PEOPLE: Elevating Youth Mental Health with ‘OurHerd’

Michelle Duong is the Growth Marketing Manager for OurHerd, a storytelling app for young people, powered batyr, a for-purpose preventative mental health organisation. With the exponential rise in mental health illnesses due to the pandemic, this is a project that is needed for young people, more than ever. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Michelle Duong?

The day starts early for me, regardless of what day of the week it is or what I may have on. First is some kind of physical exercise; a walk, yoga or a class at the gym. I find that by setting the intention, showing up and doing it sets me up for the rest of the day. I don’t find the motivation everyday, but I notice the benefits most when I show up on the days I least want to.

Since the shift towards working from home, I’ve been consciously – with the guidance of my psychologist – looking at each day as if it was a sandwich, building it with certain ‘ingredients’ that mark the morning, noon and evening. Without the need to rush into the office, I enjoy the first couple hours in the day for myself; a coffee on the balcony, a walk with the dog, a podcast, a tidy around the apartment or sometimes just sitting and taking a moment to be with my thoughts. These seemingly unremarkable activities form the first part of my “day sandwich” and are arguably my most important and energising. In addition to building a strong morning foundation, I try to take a physical and mental break at lunch by moving away from my workspace and signify the end of work by closing out the sandwich with another walk. I credit these small rituals for helping me to adjust to the challenges of going into lockdown, but even as restrictions begin to lift, I strongly see the value in holding onto them and the mental clarity they bring.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I recently joined an extraordinary for-purpose mental health organisation called batyr, which aims to smash the stigma surrounding mental health by promoting positive conversations and sharing lived experience stories. As an organisation created by young people for young people, we ensure that the youth voice is represented at all levels of decision-making, including establishing a National Youth Advisory group, which is made of young people who reflect diverse communities and help guide our strategic direction, and appointing 21-year old Bella Cini as a Board Director, creating a powerful channel between batyr’s board and the collective voices of young people in our community. 

As part of batyr’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, we design tailored workshops for communities including LGBTQIA+, Regional, International Students, NEET and Males and are proud to collaborate on projects like the Orygen University Mental Health Framework, International Student Welfare Program, MYAN (Mental Health and Multicultural Young People) Sector Forum and National Headspace evaluation. ​​

In my role, I’m responsible for the growth and marketing of our new digital storytelling app called OurHerd. The purpose of the platform is to support young people to create change by sharing stories. It’s a safe space, designed to support young people in finding their voices, whilst being a positive environment where people with different views, cultures, experiences and beliefs can feel welcomed, heard and valued. Excitingly, OurHerd is uniquely positioned to leverage digital technology to give young people the opportunity for their voices to be heard, be deeply understood and to inform the decisions that affect them by capturing valuable lived experience insights. The platform uses the power of digital to further bridge the gap between geography, culture and gender. The nature of this work can be challenging but it’s incredibly rewarding. Every single story shared gives you something to admire, learn from and reflect on.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I count myself lucky to have worked for some great organisations who have generally aligned with my personal values and respected my multicultural identity. Whilst I haven’t been the victim of discrimination directly, I’m acutely aware of differing experiences amongst my peers. As a second generation Australian or “ABC” (Australian-born Chinese), the majority of my childhood and adolescent years were spent trying to navigate the intersection of two worlds; the expectation to embrace and celebrate my parents’ traditional Chinese culture at home, whilst fighting to find my place in mainstream Australian culture at school. There was always a noticeable disconnect in the treatment of the ABCs like me, who spoke English without an accent, dressed like the ‘white’ kids and whose lunch bag occasionally included an unfamiliar snack but, generally nothing enough to cause harm. I seemed to be able to just fly under the radar, whilst my newly-arrived Asian migrant friends weren’t afforded the same luxury. I wasn’t treated differently or badly per se… I just felt a bit invisible and to be honest, I was okay with that at the time. 

Whilst many of those moments took place well before I joined the workforce, the sense of uncertainty and discomfort permeates stubbornly through to this day. Although I don’t let them define my interactions, I can’t quite shake them off either. It’s something I’m still working on for myself and my confidence.


Lean on the people you know, and don’t underestimate the power of your relationships. It can feel overwhelming and scary to consider yourself the odd one out amongst so many others who seemingly have the benefit of the majority. It’s a lot easier to focus on the collective negatives; sometimes it can completely consume your thoughts and make you feel paralysed. In these moments, I would encourage you to sit down and simply make a list of all the people you’ve come across in your life – friends, relatives, neighbours, teachers, support workers, bosses or colleagues – the chances are you’ll realise that despite feeling alone in your challenge, you actually have a network of people you can tap into. 

They may not be the obvious person you think of to help you achieve your ambitions, but by asking for 10min of their time to share your goals with them, it gives you the opportunity to vocalise and own your intentions and who knows, they may even know someone who can support you in the next step forward or hear of an opportunity you wouldn’t have otherwise known about. Generally speaking, people get a kick out of helping others – even if it’s just giving someone their ear – I think there’s something called the ‘helper’s high’. Most people want to feel like their lives mean something and that they’re making a positive difference in the world, so whilst it might feel like too much to ask someone for their time, know that the other person will likely get something out of it too; good karma at the very least! And what’s the worst that could happen? They say “No, sorry I’m too busy right now”. No harm done. The benefits outweigh the downsides by a mile. So go on then, reconnect with your people. In fact, feel free to reach out to me. I’ve always got 10min to share. 

I have to say a little thank you to Maria Chilcott, whose daughter I used to babysit, who was on my ‘list of people’ and who was kind enough to give me 10 minutes (plus more) of her time to share this incredibly valuable piece of advice that’s now with you.

Want to follow and support MICHELLE?

Learn more about the amazing work that batyr does here and check out the OurHerd app – and my story on it – here. I’m always happy to connect with like-minded people – you can find me on LinkedIn here.

About the diversity champion:

Michelle Duong is the Growth Marketing Manager for OurHerd, a storytelling app for young people, powered batyr, a for-purpose preventative mental health organisation. Michelle has experience across a range of industries but is most passionate about using her expertise to rally for the causes she believes in. When she’s not developing strategies to grow the OurHerd community, she’s hanging out with her 40kg foster-fail-dog, Sprocket, looking for ways to live more sustainably – most notably caring for her worm farm and Googling ‘how to DIY (insert everything)’ – and cooking up a storm to share a good meal with her friends and family.

Image description: Michelle is looking at the camera in front of a field wearing a black shirt with zebra prints


PEOPLE: PHD Candidate striving towards elevating inclusion for nonverbal communication and individuals with diverse cognition

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Ilianna Ginnis

For me, no two days are alike. I work and engage with diverse individuals with a range of needs and as a designer, I find that I need to be flexible and attentive in order to respond to diversities. The individuals I support and design with have intellectual disabilities and diverse cognitive capacities, therefore, design takes on a role beyond aesthetics and begins to become an advocate and a communication partner for individuals with communication and cognition diversities.

Communication is a very important part of my day. The people I mostly work with are non-verbal and minimally verbal communicators who utilise assistive communication and alternative augmentative communication (AAC). I communicate with so many different types of people, individuals who use picture exchange communication, gestures, facial expressions, objects which have unique and specific meaning to them and so much more. Growing up with a sibling who was non-verbal, it was evident architecture does not meet the needs of people who are neurodiverse and use alternative forms of communication. I wanted to change this, so I dedicate every day of my life as a designer and an advocate to ensure people who are non-verbal are heard and represented within the design. I am motivated every day by my younger sister Michelle and all the other non-verbal communicators. I want to see a world where communication access is met in the built environment. 

I am currently a PhD candidate at Monash University as well as an interior architectural designer within an architecture firm in Melbourne. 

I also assist my younger sister every day, as she is my ‘why’.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I grew up very close to my younger sister Michelle who has an intellectual disability, and this enabled me to see the world from this unique and diverse lens. Growing up with a sibling like Michelle has been amazing, she has positively impacted my life. Through Michelle, I was able to learn diverse forms of communication and interaction. 

Being that I was one of Michelle’s main caregivers, I would see the challenges Michelle experienced in her environment. Michelle is additionally a non-verbal communicator, which makes her experiences in private and public spaces more challenging, as space does not accommodate diverse communication needs. Space did not accommodate to her needs. For instance, spaces were too bright, or sensory rooms were controlled by adults with no disability, therefore, limiting her engagement with space further. 

I adored looking after Michelle so much I studied to become a disability support worker. This introduced me to even more incredible people like Michelle, who too, was non-verbal and minimally verbal. These experiences further exposed me to the problematic sides of architecture. We experienced a variety of spaces together, including sensory rooms, quiet spaces, shopping centres, supermarkets and even parks. They all had challenges that restricted Michelle and the other non-verbal communicators. 

