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Centenary Institute - Medical Research

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Highlighting the Centenary Institute’s Laura Yeates

Laura Yeates leads a science-centric life. She’s a cardiac genetic counsellor at the Centenary Institute (a medical research institute based in Sydney). She’s also the Chair of the Australasian Society of Genetic Counsellors and is one year into a PhD which is focused on caring for families affected by sudden cardiac death (SCD) of a young relative.

This International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we recognise Laura for her continuing dedication to science, celebrate her achievements as a successful woman in STEMM and show how rewarding a career in science can be.

“Science has always been a large part of my life and has provided me with so many wonderful opportunities, both at a personal and professional level,” says Laura.

“I’ve always loved science–firstly as a child and then right through school as well. I knew I wanted to do a science degree at University and to see where that might take me.”

“It was there that I discovered my passion for genetics. Learning about genes, how they’re responsible for running all the processes in our body–and how a faulty or altered gene can lead to specific diseases and disorders. It was all absolutely fascinating to me.”

Genetic counselling

After graduation, Laura’s interest in genetics led her to successfully completing a Graduate Diploma of Genetic Counselling. A role as a cardiac genetic counsellor within the Centenary Institute’s Molecular Cardiology Program followed shortly thereafter. In 2014, Laura completed her Genetic Counselling Certification with the Human Genetics Society of Australasia.

“As a genetic counsellor, my job involves meeting and working with individuals and family members affected by genetic heart disease. This can include supporting family members who have lost loved ones, often involving children and young adults,” says Laura

“Sudden cardiac death in older people (over the age of 35) tends to be due to coronary heart disease / blocked arteries,” she says.

“In younger people however, sudden cardiac death is more commonly due to genetic heart disease. It is a traumatic time for families. It’s not just the death of the family member they are coping with but if we suspect or determine the cause of death to be genetic, then other family members may be at risk as well.”

In her role, Laura works closely with clinicians and researchers investigating the possible causes of sudden death to be able to provide the genetic counselling to the individuals and families affected.

“It’s a critical role that combines the need for both scientific knowledge as well as high level inter-personal and communication skills,” says Laura.

“You need to be able to understand the science and mechanisms of disease but also have an understanding of how the changes in our DNA can impact someone’s life. It is a privilege to work closely with people, helping them navigate through the different ways the disease may impact their lives, whether that be sports restriction, communicating to family members about their genetic condition or understanding the results of their genetic testing.”

Chair of the Australasian Society of Genetic Counsellors

A cardiac genetic counsellor for fourteen years, Laura became Chair of the Australasian Society of Genetic Counsellors in 2018.

“It is an absolute pleasure to Chair the Australasian Society of Genetic Counsellors, to represent my colleagues and to advocate for them as they go about their work. Although, this volunteer role does take some time, I feel it’s important to put your hand up and give back to the profession. I love being a genetic counsellor and it is an honour to lead this group as we advocate for our members and raise awareness of what we do across the wider community,” she says.

“Over the last two years we’ve rolled out webinars and online training options for members, established a Diversity, Inclusivity, Cultural Competence and Equity (DICE) Working Group, and shortly, will be launching a pilot mentoring program to support members in all stages of their careers. It’s all very exciting being a part of these initiatives.”

Further learning

Not content to sit on her laurels, Laura has also committed to further learning and was the recent recipient of a prestigious co-funded NHMRC and National Heart Foundation PhD scholarship. This is supporting her study into improving care for families affected by the sudden cardiac death of a young relative.

“The psychological effects of sudden cardiac death on a family is significant and lifelong. My research is all about how we can better provide support measures to help these vulnerable family members over both the short and long term,” she says.

Now one year into her study Laura still works part time as a genetic counsellor at Centenary but is enjoying the challenges of her PhD research too.

“As a mature student I’m living proof that it’s never too late to start your PhD!”


To any aspiring young women who are thinking about further education and a career in science, Laura has some sage advice.

“Keep learning about the topics you enjoy, particularly when it comes to study. You’ll find the experience more exciting and probably do much better as well!”

She also stresses the fact that decisions are never absolute.

“You can always change your courses mid-stream if you find that they’re not right for you. Or if you have an interest in several areas–why not do a double degree? People have multiple careers these days and your study is never wasted.”

The key thing says Laura, is to always be looking for what interests you and to be active in pursuing that in a career sense.

“Most days, I’m extremely happy to be at work. You might have a really difficult conversation with a family but at the end of the day I feel like I’ve made a difference. It’s much more fulfilling to have a job you enjoy. Don’t let other people and their views hold you back. Follow your own dreams and then make it happen.”


A final bright spot in Laura’s busy life? Well, she’s particularly excited if she’s contacted by potential donors wanting to know if they can donate to the Centenary’s research programs.

