Happy International Women’s Day!

As the world comes together to celebrate International Women's Day this year, under the theme "Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress," I took a moment to reflect on my own journey in the field of eye research, a path paved by the trailblazing women who have mentored, inspired and advocated for me and countless other women in research.

My academic journey began at UNSW in the School of Optometry and Vision Science, where I completed my optometry training. It was here that I first dipped my toes into research, thanks to a UNSW Faculty of Science Summer Research Scholarship with Associate Professor Michele Madigan. Spending time in her laboratory at the Save Sight Institute of the Sydney Eye Hospital ignited my passion for the field of cellular and molecular biology and inspired me to delve deeper into the mechanisms underlying eye diseases.

After graduation, I practiced as a clinical optometrist for two years before pursuing a PhD at the University of Sydney, focusing on cataract formation - a leading cause of blindness worldwide. Under the supervision of Professor Frank Lovicu in the Lens Research Laboratory, I explored cell signalling pathways, seeking to decode the breakdown in cellular communication driving cataract formation. Surrounded by a cohort of PhD and Honours students from diverse backgrounds, many of whom were women, I found an international community of peers and friends. Together, we navigated the challenges and triumphs of the PhD journey, fostering a supportive and inclusive environment that underscored the importance of diversity in science.

Then came the international chapter of my career, where I flew to Boston for my postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School in the Saint-Geniez laboratory. There, under the mentorship of Associate Professor Magali Saint-Geniez, a remarkable international female scientist from Toulouse, France, I delved into the field of age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the elderly population worldwide. My time at Harvard was further enriched by trailblazing women in eye research who continue to serve as mentors and role models to me today including Prof. Pat D'Amore and A/Prof Dongfeng Chen as well as talented female colleagues from around the world including Dr. Menglu Yang, Dr. Margarete Karg, and Dr. Zhengping Hu. Their collective wisdom, support, and global perspectives contributed immensely to making Harvard a vibrant and nurturing place for scientific exploration, personal growth, and friendship.

After a rewarding five years in Boston, I made my way back to Sydney, returning to the very place where my journey began: UNSW. I was awarded the prestigious UNSW Scientia Fellowship and joined the School of Optometry and Vision Science as a Senior Lecturer last year. Here, I have established the Retinal Research Group, my research laboratory that studies the mechanisms underlying retinal eye diseases including age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy with a focus on mitochondrial dysfunction, uncovering insights into how metabolic processes play a pivotal role in driving disease progression. My research group strives to develop better therapies to treat these leading causes of blindness.

Every day, I am reminded of the incredible women who have helped me along the way and continue to support me as an early career researcher. The list of these mentors is extensive, featuring leaders and pioneers in eye research who have generously shared their wisdom and encouragement from our current Head of School, Professor Lisa Keay, and the former Head of School, Professor Fiona Stapleton, to Scientia Fellows like Dr. Lisa Nivison-Smith and Associate Professor Nicole Carnt who have and continue to provide invaluable mentorship.

Committed to empowering women in research, I actively engage in initiatives across several organisations, including serving on the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) Women in Eye and Vision Research (WEAVR) Leadership Committee to support female vision scientists through networking and mentoring programs. I am passionate about supporting the American Society for Investigative Pathology Women in Pathology and have dedicated episodes to celebrating women in science on a podcast I co-host called Behind Our Science. Currently, I am in the UNSW STEMM Champions Program where I aim to initiate outreach events to inspire the next generation of girls and women to explore careers in STEMM fields. By creating opportunities, fostering supportive networks, and highlighting the significance of women's contributions to science and research, my efforts pave the way to empower the next generation of women in STEMM.

As we take a moment to celebrate International Women's Day, let’s reflect upon the amazing women around the world who inspire us each day. My journey, from an eager undergrad to an international researcher, underscores the transformative power of education, mentorship, and community. In the spirit of this year's theme, let us 'Count Her In' at every level, from classrooms to laboratories, from early career researchers to seasoned professionals. Together, we can pave the way for a future where women's contributions are celebrated, their potential is unleashed, and their progress is accelerated, for the benefit of all.