STEMM Profile: Prof. Sally-Ann Poulsen FRACI | Professor and Deputy Director (Acting) | Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (GRIDD) | Griffith University | Brisbane | QLD

Professor Sally-Ann Poulsen [Image: Griffith University]

[This is] “a career I did not foresee as a young girl attending a one-teacher, two-room, rural primary school of 17 students. There I learned the value of self-directed learning as well as pitching in to help others to achieve”

Sally-Ann Poulsen is a Professor and the Deputy Director (acting) at the Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (GRIDD), Griffith University. She graduate with her PhD at the Griffith University in 1996, and this was followed by postdoctoral research positions at Astra Pharmaceuticals Charnwood Medicinal Chemistry department (now AstraZeneca). Professor Poulsen was a Royal Society and NHMRC Howard Florey Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge and The University of Queensland. On returning to Australia, Sally-Ann applied for an ARC Fellowship and was awarded an ARC QEII Fellowship, which she commenced at Griffith University in 2001.

Sally-Ann reflects on her career:

This isa career I did not foresee as a young girl attending a one-teacher, two-room, rural primary school of 17 students. There I learned the value of self-directed learning as well as pitching in to help others to achieve. My pet calf followed me to school while my family dog appeared in the school photo! High school was traditional, albeit adapting to study and homework on a long, bumpy and noisy school bus journey. I was Dux of my school and was awarded the highest tertiary entrance score, but worked for a few years before having the courage to follow my passion in science and head off to University as first-in-family.

I studied at Griffith University, was a University Medallist, and went on to complete a PhD in medicinal chemistry. I travelled to the UK with my husband (not an academic) to complete postdoctoral training. This proved a pivotal life decision, it was without security or any certainty, however it led to amazing growth and experiences. We then adjusted to life back in Australia, had two children while I started my academic career“.

Professor Poulsen has received three prestigious Scholarships (one at the University of Cambridge, two in Australia). In her research, she uses chemistry to decipher complex questions across biology. Sally-Ann is most proud of discovering a new mechanism to reverse drug resistance in glioblastoma – a deadly brain cancer – and she hopes to eventually see this research improve outcomes for patients and their families.

Professor Poulsen contributes widely to science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) outside of her University position. She was appointed a Fellow, Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI) in 2017 and is the Chair Elect of the RACI Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology. Sally-Ann is passionate about the next generation and she is an active Board Member of the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF), which has supported >12,000 Year 11 students to participate in an immersive program to learn what a STEMM education may bring to their lives.

If you have had a career disruption, how did you manage to stay productive during this time – what helped you the most?

I had two career breaks for the birth of my two children. I was determined during this time to enjoy being a mum. My career progress was slowed and it was challenging to ‘catch up’. Hard work, focus and excellent time management was a minimum – some help from my family was a huge bonus.

What do you believe are the greatest attributes of a successful leader?

I admire leaders that have a strong moral compass and act with integrity, that are inclusive and provide opportunity and an environment for others to succeed and reach their full potential.

How do we keep more women engaged in STEMM-related careers?

Women in STEMM-related careers face an uneven playing field. Identifying barriers AND taking action to redress them is critical to ensure women are retained and can progress in their careers. Barriers to achieving this balance in academia is multi-faceted, it requires leadership to drive and support the changes needed.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?

I did not appreciate or understand the significance of networking – and wrongly perceived it to be something for extroverts and experienced scientists. I was so very, very wrong! When I finally got it, it was engaging and opened new and exciting opportunities to both receive and give more within the STEMM community.

What do you love most about your professional role in STEMM?

Foremost as a medical researcher I continue to be driven by creating new knowledge with impact on human health. As a supervisor of research students I love to teach, support and sponsor them to find their way to a fulfilling career. I am thankful that my role has required life-long learning, keeping me excited to come in to work each day.

Twitter: @sa_poulsen

LinkedIn: Sally-Ann Poulsen

ResearchGate: Sally-Ann Poulsen

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