“Funding for medical research is difficult to obtain–there’s always more work to be done but not much money in the pot to go around. Philanthropy is extremely important to supporting the vital work that we do and we value our supporters and their generosity enormously.”

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is held on the 11th February every year. It came from a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2015, to establish an annual International Day to recognise the critical role women and girls play in both science and technology communities.

International Women’s Day event

Dr Jessamy Tiffen from the Centenary Institute’s Melanoma Immunology and Oncology Program has participated in a special ‘Women in Education’ event held at Pymble Ladies College, Sydney.

Aligned with International Women’s Day, Dr Tiffen was an invited panel member at the event which was focused on inspiring female students as to the amazing wealth of opportunities and options available to women in the workplace.

Discussion, in a panel style Q&A format, covered the topics of women and education, leadership, potential discrimination and how to overcome it, as well as the importance of dreaming big for the future and setting achievable goals.

“It was absolutely fantastic to share my knowledge, issues I’ve experienced as a woman, as well to discuss my personal life and career journey to this group of incredibly interested students. There was genuine enthusiasm for what we were saying as panellists and some very insightful questions asked by these young women who are soon to embark on the next phase of their lives,” said Dr Tiffen.

Panel members at the event also included Dr Kate Hadwen, Principal, Pymble Ladies College and Caroline Gurney, Managing Director, Marketing & Communications, Asia Pacific, UBS. The panel moderator was Caroline Overington, Associate Editor, The Australian.

The ‘Women in Education’ event featured in the Australian newspaper and can be viewed here.

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Highlighting the Centenary Institute’s Dr Jessamy Tiffen.

Dr Jessamy Tiffen, a senior member of the Centenary Institute’s Melanoma Immunology and Oncology Program has some sage advice for aspiring female scientists in advance of this year’s ‘International Day of Women and Girls in Science’.

“A career in science can be exciting and fulfilling and gives you the potential to make a real impact in the world. There will be barriers to overcome but if you have a curiosity about the world we live in and are prepared to work hard, you might just be amazed where your scientific career can take you,” says Jessamy.

‘International Day of Women and Girls in Science’ held on the 11th February each year is part of a United Nations General Assembly resolution officially recognising the critical role that women and girls play in science and technology. The UN hopes to see full and equal access and participation in science, for women and girls across the globe.

Cancer researcher

As a scientist at the Centenary Institute, Jessamy is focused on trying to better understand melanoma, a devastating disease responsible for more than 1,700 deaths each year in Australia. Jessamy seeks to understand why certain melanomas respond to treatment in some individuals while other melanomas do not.

“Melanoma is the most common form of cancer affecting young Australians which is extremely sad but which is also extremely motivating,” she says. “Understanding the mechanics behind melanoma treatment resistance is essential to developing new drugs and finding new cures which will help save lives.”

Jessamy credits some of her early interest in science from her grandfather who was a microbiologist. “We used to talk about his work around the kitchen table and discuss his latest findings (on footrot!) so the importance and need for research and scientists was communicated to me at an extremely early age. His love of science certainly rubbed off on me,” she says.

Teachers as role models

It was at school however where Jessamy really became captivated by science and much of this was due to the teachers that she was fortunate enough to encounter.  

“I had a series of fantastic female science teachers who were extremely passionate about their work and who were absolutely committed to their students. They were all so positive and allowed my curiosity to flourish. They also helped me to believe in myself – to realise that I was good enough to take my science to a higher level and that there would be career opportunities out there for me. Looking back, I realise how essential it was, having such supportive female teachers encouraging me at such a formative stage of my life.”


Jessamy notes that there are still challenges to overcome in the higher learning sector, as well as in the workplace, and that gender disparity still remains an issue in the Australian scientific community. Statistics for example show that women comprise more than half of science PhD graduates and early career researchers, but less than a fifth of senior academics in Australian universities and research institutes.[1]

“Unfortunately factors such as stereotyping of women, a lack of flexibility in working arrangements for mothers and a lack of female role models still persists in our industry,” she says. “Many women I talk with have experienced barriers or a lack of fairness at some point in their scientific career.”  

Jessamy however, believes that this situation is improving. “Organisations are slowly getting better at implementing inclusion and gender equity policies, even compared to a decade ago.”

“I’ve benefited greatly in my current role,” she explains. “The Centenary Institute has policies in place allowing part-time work and flexible hours for mothers. I also have access to a research assistant and was awarded a Carers Travel Award that allowed me to attend a major scientific conference with my baby. It’s this type of support that should be available in all organisations.”

Value of Mentors

Working closely with a female mentor has also proved valuable for Jessamy – in supporting her career aspirations as well as in providing perspective on achieving a work-life balance.

“The Centenary Institute is an academic partner of Franklin Women, an organisation supporting women working in health and medical research careers,” she says.