I didn’t like the way architecture was excluded, so I decided I wanted to make a difference. Spaces designed for non-verbal communication, are designed in their absence excluding them from design, therefore, design outcomes don’t respond to their needs and desires. I studied Interior Architecture at Monash University and completed my honours in developing spaces for no-verbal and minimally verbal communicators. When studying, I saw nothing was developed within architecture practices for the inclusion of non-verbal individuals or even individuals with diverse cognition. 

This has led me here, to begin a PhD within the Design Health Collab at Monash University, creating systems for designers to learn from non-verbal and minimally verbal individuals and consider them in the development of design  

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

Not so many challenges with my identity, more so that architecture still does not meet diverse cognition and communication. 

Michelle is my why and the reason I dedicated myself to this work. Growing up close, I was able to see the challenges she still experiences in space. Michelle is my why and the reason I want to make space more accessible to her communication needs. 

I was surprised, as I have grown up around non-verbal communication and my reality consisted of Michelle and children like her. So, for me, Michelle and all the other people were my audiences. However, in architecture systems are designed in a way that excludes diverse forms of communication and priorities spoken language. So, by the time I graduated, there has been no change within architecture in moving towards diverse communication inclusion.

By designing a home for people who are non-verbal, this was my attempt to reveal the potentials and possibilities design has. The home was designed purely by non-verbal individuals, as the designer, I was simply the facilitator, responding to their diverse needs and desires to make the home accommodate their needs. 

Michelle has faced challenges, particularly within spaces. Some of these include spaces being poorly lit, too loud, and over sensory stimulated, claustrophobic, poor circulation, and layout as well as voids to reflect the lower level. In addition to this, public spaces do not cater for diverse communication needs. For example, not all parks have the inclusion of diverse communication and shopping centres do not cater for the needs of communication disabilities. 

These challenges are ongoing for people with intellectual disabilities who are non-verbal and minimally verbal. 

My research aims to create a design process that takes into consideration the unique communication needs of non-verbal individuals. By doing so, designers will include non-verbal individuals and learn from these encounters to include them in the decision making of spaces. The desired result would be for spaces to being to produce outcomes that are empathetic to diverse needs as well as allow communication access for people who are non -verbal. 


My message would be to be yourself and embrace your diversity as they make you powerful. By empowering each other in creating inclusion, we can create a place with diversity that is recognised.

Just because someone can’t speak, doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. I am working for a future where people like Michelle will be heard and where design responds to their needs and desires, as well as their human rights.

Want to follow and support ?

Instagram: @Ginnis_Design 


About the diversity champion:

Ilianna Ginnis is an Interior Architectural Designer and a current PhD Candidate at Monash University. Ilianna is also a caregiver for persons with disabilities. Ilianna prides herself on designing with consciousness, creating interventions that extend the ordinary intentions of architecture, multi-disciplinary and sensory design for people with neurodevelopmental disabilities. Ilianna maintains a focus on communication, especially behavioral and non-verbal/ minimally verbal, to create design processes which are inclusive to neurodiversity and communication access. She aims to achieve empathy by exploring interior architecture with a fundamental focus on intellectual and neurodevelopmental disability. Her PhD speculates how design processes consider persons with severe and profound intellectual disability and non-verbal communication, allowing designers to integrate users into complex processes as narrators of their own experience.

Image description: Ilianna is looking at the camera wearing a white shirt

PEOPLE: Liverpool Councillor leading grassroots change in South-West Sydney

Charishma Kaliyanda is a councillor at Liverpool City Council and Community Engagement Officer at Headspace, a non-profit organisation for youth mental health established by the Australian Government. We speak to her about what these roles mean to her and the change she has seen in South-West Sydney. Here’s the story!

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Charishma Kaliyanda? 

Oh, God. I think I’d start off by saying there’s no such thing as a normal day, so for counsellors, some may be retired and so their counsel work is kind of like their sole focus or they sort of almost can treat it as a bit of a full-time job for other counsellors. They may have a main job or a main occupation, or they may run their own business or something like that. So council’s commitments will definitely then kind of sort of identify what they do for in terms of their usual day. So for me personally, Monday to Thursday, I work in my kind of my main role or my day job, if you can call it that. And so on Fridays is the day that I usually have allocated to kind of work on council projects and other types of things. And on those days, I can have, you know, a number of different meetings, whether it’s with residents or different members of council staff or other partners or stakeholders around different issues. So to give you a snapshot of what that might look like. I might start off the morning with plopping down to a local café or, you know, a local business to have a chat with a resident about with, you know, with the business person about an issue that they’re facing, which could be related to development. It could be related to neighbours, it could be related to their plans for expanding their business and potential sources of council support for that.

I could, you know, from there, I could stop by and speak to a resident about an issue that they’re having in terms of, you know, whether it’s infrastructure that they want to see in their neighbourhood issues with a particular park asking for, you know, a pavement infrastructure, those sorts of things to be implemented in their neighbourhood. One of the most interesting meetings I’ve had in the last few weeks is to pop out and speak to a resident around having sort of informal bike tracks in a neighbourhood so that, you know, the young people in that neighborhood could, you know, actually have something to do during lockdown? Obviously, more regional and broader facilities were closed for the better part of two to three months, and so lots of local kids had to set up infrastructure in their local neighbourhoods. But that created a conflict because council has a duty of care to make sure that any anything that’s set up, whether it’s formal or not, is safe minimises risk to the community and therefore it responds to complaints and things like that. So, you know, just basically where that had a chat to them got a sense of what was going on from their perspective and was then able to come back and facilitate a meeting with council staff in both environment and community and culture to get a process around where to from this set up.

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

I think it’s very, very much at the heart of what I see a counselor’s role as because, you know, for most councils, you have between nine and 15 representatives of sometimes hundreds of thousands of residents. And whilst as a, you know, as a group, as a council, you may not necessarily be able to meet each and every single constituents specific perspective, or you may not necessarily be able to kind of, you know, have the same lived experience as them. Diversity and inclusion means that as many different types of perspectives and lived experiences and ways of thinking and being are incorporated into the decisions that are made ultimately by that council. So the role that council that you know, a group of councillors has on setting the vision and the direction of a city for up to 10 to 20 years into the future is huge, right? When you look at some of the challenges that some of our residents in Liverpool are facing now. Those decisions were made 10 years ago. They weren’t made in the last couple of years. They were made 10 years ago and they were made by the people who were sitting around that table at that particular time. So in terms of the people who are sitting around that table, if they are a diverse group of people and I mean in terms of cultural experiences, age experiences with ability or disability, I mean, in terms of gender and sexuality, we need to be able to get as close to a cross-section of our broader community as possible so that we can account for those decisions and the impact that those decisions have on our community. Because if you don’t understand the impact that the policy and the decisions that you make have on our community, that’s when you have people falling through the gaps.

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I would say for me personally, one of the more challenging things is sort of balancing being one of the people we’ve speaking for people and it’s always going to be a dynamic balance because it no situation is going to be exactly the same. So you can’t use the same formula again and again. So you’re going to have to wait way things up as it comes. And so I personally, my value is very much around sort of equity and equality, and I I don’t see myself as part of a hierarchy with residents or with other people or those sorts of things. And so, you know, when that when you then have situations where people sort of like, oh, you know, counsellor or this or that I personally feel a bit uncomfortable with standing on ceremony a little bit. However, there are times where the elected role that you have calls on you to make decisions and actually kind of represent your community and that sort of thing. And so when it comes to being taken seriously in some of those forums I’ve had to it’s been an evolution in terms of finding my voice, finding how I’m able to relate to the other people that I’m part of that decision making collective with because we do come from different ideological perspectives. We do come from different political backgrounds and that can sometimes cause preconceptions or tension between people. So if I can, if I can do one thing differently about my term, something I would probably have done in sort of the first couple of months is actively seek out my counsellor colleagues and kind of establish a bit of a a bit of a conversation with them around how they work, what motivates them and just get a foundation of a relationship.

I think for a lot of people, that can be a very daunting thing, and that was very much a daunting thing for me. So I felt quite judged in some respects by some of those people, whether it was on the basis of my age or my background or my gender, or, you know, or like my political affiliations. I felt that I felt that they perceived me in a particular way because of those sorts of things. However, in kind of reflecting, I think it was a bit of perception on both of that ends. So to sort of, you know, come at that that relationship with a slightly different approach would be something I would have done differently. That’s it. It’s not just about my council colleagues. Sometimes I can be in conferences, I can be in other meetings and things like that where I where people think that I’m a staff member rather than a rather than a councillor, which is kind of interesting because it’s usually the dude in the suit that gets mistaken for the person who holds authority or the person that kind of is the is the decision-maker in that in that context. And so going back to that initial response I had, it’s very much that tension between, you know, you do you are the response, you are the responsible decision-maker. So you need to own that and you need to kind of put yourself forward in that way. But also like, you know, standing on ceremony and kind of like having that hierarchy, that traditional hierarchy is not something that comes naturally to me.


