Kathryn North

STEMM Profile: Professor Kathryn North AM | Director, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute | David Danks Professor of Child Health Research, University of Melbourne| Melbourne | VIC

Annual Report 2013
Professor Kathryn North AM

“Tell senior staff about your dreams – they might help you achieve them”

Professor Kathryn North is trained as a paediatric physician, neurologist and clinical geneticist and in 1994, was awarded a doctorate for research in neurogenetics. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Harvard Genetics Program. Professor North is a translational research scientist. Her laboratory research interests focus on the molecular basis of inherited muscle disorders – particularly the muscular dystrophies and congenital myopathies – as well as genes that influence normal skeletal muscle function and elite athletic performance. Her clinical research focuses on clinical trials of therapies for muscular dystrophy as well as the development of interventions for children with learning disabilities.

Professor North has been involved in research into the role of α-actinin-3 in skeletal muscle since 1996 and has a 20 year track record in the genetics of skeletal muscle performance. Her team was the first to identify the high frequency of α-actinin-3 deficiency in the general population (North et al.
Nature Genetics 1999). Her discovery of the association between ACTN3 genotype and athletic performance was named by Discovery Magazine in the “Top 100 Science Stories of 2003,” has been cited over 500 times. ACTN3 is widely recognised as the best characterised and validated gene
identified to date that influences human muscle performance.

Professor North has received a number of awards for her research including the GSK Australia Award for Research Excellence (2011), the Ramaciotti Medal for Excellence in Biomedical Research (2012) and the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for service to medicine in the field of neuromuscular and neurogenetics research (2012). In 2012, Professor North was appointed Chair of the National Health and Medical Research Council Research Committee and in 2014 was appointed as a Foundation fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Science and Co-Chair of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health. She leads the recently funded Australian Genomics Health Alliance – a national network of over 40 institutions focused on implementing genomic medicine in clinical practice.

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

Tenacity, resilience, optimism and generosity of spirit. Apart from these desirable qualities you need to be addicted to research and unable to imagine NOT doing it! It’s a tough career choice so you have to love what you do.

What advice you would give to women just starting their careers in science?

ACTIVELY plan career interruptions. Every choice has consequences and you need to take responsibility for your career path…and your choices.

No one owes you a job. But if you are good enough you can choose your own path.

Always have a backup plan in case things don’t work out. Only mourn failures for 24 hours and don’t blame others when things don’t work out.

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

Generosity of spirit, confidence, excellence, energy, empathy, a sense of humour.

What advice would you give early career researchers in science today?

Do research that excites you – pursue your passions. Don’t be in a rush to do what you will do for the rest of your life. Don’t always choose the path of least resistance.

Acknowledge the positives: Research is addictive; You will never be bored; You get to travel; You will meet people who have the same obscure interests that you do; You get to interest others in research; If successful you have autonomy and the freedom to pursue what interests you.

Life is too short to work with difficult people. Research should be fun. Don’t whinge. Present solutions rather than dwelling on problems. Tell senior staff about your dreams – they might help you achieve them.

What have you learnt during your career to increase your resilience?

I have a naturally positive outlook on life, I try to reframe challenges as opportunities. I don’t dwell on negatives or failures – I move on quickly.

I have an active sense of humour and try not to take myself too seriously. I have wonderful family and long term friends. They certainly don’t take me seriously.

I have recently started doing regular exercise, despite being on record stating there is nothing I dislike more! If all else fails I drink wine and read trashy magazines.