Dr Kate Hayward

The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health


DESCRIBE your research (i.e. what disease are you hoping to treat/cure?)

Our arms and hands are key to what we do and how we do it. So imagine having a stroke and losing capacity to use the tool that defines you. A staggering 7 out of 10 stroke survivors have arm and hand difficulties early after stroke - of which 3 have severe difficulties. It is this group of individuals, that currently represent a critically neglected group of stroke survivors, who are the focus of my research.

People with severe difficulties have the scope to make the largest change during rehabilitation. However, we do not know how to optimally facilitate such recovery. I am undertaking two main streams of research to fill this gap. Firstly, I want to understand who recovers, who does not recover, and why, by building an understanding of the trajectory of arm and hand recovery after stroke. Currently I am looking at factors related to the brain, captured with MRI. Secondly, I am interested in the development of novel rehabilitation approaches that can harness an individual’s potential for arm recovery across the days, months and even years after stroke.

I have seen people with severe movement difficulties who have incredible hope and turn up to rehabilitation day-in-and-day-out with a focus to achieve meaningful recovery, whether that be playing golf or washing their arm independently. This fuels my passion to tackle the severe stroke challenge.

Where are you hoping your research will take you?

I would like my research to be a catalyst for change that builds renewed hope for a better pathway to achievement of optimal recovery for individuals with severe difficulties moving their arm after stroke. I would like to see more individuals be given the opportunity to participate in rehabilitation that allows them to exploit whatever movement they may have available to them to achieve their recovery goals.

What do you need, as a female scientist, to keep doing your research?

 Firstly, stroke is not a problem that one individual can solve in isolation – it requires collaboration! There is a distance barrier for Australia; thus, the capacity to reduce this barrier and enable international collaboration with like-minded people is critical – especially as an early career researcher. The availability of funding to support international exchanges and conference attendance is one way to build the foundations for effective collaborations.

Secondly, it is important to be exposed to a variety of mentors (both male and female, within and outside academia) to help navigate the research world. While I have developed my mentoring relationships organically, I recognize that many women in science struggle to engage in mentoring. Conference organizing committees and research institutes are opportunely placed to address this issue by providing workshops and training programs that aim to increase access to potential mentors, and build skills, knowledge and awareness.

Thirdly, training in effective leadership is critical. Equipping females with leadership skills in the early career phases has the potential to change the organizational structure of science and support more females to stay in science and become international leaders.

Finally, we collectively need a passion to challenge the status-quo! This leads to thinking outside the box and asking novel questions that may be the start of a new era.