I would say, although it seems really challenging to reach out because the worst, the worst thing that someone can say to you is No. I’m sorry, not the way I think they. I’m sorry, I don’t know if I would call it the worst thing, but like the the the only the only bad outcome or the only kind of negative outcome that can come from you asking the question if someone says no right, but for every know you get, you might get five other yeses. So just in the process of reaching out, making some of those connections and just, you know, starting a conversation with someone, you might go down a path that you totally didn’t didn’t imagine. And I feel like this is true, not just of young people who might be interested in politics or representation, but it’s true of young people who are interested in a whole broad range of different fields. I work with a lot of young people in my day job. And so in health, and so something that I commonly speak with them about is Gen Z are amazing at calling out people for poor behavior. And yet, you know, the scariest thing for them is making an appointment with a GP. Right. Like, it’s this it’s this really kind of fascinating, I find it so fascinating, fascinating dichotomy of being so like bad ass and empowered in one sense. And yet on the other sense like something previous generations sort of take for granted and like, Oh, this is super easy is a real challenge for Gen Z. So I feel like although it can, it can feel uncomfortable. Sometimes the most rewarding thing that you can do, actually.

Let me let me go back a step in terms of like summarizing all of this precursor. So in terms of the advice, sometimes the most rewarding thing that you can do is pushing through discomfort. So if maybe it’s better to frame it that way. Okay. Because like and just in terms of like like fleshing that out a little bit is very much around, like acknowledging that yet sometimes all the time reaching out to people can be like, really uncomfortable. It can be something that doesn’t feel natural to you. And that’s fine to acknowledge all of that, but then weigh it up against something that you’re genuinely interested or passionate in. This is why whenever like, whether it’s on LinkedIn or emails or whatnot, I genuinely try and prioritize responding to young people or champion causes that young people championing causes that young people come to me with. Because I love when young people in our community have thoughts, have ideas, and have things that they really want to say different and then act on it. And I want to support that as much as possible. So just like me, there are so many other people who have a very similar mindset and, you know, not everyone. That’s not to say everyone that you reach out to is going to be like that, but the chances of someone actually kind of going, Oh, hey, like what you’re saying is, you know, is really like a valid perspective, and I want to learn more. The chances of reaching out to someone like that is much higher than reaching out to someone who’s going to be like, Hey, look, sorry, I have different priorities.

Want to follow and support Charishma Kaliyanda ?

I’m probably most active on Instagram and Twitter, so I have to like I have my kind of combined Instagram, which is basically like bits and pieces of different parts of my life and things like that. And then I have my council, Instagram, which is very much around like what I do on council and the things related to local community stuff. 

–         Instagram – @ckaliyanda + @cllrkaliyanda

–         Twitter – @ckaliyanda

About the diversity champion:

(she/her) As a registered occupational therapist and elected representative, I am passionate about working with individuals and communities to fulfil their potential and engage in the activities they want. I have over 10 years of experience working with young people, particularly in the university sector. Currently, I work closely with the Youth Reference Group to further the aims of headspace – the youth mental health initiative. I build relationships with various internal and external stakeholders to facilitate access to help for young people experiencing distress in south-west Sydney. As an elected councillor, my focus is on balancing the growth of Liverpool’s population with appropriate social, economic, cultural and physical infrastructure. I want to ensure that residents have an effective advocate to improve their quality of life into the future.

Image description: Charishma is smiling at the camera with a coffee in hand, wearing a pink blazer

VIEW: Why Australian Pharma Needs to #ChooseToChallenge this International Women’s Day

The following is a guest post from Elaine Phillips, Business Unit Director – Oncology at BMS Australia.

I’m a girl who was born in the 70s to a very traditional ‘housewife’ family, with a brother who experienced different expectations to myself. Over the course of my 20 year career, my confidence and self-belief has certainly grown. Through finding the right mentors, networking and being open to feedback, my mindset has changed.

While society has certainly progressed and there are more and more opportunities for women each day, I’m adamant there is more to do.

I recently read an article that none of us will see gender parity in our lifetime, and that it’s highly unlikely our children will either1. This statistic really stayed with me.  

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge, and I’m calling on the Australian pharma industry to challenge ourselves through conversation and action.  

We need to strive for more diverse and inclusive working environments that ultimately reflect our diverse customer base, the stakeholders we interact with and our patients.

Stereotypes and barriers are still an obstacle

Ask any woman and I can assure you she will have at least one story of how gender has affected situations in the workplace. 

I remember just four months into my maternity leave, I had a check-in call that left me incredibly overwhelmed at how much had changed already since I’d left. The thought of returning to work and how little I would know made me weak at the knees – my confidence had taken a big hit!

And I’m not alone – The Diversity Council of Australia recently released a report titled ‘In 2020, do we still really need workplace gender equalitywhich highlights that women with children experience a ‘motherhood penalty’. A combination of years not working due to interruptions, part-time employment and unpaid care and work account for 39% of the gender pay gap.2

Women also face significant barriers in trying to enter the STEMM workforce. Despite female academics and researchers making up 43% of the jobs in the science sector, only one fifth of them have senior positions.3 Women are also less likely than men to enter STEMM careers due to stereotypes, non-inclusive workplace cultures and a lack of access to flexible work plans and childcare.

If we want to make wins for our patients, we need diversity

Gender equality in the pharmaceutical industry isn’t just important in driving business performance – it’s integral to the work we output, the medicines we produce and to the patients we care for. From ensuring there is accurate representation in clinical trials to the delivery of new treatments, if we want to make wins for our patients, we need diversity.

So how can Australian pharmaceutical companies rise to the challenge and strive harder for diversity in the workplace? We are all learning and we will make mistakes but having open dialogue is key to making sure that everyone can bring their unique selves to work every day.

In my time at BMS Australia, I can certainly see that diversity and inclusion is a key driver of success.

I have recently taken on a role as an Executive Sponsor of the Bristol Myers Squibb Network of Women (B-NOW), a group which aims to embrace gender diversity in the workplace, celebrate the achievements of BMS women and provide meaningful development opportunities through a range of programs and activities.

One of the standout initiatives we’ve implemented is the Back2Work Buddy Program. This program helps returning parents make the journey back into the workplace by pairing them with an experienced buddy that can share tips, acknowledge challenges and provide reassurance that they are not alone. The BMS Managing My Career course is another tool in the belt of our people – a practical course with hints and tips, supporting women to take a proactive approach to their career development.

I can confidently speak of the powerful impact of these programs, because I know how valuable they would have been as I sat on my four month maternity leave catch-up feeling overwhelmed. By making meaningful contributions to our colleagues on a personal level, we can move towards gender parity and advocate for the advancement of all women in their careers.

Let’s rise to the challenge

International Women’s Day is a day to reflect and to keep the topic of gender diversity and inclusion alive. It is also a time for us to encourage others to focus on creating gender diverse and inclusive working environments that reflect the diverse patients and stakeholders we interact with.

If we want to achieve our goal of gender parity we need to challenge ourselves and our colleagues to move towards each other and have those difficult conversations.

What are you going to #ChooseToChallenge this International Women’s Day?  


  1. Diversity Council Australia, 2020, In 2020 Do We Still Need Workplace Gender Equality?
  2. Global Gender Gap Report  – 2020 –
  3. Higher Education Research Data, 2016. Accessed from:

About the expert

Elaine Phillips studied a BSc (Hons) in Molecular Biology at Glasgow Caledonian University and has more than 20 years’ experience working in STEMM. She is currently the Oncology Business Unit Director for Bristol Myers Squibb Australia and New Zealand, a global biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, developing and delivering innovative medicines for patients with serious diseases. 

Image description: Headshot of Elaine in front of a grey marble background. Her arms are crossed in front of her, she has short blonde hair, and she wears a blue blazer over a black blouse.

PEOPLE: Laura’s transition from allied health professional to tech startup founder

In this interview, Laura outlines how her career in allied health led to her founding her own startup, Theratrak, a HIPAA certified digital platform that enables allied health professionals to create, monitor, and track custom therapy home programs for children.

  • What interests you most about the allied health sector?

I’ve worked as a paediatric occupational therapist for the last 8 years and every day is just such a privilege and a joy. I get to work with kids to support them to achieve their functional goals. Whether that’s building skills so they can make their first friend, improving their fine motor skills so they can learn an instrument and join a band or overcome anxieties that might be holding them back from participating in a family meal.

The allied health sector is such an incredible space to be in because we are able to support people to live as independently as possible by either working with the person to modify their environment, teach them the skills to do the task or advocating and creating a more accessible experience. I believe this sector plays a big role in the preventative model of healthcare and when we use the model we can help people to live fulfilling and meaningful lives.

  • Why did you launch Theratrak? 

I started Theratrak for many reasons. The first was because I was frustrated with an outdated and inconsistent healthcare system that meant my clients weren’t able to remember what we had spoken about in therapy and therefore struggled to implement therapy strategies outside of the clinic.

