Jodie Ingles wears many hats. She is a cardiac genetic counsellor, an award-winning scientist, a widely-published researcher, an Associate Professor, as well as a wife and a mum.
All this, and she’s only 38 years old!
This International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we recognise Jodie for her brilliant breakthroughs in genetic heart research, and for paving the way for female scientists trying to balance life as a researcher with motherhood.
Jodie grew up in a small town in country New South Wales, where at the time, only a handful of her high school cohort would go on to study at university. She wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do, but she loved the idea of science and medicine. Jodie also read books about Ebola and enjoyed the Jurassic Park book series, which she says went into a lot of detail about mathematic and genetic engineering.
“I used to think there was no way a country girl could make this a career. I never had a career plan. I just followed the path that made me happy, and eventually ended up where I am.”
Jodie admits she didn’t know a lot about women in science growing up, but says she was lucky to grow up in a supportive and encouraging environment at home.
“My dad would always buy me books about how things work. When I was considering studying medicine, he called one of the universities and had them post all their information to us.”
Jodie went on to complete a Bachelor of Biomedical Science, a Master of Public Health, a Graduate Diploma in Genetic Counselling and a PhD. Most recently, she was promoted to Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney.
Since 2003, Jodie has been working at the Centenary Institute in Professor Chris Semsarian’s (AM) Molecular Cardiology Program. Her role involves seeing families in the clinic as a cardiac genetic counsellor and overseeing the return of genetic testing results.
As part of her PhD, Jodie co-established the Australian Genetic Heart Disease Registry in 2008, and in 2015, she became Head of the Clinical Cardiac Genetics group at Centenary.
“I do what I do, because for 15 years, I’ve been lucky to meet so many amazing families in our clinics and I want to find answers for them. We are there for families when they’re at absolute rock bottom, and being able to help them through that is our goal.”
Jodie has been the recipient of many prestigious awards and grants, including:
In 2018, Jodie also delivered the prestigious plenary Janus Lecture at the American National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia (US). The conference was attended by about 2,500 genetic counsellors from all around the world.
On top of being a highly-successful young scientist, Jodie is also a mum. She had her almost 10-year-old son during her PhD and admits while it can be difficult, having a family means she has to make it work.
“Centenary has a great attitude towards working mums. I’m a total workaholic, so I am sure I would burn out very quickly without being forced to leave the office by 4PM. It’s impossible to stress about a grant or research paper being rejected when you have this amazing little human who wants to tell you about his soccer game.”
Jodie says it can become particularly tricky when she’s required to travel overseas for conferences, which usually happens at least five times a year. She believes it’s important to surround yourself with supportive people, saying she’s particularly grateful for her father-in-law who helps her husband look after her son when she’s away.
Her advice to women who are considering having children but also want to progress their career?
“Just do it. There is never a right time, you just find a way. However, I would add that there is only so much time in a day so if you are looking after small children, then you probably need to be realistic about how much work you can achieve.”
Jodie is adamant it would be almost impossible to succeed in academia without a mentor, because there is no way of being able to see the big picture, and how the little steps along the way lead to something important later on.
“I was lucky to find a great mentor in Professor Chris Semsarian who was able to help guide me in building a track record that is now competitive in the fellowship and grant schemes. Without being able to attract funding, we have no ability to work towards independence.”
And now, Jodie is finding joy in helping to create opportunities for junior staff and students.
“Being able to pull people up with you is so important. It’s the only way I’ve been able to succeed and I intend on creating those opportunities for as many people as I can.”
Statistics show that while women make-up more than half of science PhD and early career researchers, they account for just 17 per cent of senior academics in Australian universities and research institutes.
As winner of the Centenary Institute’s 2017 Bank of Queensland Gender Equity Award, Jodie is one of those looking to change those figures.
Jodie believes the tide is already turning, with more public recognition of gender issues in the academic sector. However, she also thinks there is much room for improvement.
“It can be easy to blame any rejection on the fact I am female. I think that wondering how it is impacting on how people perceive me and my applications isn’t overly helpful. I would really like to see how blinding of applications would go, like the NHMRC.”
Jodie was also selected as a mentee in the 2018 Franklin Women’s six-month mentoring program, alongside fellow Centenary researcher Dr Jessamy Tiffen.
Jodie offers the same advice to anyone looking to enter the world of science, regardless of their gender.
“Science is a career for people who are curious, hard-working, creative and determined. Applying those skills in medical research offers the potential to have a positive impact on many people.”
Looking back on her own career to date, she also believes it’s crucial to be confident in what you do.
“I wish I had believed more in myself. I haven’t had a typical career path and at some level, I still feel like the country girl who needs to always prove herself. That can be exhausting! I’m trying to better accept those insecurities as who I am, but I think it’s important they don’t hold you back.”
To arrange an interview with Associate Professor Jodie Ingles or to request images, please contact: Centenary Institute Media and Communications Manager, Laura Parr, email@example.com, 02 9565 6108
 Gender Equity, Australian Academy of Science – https://www.science.org.au/supporting-science/gender-equity
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