October 2021

Moving our clocks forward for Daylight Saving Time was a reminder that we’re in the final quarter of another year. Like 2020, it’s been a year of extraordinary challenges as we’ve navigated multiple COVID-19 lockdowns and juggled the demands of home schooling and domestic life while continuing with our work for the University.

I’m happy to work from home occasionally, but I really miss life on campus, which is why I’m very pleased that there was such a positive response to my announcement of the roadmap for reopening campuses. It means that we can return to campus-based teaching and research as safely as possible. Thanks to everyone who completed the anonymous COVID-19 vaccination survey that will inform our plans; and remember that there are now testing and vaccination facilities on or close to all our campuses.

We have created a page on the University’s website with more information about the roadmap, including FAQs about COVID-19 vaccinations that are based on information provided by our public health experts. We will update this page as our plans develop further.

I’m also aware that the changes we’re making under our Transformation Program at La Trobe have created stress and uncertainty for many. I hope the day of leave we’ve provided has been helpful for those preparing job applications.

Despite the challenges we’ve faced in recent months, our staff continue to do incredible things. Keep an eye on your inbox next week when we open nominations for our 2021 Staff Awards. You can suggest colleagues and teams that you’d like to see recognised for their efforts during this extraordinary year.

For now, I’d like to mention some of our recent achievements.

Accelerating business in central Victoria

La Trobe will continue to support regional economic activity by delivering two accelerator programs in central Victoria as part of the City of Greater Bendigo’s Startup Central Victoria initiative. The programs will be delivered in October 2021 and February 2022, with a stream for early stage businesses to help them create, test and validate their business concepts; and an advanced stream for businesses seeking to scale up their operations nationally and internationally.

We’re also working with the City of Greater Bendigo to establish a regional advanced manufacturing and innovation hub in partnership with the Bendigo Manufacturing Group. With $2 million in funding from the Federal Government’s Strategic University Reform Fund, the hub will be a ‘one-stop-shop’ providing specialist advice and programs to support digital transformation. After 12 months, we plan to extend the hub across our regional campus network to Shepparton, Mildura and Albury-Wodonga.

NHMRC grants

Well done to Adam Culvenor from the La Trobe Sports and Exercise Medicine Research Centre and Ajithkumar Vasanthakumar from the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute and the La Trobe University School of Cancer Medicine on being awarded $3 million in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Investigator Grant scheme. These grants are incredibly competitive, so it’s terrific that Adam and Ajithkumar have won funding for their research into knee osteoarthritis and cancer treatment, respectively.

Award-winning design

It was great to see the refurbished library at the Bendigo campus receive a Commendation in the Public Design category of the Design Institute of Australia’s 2021 Australian Interior Design Awards. The Library was commended for its striking entry and flexible events space, the digital learning lab (integrating augmented and virtual reality technologies), and active learning spaces

Literary winners

A book published by the La Trobe University Press, our publishing partnership with Black Inc., is in the race for one of the most prestigious non-fiction prizes in the UK. Eben Kirksey’s The Mutant Project, which examines the implications of gene-editing and genetic modification, has been longlisted for the 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize.

I won’t be surprised if two new books by La Trobe authors also find themselves on literary prize lists.

La Trobe Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, political scientist and avowed republican Dennis Altman has published a fascinating exploration of the unexpected durability and potential benefits of constitutional monarchies. God Save the Queen: The Strange Persistence of Monarchies is available now.

And La Trobe historian Yves Rees has followed up their Calibre-prize winning essay Reading the Mess Backwards with a memoir exploring bodies, gender and identity through the story of their own gender transition in All About Yves.

Writing Nangak Tamboree

Our creative writing lecturer Kelly Gardiner has also written a terrific piece reflecting on day to day life along the University’s Nangak Tamboree biodiverse waterway corridor and regeneration project. I look forward to keeping up with Kelly’s blog as her Writing Nangak Tamboree project evolves.

Going digital

La Trobe has one of the most substantial university art collections in Australia. It’s great to see the La Trobe Art Institute digitising the FM Courtis Collection at the Bendigo campus that has grown from a collection first established at the Bendigo Teachers’ College in 1958. The project will make works by artists including Sidney Nolan, Brett Whitely, Grace Cossington-Smith, Norma Bull and Arthur Streeton widely accessible and will support their use as online learning resources.

Plant science award

Congratulations to Kim Johnson from the Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences on winning the Australian Society of Plant Scientists’ Jan Anderson Award. Kim will talk about her research into developing sustainable and efficient crop plants in a plenary Anderson Lecture at the Society’s annual conference in November.

Keeping it fresh

Well done to Brooke Patterson from the La Trobe Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre on being named a 2021 Fresh Scientist. Brooke is one of 12 young Victorian scientists that will receive media training on presenting science in a way that is accessible to a general audience, including practice interviews with journalists from television, print and radio.

Winning events

La Trobe is known for its contribution to public debate and discussion, which has been one of our hallmarks for more than 50 years. Last month was no exception, with some excellent events. Julie Rudner held a fascinating conversation for the Bendigo Writers Festival with Peter Doherty about his book on the pandemic, An Insider's Plague Year, which you can watch on-demand; and Rob Manne’s Ideas and Society program presented a terrific panel including La Trobe’s Niamatullah Ibrahimi to discuss the tragic events that have unfolded in Afghanistan in recent months, also available to watch online.

One of the reasons for our success in presenting these kinds of discussions is the brilliant behind-the-scenes work done by our University Events team. The pandemic has posed numerous logistical challenges for event managers and our team has done a brilliant job in moving events online and presenting activity on campus within strict health and safety requirements. The team has worked incredibly hard to deliver creative solutions over the last 18 months, so I was thrilled to see them recognised with three awards at the 2021 Meeting and Events Industry Association National Awards.

Congratulations to Tory Dillon on being named National In-House Event Manager of the Year – a richly deserved honour. La Trobe also won National Corporate In-House Event Management Team of the Year and National Corporate Event of the Year for the terrific GradsFest program we presented last December. It was a huge effort to be the first university in Victoria to hold a physical graduation experience in 2020, with more than 3,500 graduands attending campus to receive their testamurs.

Well done to Tory and her team, including Jennifer La Torre, Holly Evans, Amy Cook, Sara Regan, Aidan Hamilton and Lauren Elliott, and collaborators from across the University who rolled up their sleeves to make GradsFest so successful, especially Prue Kasby, Emily Razmovska and Craig Appleton.

In closing

That’s it for another month at La Trobe. Thank you once again for all your hard work. And congratulations to those who have been recognised for their work – we all share in your success. I hope you will put forward some of your colleagues when we open nominations for our 2021 Staff Awards next week.