September 2021

I hope you could take a break over the long weekend and make the most of the wellness day on Friday. You all deserve it. While the torrential rain on Friday made it a day for reading a good book or watching a film or series on Netflix, the signs of approaching spring over the last couple of weeks – the lengthening days, wattle in flower, birds nesting, footy finals – have nevertheless helped to lift my spirits a little.

Thank you once again for your efforts to keep teaching, research and other activity going so effectively during such challenging circumstances this year. All of us are finding the lockdowns difficult and I know it can be exhausting to combine work with home and family life, especially for those of you who have been home schooling.

If you haven’t already been vaccinated, and if you are eligible, I strongly urge you to. Since June, we have been supporting staff who wish to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by making up to three hours away from work available to be vaccinated, without the requirement for leave. As we announced last week, we’re now extending paid vaccine leave to our current casuals.

I hope these initiatives are helpful for those staff who wish to become vaccinated and will contribute to the nation’s vaccination effort. I had my second AstraZeneca shot last week and, as I’ve said previously, I believe that becoming vaccinated is a civic duty that can help our nation to navigate a way out of the pandemic and help all of us get back to campus safely along with our students.

Now, I’d like to share some of the activities and achievements from the last month at La Trobe.



Paralympics

I’ve been barracking for the four La Trobe students competing at the Paralympics in Tokyo. Regardless of the results in their events, they’ve already done us proud in making the Australian team for one of the world’s premier sporting competitions. Well done to swimmers Emily Beecroft and Ahmed Kelly, and basketballers Bree Mellberg and Jeremy Tyndall.


Making the grade

Well done to all of you on your part in La Trobe’s fantastic performance in the latest international university rankings. As I said in my message to staff last Thursday, we’ve maintained our position in the top 250 in the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings for a second consecutive year and achieved our highest ever position of 218 in the world. It’s a real vote of confidence in our work to maintain such a strong position in the THE ranking, which is one of the world’s most prestigious assessments. Last month, we also improved our position in the ARWU ranking by 23 places to be 301 in the world. These results reflect our exceptional academic performance, high-impact research, and engagement and industry connections at a regional, national and global level. We can all be very proud of this success on the international stage, which is all the more impressive because it shows the resilience of our staff in what has been an extraordinary time for higher education institutions.


Funding the future

La Trobe researchers have won an impressive share of grants announced by the Australian Research Council in recent weeks. Well done to Yuning Hong and Michael Livingston, who received prestigious Future Fellowships, and Adrian Farrugia and Marc Trabsky, who won Discovery Early Career Research Awards (DECRAs) [internal link], which are awarded to the most promising early career researchers in the country.

I was also delighted that Chris Pakes and Alex Schenk received a grant under the ARC Linkage Program for their project with RMIT University and industry partner Quantum Brilliance that aims to expand the scope of quantum computer applications to sectors including food production, health, and defence.


Muslim art prize

The University has sponsored the Australian Muslim Art Prize for the last three years as part of our partnership with the Islamic Museum of Australia. This year’s prize has been awarded to Canberra-based artist Fatima Killeen for her work The Crooked Narrative, a collagraphic print that explores ambiguities involved in Western peacekeeping missions in the lands of Islamic nations. La Trobe Art Institute Director Bala Starr was a member of the judging panel for the Prize, and we’re delighted to add Fatima’s work to the University’s collection.


Going green

Congratulations to Andy Hill and his team in LIMS on becoming the first Australian research lab to receive certification from US-based organisation My Green Lab. The Hill Lab received certification after working for a year to introduce new recycling practices, more energy-efficient heated metal bead baths to keep samples warm during experiments, new experimental protocols to reduce or eliminate harmful chemicals, low flow aerators on taps, and energy-efficient lighting. It’s a great example of tangible change supported by funding from the University’s Net Zero Fund. Well done to all involved.


Citizen science

James Van Dyke from LIMS is doing some fantastic work with partners from Western Sydney University and the University of New England with support from a Federal Citizen Science Grant [internal link]. The project will involve members of the community helping to conserve their local turtle populations and identify hotspots that require further conservation action. It’s great to see the team utilise the capacity of 'citizen scientists' to monitor one the most threatened species on earth.


Life sciences research

The School of Life Sciences has produced some excellent brochures that show the incredible breadth and impact of research undertaken across the School. The extent of the School’s activity isn’t surprising when you consider that it’s home to scientists who work across agriculture, botany, soil science, animal science, plant science, ecology, environmental geoscience, evolution, genetics, conservation biology, zoology, microbiology, physiology, neurobiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and anatomy. You can read about research centres and labs in the Departments of Animal, Plant and Soil SciencesPhysiology, Anatomy and Microbiology; and Ecology, Environment and Evolution.


Monumental progress

La Trobe historian Clare Wright has founded a not-for-profit organisation, A Monument of One’s Own, with journalist Kristine Ziwica that aims to correct the stark imbalance in the number of statues around Australia that represent historical women figures, which currently sits at a dismal four per cent. The project is off to a terrific start, with the first two women elected to Australia’s Parliament, Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tangney, to be cast in bronze near Old Parliament House in Canberra along with the first Indigenous Australian to serve in Parliament, Neville Bonner. I’m proud that La Trobe University is the project’s exclusive education partner.


Public events

Going global

Congratulations to Robert Manne and Bec Strating on the tremendous success of the event held last month with former Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd to discuss Australia’s relationship with China, which generated extensive media coverage in Australia and around the world. With almost 5,000 people registering for the live event, it was one of the most popular discussions ever presented by La Trobe, and was expertly managed by Tory Dillon and the University events team. If you missed the discussion on the night, you can watch it on-demand.

Investing for the future

Thanks to Katie Holmes for moderating an important discussion for La Trobe staff last week with UniSuper’s chief investment officer, John Pearce, about climate change and the exposure to fossil fuels in UniSuper’s investment portfolio. It was great to see Phil Dolan, Adjunct Professor in the La Trobe Business School, add some insightful analysis during the event based on his experience and expertise in finance and economics. You can watch the event on-demand. I also encourage you to get involved in the La Trobe Climate Network, which is co-convened by Katie and Lawrie Zion.

Making sense of the pandemic

There’s been a lot of media commentary about the COVID-19 modelling done by the Doherty Institute, which is named in honour of Laureate Professor Peter Doherty, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering how the immune system recognises virus-infected cells. Don’t miss Peter in conversation with the head of La Trobe’s Bendigo campus, Julie Rudner, on 15 September about his acclaimed book on the COVID-19 pandemic, An Insider’s Plague Year, as part of the Bendigo Writer’s Festival. You can register now.

Discussion of Afghanistan crisis

Like all Australians, I have been distressed and saddened watching events unfolding in Afghanistan in recent weeks. Robert Manne’s next Ideas and Society event on 22 September will consider issues around the withdrawal of US troops, the meaning of the Taliban victory for the Afghan Hazaras and other groups, the situation facing women in Afghanistan, and issues for Afghan refugees especially in relation to Australia. La Trobe’s Niamatullah Ibrahimi will join with William Maley from ANU, Maryam Zahid from NGO Afghan Women on the Move, and David Manne from Refugee Legal to discuss these issues with moderator Karen Middleton from The Saturday Paper. You can register here.


In closing

That’s it for another very busy month at La Trobe. Thank you for your extraordinary efforts to continue working so effectively during the recent lockdowns.

John