I also know that we have a workforce shortage of allied health practitioners, waitlists only seem to get longer and so many kids miss out on early intervention at the right time because there’s just not enough of us. I believe that parents and carers can be the best support for their child’s early intervention process and if technology can support them to feel more confident and supported with what they are doing at home then that is what technology should be doing. Theratrak is designed to support both the clinician by improving their workflow, saving them time and creating easier avenues to connect and communicate with their clients. Theratrak is also designed to support parents so that, hopefully, we can reduce the amount of time kids spend in therapy, reduce the cost of healthcare to these families and support kids with the right amount of access to early intervention so that they can live their most independent life.

  • What has been the biggest surprise since launching the business? How does this differ to what you were anticipating? 

There have definitely been a few. Very early on one of the big surprises was how much kids embraced technology in therapy sessions and weren’t distracted by it. I had some reservations about what therapy sessions might look like if therapists pulled out a phone and used to record photos and videos of the kids with the app. I was worried that the tech might take over the session and that it would distract from the therapeutic relationship. I could not have been more wrong on so many occasions, kids and parents seem to really embrace the tech in sessions, I see kids getting excited that we are taking images of them and using them to build a bespoke and customised home program. I even had one client ask me to refilm something so that he could have a practice and do it better to show his mum.

The other big surprise which has been such a great learning curve for me, but how many similarities there are between occupational therapy (OT) and starting a tech startup. In OT we look at a functional problem for a person and then break the task down to either teach the skill, modify the task or modify the environment to allow the person to be able to solve the problem. I see this time and time again when we are building features for the app, we come up against a problem, break it down and either add new features, modify old features or change the user experience to solve the problem. I think I didn’t expect to have so many soft skills that I had learnt as an OT that would apply to being a tech startup founder.

The last surprise and I’m sure it won’t be the last, is just how many people we have the potential to help with the platform. I started the journey with the idea that I would create a home programming app for paediatric OTs and that would be my target audience. However, along the journey, I have realised that the same problem exists across all areas of allied health, both from discipline and age, it’s exciting to know that we can potentially help so many people and our reach and impact can go so far.

  • How are you seeing the allied health sector adopt new technologies and digital capabilities?

It’s definitely getting better that’s for sure. I think previously there have been many factors that impact people changing their behaviours around technology. Tech burnout in the health sector is a huge issue, I’ve spoken to many practitioners who are fed up with old clunky systems, or they’ve hacked their way around an old system so that it fits their workflow and so many times they didn’t know that they could approach the technology companies and ask for the help to solve their problem. The other challenge is time, time to learn new technology is crucial. Clinicians need to feel confident with the tool they pick up before they are going to use it with their client, if they aren’t given enough time in training it can be very hard to even start the process. 

However, COVID has been an incredible accelerator of this process for therapists, as much as it was tricky, many therapists had to learn about new ways of providing care early on in the year and I think there was a lot of grace given by clients who were also learning how to use tech in healthcare. I definitely think we are on the right path to digitising healthcare, especially with younger clinicians who seem to expect technology to be part of the healthcare system and are often confused when it’s not. 

  • How has the pandemic impacted Theratrak and your plans for 2021? 

Yes, we’ve seen a definite impact, but a positive one which is great. At the start of the year in 3 months we grew our user base by 500%. I think the pandemic had clinicians looking for alternative solutions to provide care and home programming was at the top of everyone’s mind.

We also have expanded to other areas of allied healthcare this year. At the start we were mainly focused on occupational therapy, we then found speech therapists and physiotherapists were jumping onto our platform and wanting to work as multidisciplinary teams with their clients.

So we are now in the process of expanding Theratrak so that it is a multidisciplinary platform so that teams of therapists can work collaboratively with their clients, gain better visibility about what they have prescribed and hopefully better outcomes for their clients as well.

We also became HIPAA compliant in April and now have a few US therapists on our platform. The goal was to expand to the US next year but the pandemic just seems to have accelorated most of our goals. Now our plans for 2021 are to find another large enterprise partner to continue to build theratrak with us and expand further into the US, maybe even Europe at this rate as well.

About the expert

Laura Simmons is the founder and CEO of Theratrak: a HIPAA certified digital platform that enables allied health professionals to create, monitor, and track custom therapy home programs for children.

Therapists use the mobile app to create custom therapy programs and send them within the clinical sessions, saving time. Parents also get access to the app for free, they receive automated nudges throughout the week to stay on track and send feedback to their therapist about their progress. Finally, therapists can also use the clinic portal to customise the platform to meet their therapeutic treatment styles.

Laura is also a passionate paediatric occupational therapist and has worked across Sydney’s private health sector for the last eight years. Laura is passionate about supporting the digitisation of healthcare to improve global access to early intervention for children living with disabilities. Laura launched her start-up journey entering into one of Australia’s leading tech accelerators for female founders SheStarts in January of 2018, launched the first version of the app, raised a pre-seed round and had her first paying customers within a year of starting the company. She also won the inaugural Australian Artificial Intelligence Medicine (AIMed) shark tank award in 2020.

Image description: Photo of Laura in a children’s playroom. There is a colourful alphabet-themed playmat on the ground, climbing equipment and a rainbow tunnel through which a child is excitedly crawling. Laura is sitting at the end of the tunnel watching the child, smiling, and wearing a black t-shirt and black pants.

PEOPLE: How Charlotte is streamlining clinical trials with Evrima Technologies

In this interview, Charlotte Bradshaw outlines why she founded Evrima Technologies, how it has grown eight-fold in the last six months, and how she is planning to expand the business in 2021.

  • When you first launched Evrima Technologies, what were the key drivers?

The key driver for me to launch Evrima was to streamline clinical trials and remove the pain-staking manual processes for clinical researchers, which then has a positive impact on patient experience. Clinical trials are very complex and challenging to manage, it’s unlike any other industry, and is rife with inefficiencies across the value chain.

Not only that, but GPs are the most trusted source of information for patients when it comes to clinical research as a care option, yet they aren’t empowered to have these conversations and trawl through trial registries. The biggest challenge is finding patients for highly specific trial criteria. After years of facing these challenges first-hand, I founded Evrima to address this problem. 

  • How have your motivations and ambitions for the organisation changed over time?

I’ve always had an interest in productivity and process improvement, and what has kept me motivated through this journey is designing and implementing customer-driven solutions where we can make a difference to our customers, patients and GPs involved in clinical research.

As Australia increasingly becomes a key destination to conduct leading clinical research, I’ve been motivated to grow a talented team and foster creative thinking and a results-driven approach. For some patients, clinical trials may be the best or only options to access treatments that are not readily available, yet to get a new medicine on the market, it can take on average 10-12 years. For myself, and the Evrima team, we want to help change that and get these new medicines to patients who need them much faster. When I first started in clinical research almost 10 years ago, it wasn’t something people had really heard of but more recently, we’ve seen it evolve into an industry and new players entering the market, which keeps us motivated as well.

  • What have been the biggest achievements to date?

In the last 6 months we’ve grown our sales pipeline 8x and connected thousands of people to trials across 30 locations in Australia and New Zealand. I am incredibly proud of the team who have rolled up their sleeves and achieved what we essentially had planned for 18-24 months in this time. We are well placed to achieve even bigger goals next year.

  • What were the biggest hurdles and how did you overcome them?

I think for any entrepreneur there will always be challenges, there are some that can be fixed easily and others that take time. A key challenge as a first time founder is learning everything for the first time as a CEO and with skin in the game. There was no Plan B and after quitting my corporate job, I bootstrapped the business and was generating some revenue however the sales cycles in B2B and especially clinical trials can be incredibly long.

I was fortunate to be part of the HCF Catalyst Accelerator program cohort of 2019 and have some incredible advisors who have helped me along the way but it has boiled down to building relationships, doing the work and managing cash flow. Every dollar has to be scrutinised before being spent and you have to ensure payment terms are met else it can turn very quickly to a slippery slope. I have zero regrets though!   

  • How has the pandemic impacted the business and your business plans for 2021?

We have been fortunate to be able to adapt and support our clients with creative solutions, essentially we brought what was planned for 2022 forward which has been incredibly well received and today we had a client say “Can’t Evrima just run everything?”, which gives us the confidence and validation that being solutions-driven, really understanding our customers, and testing our assumptions early, has been the right approach.

In 2020, we have helped our clients navigate new territory and acted as their trusted guide, it has so far been a rollercoaster and each month we outperform the previous month.

Traditionally our industry would work on face to face relationship building and generating new business by attending flagship conferences. This year we only plan to attend one (virtually) yet business is growing at a rapid rate. I’m really excited for 2021 as we have some huge plans to implement new revenue streams, grow our team and create more opportunities for patients to connect with trial opportunities.  