“I was fortunate enough to undertake their mentoring program which linked me up with a brilliant female mentor outside of my workplace and this has been fantastic. I meet with her on a regular basis and we talk about my goals, how I’m doing at work and any issues or problems that I might be encountering generally. My mentor acts as an objective sounding board for me, she provides advice and has become a friend and advocate for me.”


Final words of advice from Jessamy to any aspiring female scientist out there?

“We need to encourage a new generation of female scientists to help tackle the major challenges of our time, to break-down barriers and to make it to the top,” says Jessamy.

“If you have an interest in science think about embracing it. There are are so many career opportunities out there for skilled and motivated scientists in areas ranging from aerospace, to biotechnology, telecommunications, agriculture and the environment. Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Just go for it and realise that overcoming the challenges makes it all worthwhile.”

[1] Gender Equity, Australian Academy of Science – https://www.science.org.au/supporting-science/genderequity

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Meet Associate Professor Jodie Ingles

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.

Growing up

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.”

Scientific achievements

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:

  • NHMRC Career Development Fellowship, Level 1
  • NSW Cardiovascular Research Network Rising Star Ministerial Award
  • Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellowship
  • NSW Health EMCR Fellowship, Cardiovascular Health
  • Rita and Cornforth Medal for PhD Achievement, University of Sydney
  • Peter Bancroft Prize for Research Work, Sydney Medical School
  • CSANZ Affiliate’s Prize

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.

Balancing academic life with being a mum

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.”

Importance of having a mentor

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.”

Associate Professor Jodie Ingles, Professor Chris Semsarian, cardiac research, heart research, medical research

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.”

Gender equity in science

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.[1]

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.

Advice to girls looking to pursue a career in science

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.”

About International Day of Women and Girls in Science

  • International Day of Women and Girls in Science is held on 11 February every year.
  • It came out of a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2015, which established an annual International Day to recognise the critical role women and girls play in science and technology communities.
  • The Day is designed to raise awareness about the significant gender gap which has persisted in all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Women remain underrepresented in these fields.

Read the media release as a PDF.

To arrange an interview with Associate Professor Jodie Ingles or to request images, please contact: Centenary Institute Media and Communications Manager, Laura Parr, l.parr@centenary.org.au, 02 9565 6108

[1] Gender Equity, Australian Academy of Sciencehttps://www.science.org.au/supporting-science/gender-equity

Centenary Doctor promoted to Associate Professor

Centenary wishes to congratulate Jodie Ingles, who has been promoted from Dr to Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney.

Jodie leads the Clinical Cardiac Genetics Laboratory within Professor Chris Semsarian’s Molecular Cardiology Program at Centenary.

She has also recently delivered the prestigious plenary Janus Lecture at the 2018 American National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia (US).

Well done Jodie on your promotion to Associate Professor!

Four Centenary researchers awarded NHMRC grants

Pictured: Dr Jacob Qi, Dr Renjing Liu and Professor Phil Hansbro.

The Centenary Institute would like to congratulate four of our researchers on securing funding under the Federal Government’s highly-competitive National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) scheme.

Professor Phil Hansbro, Head of Centenary’s Centre for Inflammation, has been awarded a four-year Project Grant. His team will use the funding to develop new therapies for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – the third leading cause of death worldwide.

Dr Renjing Liu, Head of the Agnes Ginges Laboratory for Diseases of the Aorta in Centenary’s Vascular Biology Program, has been awarded two NHMRC project grants starting in 2019 to explore the role of epigenetics in cardiovascular diseases.

“Collaboration is key to successful research. The funding from NHMRC will allow me to continue my collaborations with leading researchers both nationally and abroad because improving human health is a global effort. It will also allow me to build a strong team to see that our work will contribute to increased understanding of biology and diseases, and add to making a difference in people’s lives,” says Dr Liu.

Dr Jacob Qi, also from Centenary’s Vascular Biology Program, has been awarded a three-year grant, which he will use to bolster his research into discovering the metabolic basis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease progression to liver disease.

Dr Gerard Chu from Centenary’s Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program, has been awarded a three-year Postgraduate Scholarship grant. Dr Chu’s research is focused on analysing the immune response and optimising the effectiveness of Mesothelin CAR T-Cell therapy in cancer.

Earlier this year, Centenary’s Professor Chris Semsarian, Associate Professor Jodie Ingles and Professor Warwick Britton were also awarded funding from the NHMRC. Read more about those grants here.

Centenary genetic counsellor delivers prestigious lecture

Pictured: Dr Jodie Ingles holding her award recognising her 2018 Janus Lecture. (Credit: Laura Yeates)

Dr Jodie Ingles has delivered the prestigious plenary Janus Lecture at the American National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia (US).

Dr Ingles is Head of the Clinical Cardiac Genetics Laboratory in Centenary’s Molecular Cardiology Program.

