STEMM Profile: Professor Frances Separovic FAA | Deputy Director BIO21 Institute | Chair of Chemistry | University of Melbourne | Melbourne | VIC

Professor Frances Separovic, Professor of Chemistry and Deputy Director of BIO21 Institute, University of Melbourne [Image: University of Melbourne]

“Perhaps I would not have dropped out of university at 18 if I had a mentor and life would have been easier. Nevertheless, a career in science has been a wonderful joyride”

Professor Frances Separovic is a Biophysical Chemist and Deputy Director of the Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne, Australia. Frances grew up in Broken Hill and, after the birth of her son, did a BA in Maths & Physics at Macquarie and a PhD at UNSW while working full-time at CSIRO, Sydney. Following a post-doctoral fellowship at National Institutes of Health (USA), Frances joined the University of Melbourne in 1996, where she became the first woman professor of chemistry (2005) and first woman Head of School (2010). Frances and her team have developed solid-state NMR techniques to determine the structure and dynamics of molecules in biological membranes with a focus on peptide antibiotics and toxins within phospholipid membranes.

Whilst teaching chemistry, Frances has served as Assistant Dean (EO) (2001-02) and Associate Dean (2009-10) of the Science Faculty. She is currently Secretary of the Biophysical Society (USA) and is an editorial board member of Chemical Reviews and Editor of Biochimica Biophysica Acta and European Biophysics Journal. Frances was elected President of Australian New Zealand Society for Magnetic Resonance, ANZMAG (2011-13); General Treasurer of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, RACI (2008-10); Council of the Biophysical Society (2007-10); Treasurer of Lorne Protein Conference (2006-09), Council of International Union of Pure & Applied Biophysics, IUPAB (2002-05); and President of Australian Society for Biophysics, ASB (1999-2001, 2012-14). Frances has organized 40 major scientific conferences and published over 230 papers in international journals. She was awarded the ASB Robertson Medal (2009) and ANZMAG Medal (2011) and elected Fellow of the Biophysical Society (USA) and ISMAR Fellow (2012).

Frances was the first woman chemist elected to the Australian Academy of Science (2012) and is a recipient of an IUPAC Distinguished Women of Chemistry/Chemical Engineering and UNSW Alumni Award: Science & Technology (2017). Recently, Frances was inducted into the 2018 Victorian Honour Roll of Women as a ‘trailblazer’ for women in science. Read a terrific article by Frances about her background and her career here.

What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?

Working hard, perseverance, enthusiasm and willingness to help others.

What was the key thing that helped you get to where you are today?

Taking up opportunities when they arose but also preparing myself beforehand so that I could take up an opportunity should it arise.

How do you cope with self-doubt? How do you cope with imposter syndrome?

I still struggle with this and maybe this is what drives me to achieve and take action. Having supportive family and friends and, talking with colleagues when doubt kicks in, is helpful. 

Do you think it is important to have a mentor?

Definitely, and at all stages of life. Perhaps I would not have dropped out of university at 18 if I had a mentor and life would have been easier. Nevertheless, a career in science has been a wonderful joyride.

What inspired you to do science? Have you always liked science?

I liked all my subjects at school and did not know what to choose but did maths and science because my parents would not let me go out with boys and this was one way to meet them.

LinkedIn: Frances Separovic

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