About the expert

Charlotte founded Evrima in early 2019 after facing the many challenges of patient recruitment first hand and recognising the need to bring general practice and clinical research together. She has a breadth of skills and experience ranging from project management, business development, and marketing in the corporate, not-for-profit and SME sectors. She has a mind for identifying customer-facing problems with a strong and passionate connection to the problem. In 2014, she founded and managed a digital patient recruitment agency, and has worked with local and international organisations advising and managing their patient recruitment requirements across a wide range of diseases and conditions. Charlotte is considered a subject matter expert in clinical trial patient recruitment and recently was a project lead for CT:IQ delivering industry recommendations for optimising clinical trial recruitment. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Studies (honours) and Diploma of Business. 

Image description: Headshot of Charlotte wearing a white collared shirt and navy blazer. She has shoulder length brown hair and is smiling. A blurry building outline is in the background.

ADVICE: Transitioning from 23 years in health care to business management

Newly appointed COO of Physio Inq, Liz Pearson, Liz has been a clinical physio for 23 years but felt with her experience she could offer support to younger physiotherapists. After joining Physio Inq in September of 2019, Liz was supporting the co-founder as a state manager for the Mobile & Community services arm of the company. Her addition to the team helped define the role of a state manager.

Outside of her expertise as a clinician, Liz’s passion to assist those in need rolled over to developing a reporting system for clients with the goal to give NDIS clients the best possible shot at making a claim. The system that Liz setup scores each report from A down to E and looks for consistency and quality in the reports. The reports are used to ask NDIS for funds for home improvements, equipment, or whatever they need to get a quality standard of living.

In this interview, Liz shares her reflections on her career to date, and why she is still passionate about the physiotherapy field.

  • What made you originally want to become a physio? 

Way back in the 1980’s when I first started my physio course, I wanted to be a physio to help people, to understand the science of movement and body mechanics, and to use my brain and my body! 

  • How has your interest in the field changed over time?

I’ve learnt how incredibly diverse the field of physiotherapy is. I’ve increasingly become interested in holistic physiotherapy and the strong link between mind and body; actually that they are the same thing in our integrated beings! I’ve also become more and more interested in managing and leading other allied health therapists and supporting them in their individual careers. 

  • What were your biggest learnings as you transitioned from being a clinical physio to taking on business management roles? 

My biggest reflection would be that, as physios, we are problem solvers with our clients. That same skill is transferable to managing other amazing humans. Secondly, I have learnt how much there is to the world of business. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to start businesses, grow businesses and learn more about business with further education. 

  • What’s your advice to other health care professionals considering transitioning into business management and leadership? 

Do it! We need smart, empathetic and talented professionals to lead health care into the future; people who understand what it means to touch, care for and be part of the healing journey of other humans.

  • What are you currently most passionate about improving or changing in the health care sector through your work?  

I am passionate about shaping amazing careers for our allied health professionals, so they stay in the game into the long term and have truly meaningful and rewarding careers. Our purpose at Physio Inq is to demonstrate that a healthcare business model that is based on autonomy, innovation and the success of our team is the most commercially and socially effective model, consistently creating happiness and fulfillment for those we come into contact with. I am so passionate about being part of this big shift in the healthcare sector, for each professional, for all our clients and for the future of Australian allied health care.

About the expert

Elizabeth Pearson is the Chief Operating Officer of Physio Inq, an Australian allied health provider offering a range of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology and exercise physiology services both in-clinic and via mobile practitioners, the latter specialising in disability and aged care. With 23 years of experience as a clinical physiotherapist before she transitioned into management roles, Elizabeth is pivotal in the operations management development and compliance to onboard the additional services, practitioners and new franchises as Physio Inq’s national expansion continues.

Image description: Headshot of Elizabeth smiling, with light brown hair tied back and a grey collared shirt.

PEOPLE: How Zara reacted after uncovering flaws across almost every aspect of the healthcare system

Zara Lord founded uPaged after experiencing first-hand and discovering from further research the depth and breadth of flaws in the Australian healthcare system, including over-working nurses and inefficient management of hospital budgets, leading to poorer patient experiences.

In this interview, she outlines how she is addressing these problems with technology and her goals for uPaged despite the disruptions of the pandemic.

  • What sparked the idea for uPaged? 

In 2016, I’d been working as an 8th year Registered Nurse (RN) in one of Sydney’s largest and busiest Intensive Care Units. I’d also just completed a Graduate Certificate in Critical Care Nursing, and was undecided as to what was next in my career. 

With a love of travel, and while living in one of Australia’s most expensive cities, I had been supplementing my income doing as many as three agency nursing shifts a week. I first started as an Assistant in Nursing (AIN) while I was an undergraduate. Even when I was full-time and in charge of the ward, I picked up the odd agency shift when work had no overtime. 

The agency nursing experience always left me with a feeling of unease about the disconnect. With experience on both sides of the fence – as the agency nurse and the nurse in charge – both roles highlighted several points of abrasion between agency nurse, agency, permanent hospital staff, hospital booking manager and patient.

This led to nine months of research into how I could make the agency nursing experience better for the nurse, hospital and patient.

What I uncovered through that research revealed flaws across nearly every aspect of the system.

Hospitals were paying for nurses whom they knew very little about, and had no choice over whom they were given – in effect, a recruiter was making the decision about what staff were sent to look after patients, so hospitals couldn’t effectively utilise the unique skills and experience of their agency nurses.

Nurses I spoke to repeatedly complained of frequent agency cancellations, a lack of respect for their skills, no trust from peers and allocations to patients they had no experience with.

I also discovered that the Australian healthcare system spent at least $1.2 billion dollars on contingency workforce fees in 2018 alone. In NSW Health, this figure is conservatively reported at $15 million, a figure that increased by more than a million dollars from the year before. That got me really fired up – here I was working two jobs to get by comfortably – and that money that was not going on nurses’ wages – it was just on recruitment agency fees.

The cost to Australian hospitals for agency nurses cripples hospital budgets. It’s a vicious cycle. When budgets dry up, hospital beds get closed, contingency workforce is slashed, more pressure is put onto permanent nursing staff who burn out, and patients lose out. I knew I had to do something, and so that’s how uPaged came about.

  • What are your key goals? How will you know if you’re making a difference? 

My goal is for uPaged to be available to every hospital in Australia, and for every nurse that works additional shifts in other healthcare facilities, to have a profile on the platform, so that clinicians can make the decisions about who cares for their patients. 

I  want the technology to deliver so much efficiency that hospitals find uPaged 10 times easier than their current incumbent manual processes. We’ve just saved one of our hospitals $85K in the past year, with quite conservative usage (2,475 hours). Furthermore, in a time when agency nurses are hard to come by, uPaged has had a reliable and consistent supply of nurses for their intensive care, wards, day surgery and outpatient clinics. I’d love to be able to do this for at least another dozen hospitals.  

For nurses, my key goal is for higher rates of pay across all uPaged shifts, while giving nurses more control and choice over where and when they work.

I also want to save the Australian healthcare system a billion dollars over the next decade, and that’s doable if more hospitals start using the platform.

My final goal is for better patient outcomes. And uPaged positively impacts shift fills rates so that they are well above industry standard, patient care – and outcomes – are improved. 

Oh, and investment – we’d love to get investment so we can supercharge our growth.

A key element of the uPaged platform is its 2-way ratings and feedback loop between hospital and nurse. It would be a dream to be able capture patient feedback one day, but in the meantime, I’ll settle for knowing that I’m making a difference by saving hospitals tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, and by improving the career paths of nurses by putting control and choice back in their hands and by making sure they get better rates of pay. We can already track most of this in the platform and we know we’re getting some great results already.

  • What have been the biggest challenges to date? How have you overcome them?

Since day one, our biggest challenge has been identifying and getting in front of the decision makers in hospitals. There are so many stakeholders, and hospitals have tended to be slow to adopt change, but COVID has shown just how quickly they can move if they need to, so we want to capitalise on that. 

uPaged is disrupting an outdated, 30-year-old model that has worked in the past, but just isn’t appropriate any more, and its long term impact is only being realised now through the awareness that uPaged is creating. Change is difficult for large organisations, so we’re working hard to bring uPaged to every hospital nationwide but it requires stealth, grit, determination and feet on the ground to do that, so that’s what we’re doing. 

  • How has the pandemic impacted the way you run the business? 

We can’t ignore COVID’s impact on healthcare, small businesses and startups.

uPaged has undertaken immense diversification during the pandemic, and we acted at lightning speed to innovate and adapt to the challenges presented. This included pivoting our business model, as well as our user and customer base on both sides of our marketplace. 

We took an approach to ‘build the plane while flying it’, to do whatever it took to meet our clients’ changing requirements and make the experience as high touch and service-focused as possible. We also secured new revenue streams by tapping areas we’d previously not engaged with. 

When hospital operating theatres shut down, our workflow in the acute private sector dwindled and business development opportunities halted as hospitals averted their attention to their own pandemic response. The nurses who usually served these areas were left without work as local health districts redeployed their permanent staff, and then filled their gaps with staff from the hospitality and tourism sectors. 

