Associate Professor Kaylene Simpson
The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
DESCRIBE your research (i.e. what disease are you hoping to treat/cure?)
I head the Victorian Centre for Functional Genomics, a core technology platform at Peter Mac that is used by researchers all over Australia. Broadly speaking, we enable high throughput gene discovery using genome-scale gene knockdown via RNA interference or gene knockout via CRISPR/Cas9 and small-scale compound screening. The majority of screens quantify cellular phenotypes using high content imaging, enabling an unbiased analysis of hundreds of cellular features across large numbers of cells to identify statistically significant populations and to provide detailed insight at the cellular level. We also operate a Reverse Phase Protein Array platform, a highly sensitive quantitative proteomics system that enables researchers to look at up to 70 samples per antibody at one time. Whilst my lab doesn’t focus on a specific biological question, our research is about improving and developing technologies, to identify the next interesting technique or piece of equipment needed, to operate instrumentation and to guide all researchers to the best project outcome.
Where are you hoping your research will take you?
We are always looking for the next advance in technology or a new piece of instrumentation that improves what we do and the services we offer. Our goal is to enable researchers to discover new gene targets and signalling pathways that were previously not implicated in the biological system they are working in. Within Peter Mac that is generally understanding cancer disease mechanisms, however outside of that, we have a large number of researchers using the platform to discover new ways to treat other human health issues such as parasite or viral infections.
What do you need, as a female scientist, to keep doing your research?
I returned to Australia at the end of 2008 to head the VCFG, following a long postdoctoral period that started in Australia and ended at Harvard Medical School. These experiences shaped my career path, allowed me to identify my strengths and find the position that best suits me. Since that point I’ve been given terrific freedom to develop the platform and to engage with researchers on an academic level to collaborate on some truly exciting and innovative projects. For me, I can say I’ve got past the postdoc era of uncertainty and I believe forged a less traditional career path compared to the group leader role, but one that the Peter Mac has fully embraced and as a result has opened the career structure to enable core leaders the possibility to reach Associate Professor, Level D. Likewise, my children are now in primary school, far more independent and yet need their parents more than ever to get to their sporting commitments, the challenge of juggling as a family, within a partnership still exists. As a female scientist, I truly believe the workplace is changing, we are seeing more women in senior academic positions and recognition for different career paths. I hope to inspire the next generation of women to consider their career options and to take all that is on offer and do the best that is possible.
Do you have a role model who has inspired you? If so, tell us about them and how they have influenced your career.
I’ve had a very fortunate career that has been influenced by many impressive women. My first job was at Florigene Pty Ltd in the early 90’s, the company was managed by Edwina Cornish, who is now Provost and Senior Vice-President of Monash University. My first postdoc was in the lab of Melissa Brown as she was just starting out, she’s now Deputy Executive Dean and Associate Dean (Research), The University of Queensland and still maintains a very active research group. At the same time I ran a long standing project at WEHI with Jane Visvader, one of the Australia’s most decorated scientists. Whilst in Boston I worked in the lab of Joan Brugge, a highly decorated professor who moved from Industry back to Academia, was the chair of the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School and is now co-director of the Ludwig Center at Harvard. All these women influenced me at different and impressionable stages of my career, and the most enduring thing is that we have stayed connected over the 25 years of my career and their advice and friendship remains invaluable today. They have mixed family and career to reach great professional standing and serve as a reminder that it is possible.
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