they suggest no significant reduction in prevalence rates since the release of the ‘Changing the Course’ report in 2017, despite the huge effort that has been directed at this challenge. It suggests to me that the attitudes that underlie sexual harassment and assault will take time to change. At La Trobe, we will redouble our efforts to prevent incidents occurring and to improve our support for those who experience them. The good news is that there is much more research available now about the effectiveness of different measures than there was in 2017. 

As I said at the webinar, we’re making good progress in implementing our new operating model, but it’s not surprising that there are some issues to iron out as we embed it, especially in relation to the way that the Schools and central portfolios work together. If you have concerns about your workload or ideas to improve processes under the new model, make sure you raise them with your manager.

Finally, Clare asked me to nominate my three key areas of focus for 2022. In response, I said: bedding down the new operating model; continuing to work on our culture, particularly our equality, diversity, and inclusion programs; and making progress in the University City of the Future development at the Melbourne campus.

There are many other projects underway, and it feels like the first few months of 2022 have been busier than ever. Our staff and students have been doing amazing things, and I’d like to share some examples with you now.


Olga Tennison bequest

The announcement last week of Olga Tennison’s incredible $45 million bequest to La Trobe was truly humbling. Philanthropists will only back research that’s world-class and makes a real difference to the causes they want to support – and there’s no doubt that Cheryl Dissanayake and her team at the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) are world leaders in developing evidence-based programs to directly support people with autism and their families. It’s terrific to know that OTARC will be able to continue its impactful research for many years to come.


SRK PhD

It was wonderful to see Gopika Kottantharayil Bhasi, the inaugural recipient of the La Trobe University Shah Rukh Khan PhD Scholarship, finally arrive on campus to meet with Chancellor John Brumby and the researchers she’ll be working with during her PhD. The scholarship was announced during Shah Rukh Khan’s memorable visit to our Melbourne campus to receive an honorary doctorate in 2019 – but the pandemic has prevented Gopika travelling from India to Melbourne until now. Gopika will be joining Travis Beddoe’s research team in AgriBio to develop ways to protect the world’s honeybee population from viruses, pollutants, and declining diversity in flora.


Harvard bound

Warmest congratulations to Katie Holmes on being appointed as a Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Visiting Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University. Katie is following in the footsteps of La Trobe luminaries Peter Beilharz, Marilyn Lake and Dennis Altman, who served in this important role in 1999, 2001 and 2005 respectively. Katie’s expertise in environmental history and issues related to climate change and global environmental concerns will bring important perspectives to bear on bilateral relations with the United States. This prestigious appointment is a great honour for Katie – and richly deserved.


Career success

One of the reasons I’m so positive about our future at La Trobe is the strength of our early- and mid-career researchers across so many disciplines. It’s been terrific to see some of our brightest researchers being recognised recently.

I was really pleased to see Amy Baxter from the Department of Biochemistry and Chemistry appointed as our latest Tracey Banivanua Mar Fellow. I look forward to hearing about Amy’s research on the pathogenesis and progression of cardiovascular disease.

Congratulations to Yuning Hong from LIMS on winning the Australian Academy of Science Le Fèvre Medal for outstanding research in chemistry by an early career researcher.

And best wishes to Troy Heffernan from the School of Education, who has won a Fulbright Scholarship to examine support practices for marginalised students across universities in the United States and Australia. Troy is moving to the University of Sheffield in the UK – but we’re pleased to have played a part in helping him develop his career. Please keep in touch, Troy!


Grant winners

La Trobe researchers have also won some important grants recently.

Well done to Alison King, Nick Bond and David Crook from the Centre for Freshwater Ecosystems at the Albury-Wodonga campus on winning an ARC Linkage Grant to work with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and the Department of Primary Industries to address threats to coastal freshwater fish and develop frameworks for more efficient use of water resources and improved conservation outcomes for native fish.

And congratulations to Christina Nedev, Fiona Chionh, Sze Ting Lee, Delphine Merino and Bhupinder Pal, who have been awarded Victorian Cancer Agency 2021 Workforce Funding grants for their projects that promise to rapidly translate research into treatments that improve clinical practice and care of cancer patients.

It’s also pleasing that we received a large volume of quality applications for the second round of our Internal Investment Schemes that support research proposals, aligned to our research themes, to secure external research income and partnership support. We are supporting two projects under the Large Collaboration scheme and 24 projects under the ABC scheme that helps to prepare early- and mid-career researchers to successfully enter the grant pipeline.


Kicking goals

It was terrific to join the Chancellor, sports partners, and State Government and local Council representatives for the formal opening of Stage 2 of the Sports Park at the Melbourne campus on 29 March. The brilliant facilities have been used by university and community groups for some time, and the opening has been postponed several times due to the pandemic. We expect 10,000 local community members will be coming onto campus each week to use the Sports Park, which will also be an important base for our health science and sports medicine research – not to mention the future home for the Matildas, the Victorian base for Football Federation Australia’s national women’s programs, and a State Rugby Union Centre.


The art of performance

The La Trobe Art Institute opened its latest show, Attention seeker, last week. Guest curator Amita Kirpalani from the National Gallery of Victoria has put together a collection of works that explore how visual artists take inspiration from performance. Developed to complement the Bendigo Art Gallery’s exhibition Elvis: Direct from Graceland, the exhibition delves into the spaces between idealised performance, rehearsal and repetition, and connection with an audience when things don’t always go to plan. It’s open until 3 July, so make sure you drop into the La Trobe Art Institute next time you’re in Bendigo.


Electioneering

With the Federal election expected to be called any day now, La Trobe is teaming up with The Conversation to provide what promises to be the most insightful analysis of the campaign. After two years away from the microphone, much-loved former ABC broadcaster Jon Faine will present a special election podcast, Below the Line, which also features La Trobe political scientist Andrea Carson.


In closing

That’s it for another very busy month at La Trobe. I hope you can enjoy some time with family and friends over Easter and I look forward to seeing you on campus after the break.

John