Our swift response, our agility and openness to change meant that nurses gained and retained employment opportunities that they would have otherwise been unable to. 

It means we’ve created partnerships in sectors we once steered away from, and we’ve achieved breadth and depth serving clients that were not previously part of our business strategy. 

While already a very lean, bootstrapped operation, we implemented cost cutting measures immediately, so I’ve been working without pay for 7 months, and the Development Team of 3 worked on significantly reduced hours for 3 months.

  • How has this impacted your business plans for 2021?

We’ve been able to get really laser-focused about where we want to be for 2021. We’re opening up to serve healthcare organisations requiring term contracts, as well as facilitating permanent placements, in addition to serving healthcare providers and facilities nationwide.

In true marketplace style, we are also delivering our service as a technology solution so that hospitals and our nursing agencies can fully integrate our technology into their businesses so that their own staff can be better utilised within their own organisation, the talent pool can be improved, as well as across their multiple facilities, putting an end to under-employment of existing staff.

At this point in time, 2021 is looking very promising.

About the expert

The founder of uPaged, Zara Lord is an 8th year registered nurse, specialised in Intensive Care. Having experienced the current model of agency nursing from both the nurse and institutional side, she knew there had to be a better way. Having harnessed technology, her deep industry knowledge/experience and her network she has single handedly built a nursing digital marketplace which is the first of its kind in Australia.

Image description: Zara is smiling and wearing a blue shirt with ‘uPAGED’ print on the right. She has blonde hair, which is tied up. She is in front of a green and leafy hedge.

PEOPLE: Celebrating Aussie STEM Stars through storytelling

Children’s author and science writer, Cristy Burne, discusses her involvement with Aussie STEM Stars, a series of narrative biographies that share the childhood and lives of high-achieving Australian scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.

  • What is Aussie STEM Stars and why was this project started? 

Not everyone realises that scientists are ordinary people. Aussie STEM Stars is series of biographies featuring the lives of Australia’s scientist heroes. Each biography is written like a novel, especially for readers aged 10+. The brief from publisher Wild Dingo Press was that each book should be as engaging and exciting as fiction – but entirely true.

Turning someone’s ordinary life into a blockbuster story might seem a tall order, but not when you’re writing about some of Australia’s most exciting and innovative scientists. I was lucky enough to be paired with Professor Fiona Wood, the daughter of fifth generation coal miners who is now a dynamic surgeon, inventor of spray-on skin and National Living Treasure.

When I finally stopped pinching myself (I get to work with Fiona Wood! I get to work with Fiona Wood!), I had absolutely zero trouble finding enough exciting, surprising, gut-wrenching, laugh-out-loud funny and — most of all – inspiring moments from Fiona’s life to fill a dozen books!

This series is all about showing the personal side of Australia’s unsung STEM heroes. Were they born clever? Or rich? Were they popular at school? Did they do their homework?

Two other books in the series are already out: One features Munjed al Muderis, a refugee from Iraq who now leads the world in life-changing osseointegration technology; and the other is about Georgia Ward-Fear, a little girl who loved investigating (and dissecting!) the natural world and who turned that passion into a career spent conserving and protecting our planet.

  • What are the biggest misconceptions about STEM careers that these books are looking to address? Why is this important? 

A lot of people think you have to be smart to be a scientist. Nothing could be further than the truth! Smart helps, but most important is courage. Science is all about the unknown. It’s about resilience, sticking with difficulty, getting comfortable feeling uncomfortable. That’s because science depends on failure. Science is about striving to make things better. Scientists get an idea, try it out, and when it doesn’t work out, we try it again.

My own personal bugbear is the trope of the “evil scientist”: I mean, please! Science gives electricity, clean water and flushing toilets. It gives us purpose and wonder and hope. Scientists devote their lives to the discovery of new knowledge. And new knowledge helps us solve problems. Just ask anyone you know what they think of 2020, and it’ll become abundantly clear that our planet has problems. Now, more than ever, we need innovators. We need creators. We need problem-solvers. And that means we need STEM.

  • What have been your biggest surprises throughout this project? 

This shouldn’t really be a surprise, because I knew right from the start that Fiona Wood was beloved by Australians, and especially Western Australians … but I am always thrilled and excited to hear from the many, many people whose lives have been personally touched by Fiona.

In almost every group I speak to about this book — whether it’s adults or children – someone will put up their hand and share their story of Fiona. Patients, friends of patients, relatives of patients. She has helped so many people, she has mended so many lives.

  • What drew you towards getting involved in the project?

I’m passionate about our planet. I love it so much: the wild places, the explosions of colour and life, the mind-bending opportunity of being alive. And like many of you, I’m concerned about what’s happening to our ball of rock as it hurtles through space.

To solve our shared global problems, we’re going to need a whole bunch of clever, articulate, tech-savvy and empathetic humans.

Well, what better way to fuel the change we need than to write stories for children? What better way than to share the true stories of Australia’s science heroes? They’re stories of courage and innovation and hope, and I think we all deserve to hear them.

  • You’re the author of the first book in this project, which will be about Fiona Wood. What can we expect in this book?

Pick up a copy of Fiona Wood and you’ll go behind the scenes into the life and childhood of one of Australia’s most influential surgeons and inventors. From her dream to become an Olympic sprinter to her courage in daring to dream that tomorrow could be better. It was a huge honour to work with Fiona on this book.

Never before, not in anything I’ve written in all my 20 years as an author and journalist, have I felt such responsibility as with this book! Fiona’s life is so fascinating, so surprising, so intricately woven into the lives of her patients. It was incredibly important to tell it with empathy, honesty and compassion. I hope I’ve pulled it off!

About the expert

Children’s author and science writer Cristy Burne has worked as a science communicator for nearly 20 years across Australia, Japan, Switzerland, the UK, US, South Africa and beyond.

Cristy has degrees in biotechnology and science communication. She has performed in a science circus, worked as a garbage analyst, and was a reporter at CERN when they turned on the Large Hadron Collider. Her books have been published in three languages across six countries.

Cristy’s favourite job is working to embrace the intersection between science, technology and creativity. Cristy has a passion for learning through doing and loves to inspire creativity, daring and resilience in her readers. And she also loves chocolate.

Image description: Headshot from the waist up of Cristy in a red collared shirt with black buttons. Cristy has short, curly blonde hair and is smiling at the camera.

VIEW: Gut health – a new era for Dietitians

A guest post from Anita Tait, Accredited Practising Dietitian, Microba

“Gut health” is an emerging phrase that is increasingly showing up in media, blogs, on social media and in health circles. As people look for solutions to their digestive symptoms or the missing piece to their health puzzle, gut health is turning up more and more.

Researchers have shown that the gut microbiome – the community of bacteria living in your large intestine – are linked to many health and disease states. The gut microbiome and the substances it produces are known to regulate appetite, control glucose levels, maintain a healthy gut barrier and contribute to many other areas of health and disease.

Your gut microbiome has also been linked to health concerns such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, mental health and obesity. Increasingly, diet and nutrition are being hailed as the main ways to influence the gut microbiome. This is where Dietitians are playing an important role in gut health.

Your diet is important

I regularly work with Dietitians who are using metagenomic sequencing to analyse their patient’s microbiome in clinical practice. Dietitians are choosing to explore this area with their patients further, because research indicates that the biggest influence on the gut microbiome is diet.

We know that when it comes to influencing change in the gut microbiome, it’s really a two-way street. Our existing microorganisms influence how we respond to our diet and lifestyle, however, we can actually influence change in these microorganisms through dietary and lifestyle interventions.   

Population-based nutrition research encourages the consumption of all the food groups because of the wide range of important vitamins and minerals that our body needs to function and thrive. However, more people are turning towards plant-based diets and increasing their consumption of these food groups as more research emerges, supporting the role that the fibres and prebiotics found in these foods play in maintaining a healthy gut.

Through nutrition education, we often talk about increasing the consumption of a range of different types of prebiotics which are mostly found in plant-based foods to help nourish and encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

What we understand about the microbiome through research is that it’s constantly evolving. Research has already established the impact of some well-known sources of prebiotics such as fructooligosaccharides and resistant starch, to name a few. These prebiotics encourage the growth and function of our beneficial bacteria, and as science on the impact of prebiotic foods is developing at a rapid pace, our understanding of which foods are considered as beneficial prebiotics will continue to evolve.

We are finding the food industry is tapping into the increased demand for food products to align with research about the importance of gut health. We are seeing a surge of prebiotic food products on our supermarket shelves and it’s up to us as healthcare professionals working in this space to navigate through the nutritional value of these foods and to determine the benefit to the gut microbiome.

Your gut microbiome tells a story

Another way that healthcare professionals are looking at the impact of diet on the gut microbiome is through analysing stool samples with companies such as Microba. Why would we consider looking at someone’s gut microbiome? We now have the ability to actually measure the microorganisms within the gut and their functional potential through metagenomic sequencing. We know the functional potential is the measure of the potential for the gut to produce microbial metabolites which can influence our health. Therefore, knowing which metabolites can be produced by our microbiome gives us an understanding of how these metabolites are influencing risk factors for different health conditions.   