According to the NSGC, the Janus Lecture is “named after the ancient Roman god, Janus, who is said to have been depicted with two faces, one looking to the past and one to the future.”

Dr Ingles was selected from a nomination process to present this year’s Janus Lecture, in which she spoke about the past and future of genetic counselling in relation to inherited heart disease, with an emphasis on research-based care.

The 2018 NSGC conference was attended by about 2,500 genetic counsellors from all around the world.

Fellow Centenary genetic counsellor Laura Yeates also delivered a presentation, in which she spoke about their qualitative study on preimplantation genetic diagnosis experience in inherited heart disease families.

Read more about the role of Centenary’s genetic counsellors.

Mentoring women to the top of scientific research

Dozens of up-and-coming female researchers seeking to take their careers to new heights, are participating in this year’s Franklin Women’s mentoring program.

Now in its second year, the six-month program has 74 mentees and mentors who have been carefully matched by Serendis Leadership Consulting.

The Centenary Institute is among eight academic partners supporting Franklin Women, which is a professional network designed to support females working in the science and health industry.

Franklin Women has recognised that women are under-represented in senior positions in the sector, and as a result, has developed a cross-organisational mentoring program aimed at mid-career female researchers who have leadership potential.

The Centenary Institute’s Dr Jodie Ingles and Dr Jessamy Tiffen have been selected as mentees in this year’s program, while Head of Liver Immunology Associate Professor Patrick Bertolino and Head of Liver Enzymes in Metabolism and Inflammation Associate Professor Mark Gorrell are sharing their expertise as mentors.

Additionally, Centenary’s Dr Devanshi Seth has been selected to sit on Franklin Women’s Peer Advisory Committee, acting as a senior leader representing biomedical research and the MRI sector.

Peer Advisory Committee member (one of seven volunteers) as senior leader representing biomedical reseach and MRI sector. I was sponsored by Franklin Women as a mentor in their 2018 Mentoring Program.

After attending the official launch, Dr Ingles says she’s looking forward to seeing what the initiative will bring.

“Having access to such high-quality mentoring at this stage of my career will be enormously helpful,” says Dr Ingles.

“I really hope to gain greater insight into what I can do to boost my success as a researcher.”

Find out more about the Franklin Women Mentoring Program.


Centenary is proud to be an inaugural Academic Partner of Franklin Women

Centenary is proud to be an inaugural Academic Partner of Franklin Women – joining with seven other leading organisations in the health and medical research sector to collaboratively support the career progression of our staff and students and, invest in creating a culture where women thrive across our sector as a whole.

Announcement from Franklin Women

Franklin Women is proud to be partnering with leading organisations and university faculties across the health and medical research sector who, like us, are committed to creating a sector where women thrive. By partnering with Franklin Women, these organisations are supporting the career progression of their staff and students, as well as collectively investing in a cultural change across the sector as a whole.

For Franklin Women, the support we receive from our Academic Partners will not only allow us to sustainably deliver our activities and initiatives, but also ensure that grassroots organisations continue to have a voice in our sector’s equity discussions. We look forward to bringing together our diverse experiences and learnings for greater collective impact, and contributing to a health and medical research sector where women thrive!

“Today, I have the privilege to announce the eight organisations in the health and medical research sector that have joined Franklin Women as inaugural Academic Partners. Personally, as the founder of Franklin Women, this milestone means a lot, as it tells me that leading organisations in the sector value the contributions our community has made to creating a culture where women thrive, and they want to be aligned with what we stand for. It also confirms the impact Franklin Women is having and, even more importantly, the potential for much more. Like us, these eight organisations believe that there is great strength, and opportunity, when those with the same vision come together so that, collectively, their impact is greater than either could achieve on their own.

So it is with great pride that I welcome our inaugural Academic Partners – Cancer Council NSW, Centenary Institute, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, The George Institute for Global Health, MQ Health (Macquarie University Health Sciences Centre), Kolling Institute, UNSW Sydney Medicine and Sydney Medical School. I couldn’t be more excited about working with them all over the coming two years to share knowledge, experiences and opportunities, so that our shared vision of creating a sector where women thrive is closer to becoming a reality.

I hope you enjoy reading a bit more about what our Academic Partners program entails, the organisations who have eagerly jumped on board and the people within these organisations who make it happen.”

Melina Georgousakis and the Franklin Women Team

Centenary to recognise International Women’s Day

Centenary will join the global celebration of International Women’s Day by hosting a Mini-Symposium.

Centenary’s Gender Equity Program is hosting the symposium with both male and female scientists and support staff taking part in support of IWD 2018. The speakers and panelists will highlight the ongoing challenges faced by women in science and tackle how progress can be made towards gender parity.

The event is open to all and Centenary invite you to attend the Symposium, supporting a more balanced and prosperous future for medical research.

All details and the full program can be viewed here.