STEMM Profile: Professor Mel Ziman | Director, Melanoma Research Group | Edith Cowan University | Perth | Western Australia

Professor Mel Ziman [Image: Zal Kanga-Parabia, ‘Faces of ECU Research’].

“Inclusivity and trust are important leadership traits”

Professor Mel Ziman’s professional career commenced in Australia in 1996, first at the University of Western Australia, then at Edith Cowan University (ECU), where she has focused on the development of blood based markers for the diagnosis and prognosis of melanoma. She founded the highly successful ECU Melanoma Research Group, world-leaders in the use of sophisticated technologies for the development of personalised, companion blood tests for the diagnosis of melanoma. Their blood tests offer a dramatic improvement relative to tissue biopsies; they are less invasive, can be tested often, substantially improve testing efficiency and reduce costs and patient morbidity and mortality.

Professor Ziman has recently identified a novel blood test for the diagnosis of early stage melanoma which in one week attracted a worldwide media audience of 14 million (July 2018). In 2019 Professor Ziman is, together with ECU, forming a spinout company to commercialise their diagnostic test.

Professor Ziman Professor has published some 140 papers and has been an invited speaker at over 90 national and international conference presentations. Her research has attracted over $22 million in research funding. She is chair and member of the scientific advisory boards of the Cancer Council of Western Australia, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Grant Review Board and has been a member of the Australian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Skin Cancer. In 2017 she was an invited Visiting Professor to Harvard Medical School and in 2018 to the University of Mauritius and has ongoing collaborative research projects with these institutions on novel treatment strategies for melanoma and other cancers.

She regularly promotes science to the community, giving numerous melanoma awareness talks and demonstrations. The Melanoma Research group has performed over 5,000 free blood tests for approximately 1,000 patients in Perth, significantly impacting on patient care and treatment decisions. She also actively reaches out to school students, offering School Outreach Programs for local high schools on DNA technologies and melanoma blood testing.

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

Persistence is key to success. A very positive attitude and a love and passion for your work are also key drivers of success. An ability to work through extremely challenging questions, and the drive to succeed are important factors.

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

Key mentors that accept the reality of career disruptions for women. People who do not judge you for wishing to spend time with your family and are prepared to employ you anyway.

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

Inclusivity and trust are important leadership traits. An ability to give credit where credit is due. To be generous with assistance and to allow your team to have their own paths and projects. To be able to employ people that are smarter than you and allowing your team to have their say in the projects.

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

Persistence, single mindedness, self-discipline, a firm belief in yourself, a burning desire to perform at a high level of in your area of expertise, and a deep love of your subject.  A willingness to take criticism and use it to your advantage is so important, without losing heart.

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

Mentors and mentees have played a huge role in enabling me to get where I am. I owe my career to both my mentors and my mentees all along the path. My family have always been incredibly supportive and I am so lucky in this regard as it is difficult to have a work – life balance.

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