Dietitians have an important part to play in dietary behaviour change in clinical practice to help positively influence better health outcomes for individuals. Metagenomic sequencing allows tangible insight into how particular metabolites may be affecting an individual’s health. When you can see how your diet may be influencing your health, you are more likely to have the motivation to change. 

We know that there is now evidence that links up the physiology and function of the gut microbiome with metabolic disease. Research about this link is allowing us to broaden the scope of the clinical application of microbiome analysis in Dietetic practice. We can now expand our thinking to investigate the function of the gut microbiome for not only those patients with gut symptoms but those that have existing chronic disease and those that may be at risk of developing metabolic conditions also. As Dietitians, we can now take this link and translate this evidence into patient-focused dietary interventions within clinical practice.

Dietitians and gut health

Working as a Dietitian in the space of gut health, I often see patients with gastrointestinal symptoms which can have a tremendous impact on their quality of life. Getting to the root cause of what may be triggering gastrointestinal issues often requires various investigations. Thus, it’s very important as a practitioner to have the training and knowledge on the various pathophysiological tests that are required to firstly rule out more sinister conditions. Working in this area of Dietetics is both fascinating and rewarding as I learn a lot with every patient case and I also get to have a positive impact on someone’s health and life. Keeping up with the latest clinical research about the gastrointestinal system is vital within my profession, however, working at Microba allows me to be at the forefront of the latest microbiology science and technology. This has broadened my knowledge into how the microbiome can influence health and I’m constantly in awe of how this science is advancing our understanding of the human body. 

Dietitian Day is celebrated on the 18th September in Australia. The 2020 theme is “Dietitian’s make a difference”.

About the expert

Anita Tait is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Pharmacologist and has worked within corporate health, food industry and the pharmaceutical industry for the past 10-years. Anita specialises in IBS and other Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders and is an advocate for the clinical application of microbiome profiling in Dietetic practice. Anita works at Microba and is involved in supporting Dietitians in the clinical utility of microbiome analysis in practice.

Image description: Anita Tait, Accredited Practising Dietitian Microba. Headshot, white shirt, blue jacket, brown hair, hand on hip.

PEOPLE: Launching STEM Punks to inspire tomorrow’s innovators

For National Science Week, Fiona Holstrom shares why she started STEM Punks to inspire the next generation of STEM students and professionals.

  • What initiated the idea for STEM Punks? 

STEM Punks’ mission is to “Inspire Tomorrow’s Innovators” and teach kids 21st Century Skills by enabling a mindset of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. After researching trends in overseas education, we realised there was a gap in the market in Australia for quality STEM education for children. When we started, STEM wasn’t part of the National Curriculum so we were ahead of the trend.

STEM Punks started out by running small After-School classes in our garage. The business grew exponentially, especially this year, despite COVID. Initially, seeing the need in the market for quality STEM Education for children that provided them with learning outcomes that were aligned to the National Curriculum, not just entertainment, was uppermost in deciding that STEM Punks had a really solid offering to the market. What started out as market testing with the local community had such a rapid uptake from parents and teachers that the business had to scale up and spread across Australia.

  • Why is it important to encourage an interest in STEM fields from a young age? 

Helping children develop skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will prepare them for a future where they can make a difference.

We believe STEM Skills are important from an early age. It is all about solving problems and by introducing a mindset of creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation from an early age, they allows kids to explore these concepts and then take them with them into their adult life and throughout their careers. For example we use a process called Design Thinking, which utilises a Design process to solve real world problems. If we can introduce this at an early age, it becomes more of a mindset than a process. This is very important for kids to understand at an early age to enable them to solve more complex problems later on in life.

  • Have you experienced any hesitation from adults or children when you initiate conversations around your STEM programs? If so, how do you manage that? 

Parents are generally very excited about the opportunity to be involved in their kids’ 21st Century learning. Questions might arise around year levels and suitability for their kids but our programs are developed by professional teachers so we have a very good understanding of the correct learning process for each year level and learning outcomes.

  • How do you overcome the stereotypes of STEM fields being ‘boring’ or ‘complex’ when working with children?

This is a very interesting question. Children don’t want to learn anything that doesn’t excite them. Yes, STEM education can come across as very dry and technology focussed. At STEM Punks we have a core philosophy to make STEM Education interesting and engaging, and we do that by linking real world problem solving and STEM skills in hands-on immersive workshops.

Making learning fun is priority number one. Robots, drones, game coding, and Virtual Reality are just a few of the tools we use to assist learning. 

For example, to learn the physics of rotary flight, you could give students a physics textbook and tell them to start reading. Or, you can engage them by introducing a drone as a platform to learn rotary flight in action. By doing so, students get a keen interest for the topic as they want to learn and explore by playing with the drone. At the same time, we can teach kids the fundamentals and the physics behind rotary flight. The combination of entertaining content and deep learning outcomes is key to our success and something that is core to our philosophy in STEM education.  

About the expert

Director of STEM Punks, Fiona Holmstrom, believes helping children develop skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will prepare them for a future where they can solve real world problems and make a difference.

As well as being the Director of STEM Punks, Ms Holmstrom is a mother of three young children. Her curiosity to seek out leading global education saw STEM Punks being born three years ago, and it this passion to see all children educated in STEM that is behind her success in the world of business and education.

Image description: Headshot of Fiona, who is smiling at the camera. Fiona has long, brown and wavy hair, is wearing glasses, a green top and a grey blazer.

VIEW: What is STEM anyway?

A guest post by Donna “The Astronomer” Burton Associate Lecturer at University of Southern Queensland and Astronomer in Charge Milroy Observatory Coonabarabran

What is STEM anyway? We hear the term and are told we need to get more students to undertake these studies. Yet STEM is a pervasive part of our every day lives. So do we need to address a lack of interest in students undertaking ongoing education in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics? 

For some, the term conjures the idea of correcting an imbalance between the number of young women and men in these often neglected areas. But STEM education is much more than just sticking those subject areas together. It is the philosophy of education that embraces teaching skills and subjects in a way that resembles real life. STEM education is what creates critical thinkers. While it increases science literacy, it encourages and enables the next generation of innovators, and this leads to the development of new products and processes that sustain and build our economies.

STEM may be a new term over the last decades or so, but it is not new – it is just a different way of understanding and therefore applying an integrated form of learning which more approximates real life. Instead of teaching mathematics separate from science, teach them together to show that both are complementary and supportive of each other. Traditionally, subjects are taught as individual and non-related disciplines. To integrate STEM into all areas of learning, lessons need to be more project and inquiry-based. By focusing on interdisciplinary learning, a child’s natural curiousity is encouraged, and they unconsciously can develop the skills of critical thinking and wonder, “What if?”.

STEM should align with the way we grow, solve problems and live our lives in the real world. So it becomes a powerful way of instructing and learning. Our young people are taught skills in the way they are used not only in the workforce but in all aspects of their life in the real world.

Rarely do we need just one skill in our jobs – I have always struggled with having to study English – I learnt Shakespeare and Chaucer and hated it all. I also studied Maths, Science, Computing and electrical engineering along the way. Yet today, the ability to write has probably been the skill I have needed most of all. As a postgraduate student in Astronomy, it was the areas I struggled with most, and you only need to read much of the documentation in technical manuals to realise this is true across many disciplines.

Creativity and STEM are not counter to each other. From researching new vaccines and methods for dealing with the current pandemic to creating and developing technologies that simplify our daily routines and create virtual reality devices, there are people right around our world using STEM to improve our lives in creative new ways.

STEM jobs are not just about working alone doing coding, boring and stuffy work in a laboratory for long hours alone and unnoticed. It can be incredibly fulfilling, exciting and important work. It is not just about being a scientist, engineer or programmer.

An architect, for example, uses science, math, technology and engineering to do their job. These subjects can no longer be considered on their own but instead, need to be integrated with practical and seamless ways that allow them to design a complex building. Yet they still need the communication skills to explain their designs, plans and ideas to their clients. They need creativity to think outside the box to design new and innovative ideas.

Another area where, in the past, there has been a stigma attached to STEM relates to careers in agriculture. A farmer has the image of being too rural and boring while STEM has been considered to be too technical and only for geeks. Yet to have a sustainable, profitable and productive business making the best use of their natural resources in an ever-changing world, these days agriculture utilises the world of satellites, high tech sensors and understanding of climate and soil science. 

STEM is not having all the answers, knowing the periodic table off by heart or being able to send your car into space. Key STEM skills include the ability to research, develop a plan, draw relevant conclusions from the plan and reassess and change the project as you find what works and what doesn’t. You need to be able to break down complex problems into smaller parts and make it easier to understand and communicate. But as well as having the skill to understand, interpret and use technology, it is equally essential to have excellent communication skills, creative abilities, leadership and organisational skills to better interact with those with whom we work.

