STEMM PROFILE: Professor Liz Harry | Director of the ithree Institute and Professor of Biology | University of Technology Sydney | Sydney | NSW

high res liz credit Carmen Spiers. 2012

“It is a great time to be a scientist because the rules about what will be considered valuable research are changing and now we can look at our work in terms of real impact”

Liz Harry is Professor of Biology and Director of the ithree institute (infection, immunology and innovation) at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). She obtained her PhD at the University of Sydney then went to Harvard University as a National Institutes of Health (NIH, USA) Postdoctoral Fellow. There she pioneered the development of fluorescence microscopy techniques for ‘seeing’ where proteins are in a bacterial cell. Liz was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Postdoctoral Fellow and an ARC QEII Fellow in the School of Molecular Biosciences at the University of Sydney.  Her research on bacterial cell division has had a significant impact on our understanding of how bacterial cells multiply, and how they control this process to ensure equal partitioning of chromosomes vital for survival. She works with industry to develop novel antibiotics that target this process in pathogens, and to examine how natural products function as effective therapeutics for infectious disease. Liz was awarded the 2002 Australian Eureka Prize for Scientific research, and recently won the 2008 ASM Frank Fenner Award, awarded by the Australian Society for Microbiology in recognition of her distinguished contributions to Australian research in microbiology. 

What has been the biggest barrier you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?

My  lack of  belief in myself,  mixed with a lack of encouragement to go for opportunities in early years:  a very powerful combination which is a real barrier to career progress. I overcame this by talking with successful women in diverse careers, who encouraged boldness, then increased confidence comes and you fly.

What do you think is the most important character trait in a successful scientist?

Belief in yourself; and honesty within yourself about what being a successful scientist means. Know your own definition of success- it’s important not to get this mixed up with what another person’s definition of what success means. Then marry that understanding with where you want to work and with whom.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to women just starting their careers in Science?

Decide what YOU value in a science career. It is a great time to be a scientist because the rules about what will be considered valuable research are changing and now we can look at our work in terms of real impact. We are moving from having quantitative publication output as the only important score of track record.

How can we change the scientific work culture to improve work/life balance?

Increase the diversity (in every respect) of our workforce in science, particularly at the level of senior leadership. Only then will we really have an environment that accommodates a healthy life for employees and their families, better productivity and the best research!

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

Have a vision for the future that is ambitious but realistic. Communicate constantly with the team and stakeholders to ensure agreement in this vision. Leading is a true team effort and good leadership provide all members with excellent opportunities to grow their careers. Make tough decisions and be respected, not necessarily popular.

Twitter: @proflizharry

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