One of the best ways, therefore, for young people to foster an interest in STEM is by letting them discover it for what it is. It is a vast, diverse, multidisciplinary field where they can utilise their creativity and natural curiousity. We need to emphasize learning and discovery rather than having to always have the “right” answer. It is allowing students to be themselves and engage in practical and hands-on activities and showing them how to solve real-world problems and ensuring that everyone with their varying skills and interests can always find a place to excel.

It is my firmly held belief that if you empower the young to follow their dreams and instil in them the power to learn and a passion for learning, then they can achieve anything.

About the expert

Donna started life “outback” as a “drovers brat” which is how and when she fell in love with the sky. She completed an MSc in Astronomy Research at USQ and is almost through her PhD just because she can! She has worked as a support technician, telescope operator and astronomer at Siding Spring Observatory for many years. She is the Australian National Coordinator for Astronomers Without Borders and very involved in astronomy and science outreach and amateur astronomy groups. She operates public astro viewing and outreach as “Donna the Astronomer” in Coonabarabran. She currently operates Milroy Observatory at Coonabarabran which hosts Australia’s largest telescope available to the general public. She has had the good fortune to be the discoverer of 2 comets.

Image description: Donna “The Astronomer” Burton Associate Lecturer at University of Southern Queensland and Astronomer in Charge Milroy Observatory Coonabarabran – Donna has short grey hair and is looking out into the distance.

PEOPLE: 2020 has reminded us of scientists’ strong role in society – Patricia Vera-Wolf

As part of our National Science Week articles profiling women in science and technology, Patricia Vera-World outlines her career in bioinformatics and her role at Microba.

  • Why are strong communication skills so important for STEM professionals?

Findings in any STEM related field tend to be complex and full of technical words. Strong communication skills are fundamental to transport that knowledge to non-specialised audiences and apply it into the real world.

  • How have you developed and grown communications skills throughout your career? 

I believe that communication skills are a mix of believing in yourself and having a strong background in your field. Personally, I put into practice always keeping knowledge up to date, never stopping to research new findings in my field and always thinking of the type of audience that will be listening to what I want to communicate.

  • What does a ‘day in the life’ look like for you? 

Our days usually start with a short team meeting to update what are we working on and talk about how we can support each other. According to our priorities I can spend my time processing hundreds of customer samples or generating results for our research team. 

  • How does this differ to other bioinformaticians?

Broadly, the job of a bioinformatician is biological data analytics. The major difference between my role in Microba to previous work experiences is that the possibility of improving someone’s wellbeing is on every sample that I process, so the application of my research has a direct effect on people’s lives.

  • What is your advice to 2020 graduates considering a career in bioinformatics? 

Be brave. Science is a field that requires dedication and passion for what you do. 2020 has reminded us that scientists have a strong role in society and that we can make the difference between a quick response to an unexpected event to save lives.

About the expert

Ms Patricia Vera-Wolf is a Bioinformatician at Microba, an Australian biotechnology company specialising in gut microbiome analysis and discovery. She is a Biotechnologist originally from Chile, but moved to Australia to study at The University of Queensland. Since graduating with a Master of Bioinformatics, she has worked in biological data analytics at sequencing companies and in academic research in South America and USA, with a strong focus in the microbiome field. 

She is passionate about building a bridge between academic knowledge and the general public. Her motivation in research is to generate practical knowledge that can help educate people and improve their lives. For this reason, she has participated in numerous school programs in her home country and community research projects that explore the microbiome in public spaces.

As a member of the Bioinformatics team at Microba, Patricia uses her experience in Next Generation Sequencing to ensure the quality of the genomic data and process gut microbiome samples through Microba’s Metagenomic Analysis Platform (MAP™). Her background in academia as a laboratory technician and computational biologist, plus her experience in the industry, allows her to support the operations and production side of the company as well as research commercialisation for external universities in Australia and the world.

Image description: Headshot of Patricia from the waist up wearing a black blouse with flowers on it under a light grey jacket. Patricia has long, black hair and is wearing black-rimmed glasses.

PEOPLE: “Often by designing activities for people with disabilities we create better activities for everyone” – Dr Kirsten Ellis

As part of our National Science Week series, Dr Kirsten Ellis shares why she built TapeBlocks, where the idea came from, and why building products for people with disabilities benefits the whole of society.

  • What originally sparked the idea for TapeBlocks?

In the past, I have run an electronic textile workshop where people are able to sew a circuit which has been used to introduce a new group to circuit making. This is a different approach to circuit making than traditional breadboards and soldering wires but I found that a lot of people still had difficulties with the fine motor skills required to build circuits so I wanted to create an activity that anyone could do, no matter what their abilities were.

  • How does TapeBlocks work?

TapeBlocks are based on children foam blocks that are wrapped in conductive fabric tape with electronic components placed either on top or underneath. The conductive tape acts as the wire so to make a circuit you just have to push the blocks together. TapeBlocks include a power block that holds the battery carrier. This is connected to a Light Emitting Diode (LED) to create a light circuit. The blocks can also include vibration motors, buzzers, buttons and fans.

  • Why is it important for science and STEM engagement activities to be inclusive, particularly for people with disabilities?
  1. People with disabilities should be included in STEM engagement activities as full members of the community. 
  2. Often by designing activities for people with disabilities we create better activities for everyone. TapeBlocks are a great for people who have a disability but they are also useful for children, the elderly and to build confidence for people who have previously had bad experiences with electronics. 
  3. Including people who have a disability in STEM activities also helps to change perceptions of what they can do if the activity is designed well
  • What are some actions STEM professionals can be taking to keep themselves accountable when it comes to inclusivity in their workforces and the products they are building?

When STEM professionals are making products, they are building them for everyone in the community, that includes people who have a disability who are also clients. It is important to make products that are accessible to all clients, not just some of them. Having an inclusive workforce is really important because when we are making products, how do we know what the wider community needs if they are not active participants in the entire creation process including discussions on the design and user testing at the end. Many errors in product development can be avoided by actively engaging a full range of people in the development process.

About the expert

Kirsten Ellis is enthusiastic about using technology to create a more inclusive society. She brings together technology and creativity to produce innovative solutions to real world problems. Her research interests include human computer interaction where she utilises her experience in designing, developing and evaluating systems for people to advance the field of inclusive technologies.

Kirsten has an eclectic list of qualifications with a PhD in Information technology in addition to graduate qualifications in arts and education and a bachelors in applied science.

Kirsten started her career in storyboarding and designing games prior to moving in to academia.  She has built her research with 1.3 million is grants from the ARC, NGOs and philanthropic organisation researching how to build great resources to support people with disabilities. Her research includes: technology for teaching sign language using the Kinect to provide feedback to learners; attention training for children with intellectual disabilities; fatigue management for cancer survivors and collecting clinical data for bipolar diagnosis. In addition, she likes to play with eTextiles and call it research into innovative technologies. This play is used to develop tangible objects that can be used to create authentic learning experiences such as simulations.

Image description: Photo of Kirsten sitting at a table with a scattering of coloured TapeBlocks on it, holding a few TapeBlocks in her hand. She is smiling and looking slightly upwards, with short brown hair and is wearing a white collared shirt and black blazer.

PEOPLE: How formal mathematics training was merely the start of brooke jamieson’s career in STEM

As part of our series of women in STEM profiles for National Science Week, this interview covers Brooke Jamieson‘s career to date, including her current role as Experience Lead at PlaceOS and how she applies a broad range of skills to her day-to-day work.

  • Growing up in regional Australia, what sparked your interest in science and technology?

I was always really interested in finding creative solutions to problems – whether this was working out how to sew a dress I had seen on Fashion Week runways or building robots with K’Nex. I was lucky to have lots of really creative opportunities growing up, and I really fell in love with the idea of science and technology when I realised I could apply my creative side to this area.

  • Throughout your career, you’ve gathered a range of skillsets across UX, mathematics, behavioural science and more. How do you combine these in your day-to-day work?

I’m Experience Lead for a global smart building and smart workplace technology platform called PlaceOS – a big feature of the platform is its ability to “herd cats” when it comes to bringing the technology in a space together to create great experiences for end users within the building. Without a really solid grounding across UX, behavioural science and consumer behaviour, I wouldn’t be able to understand our end users, and without a technical background in mathematics and programming I wouldn’t be able to understand the technical side of the product and how I can not only solve the problems our users are facing, but solve them in a way that is technically robust and scalable. My day to day work is all about bringing both sides together.

  • Is it important for all STEM professionals to have more than one area of expertise? Why or why not?

When I look back at all of the roles I’ve had in my career, none have really existed 5-10 years before I had them. As a result, I think it’s important to stay curious and be a lifelong learner, so you are ready for whatever the future might hold. Having a few areas of expertise keeps lots of doors open, but also helps you to communicate technical concepts in different ways, and connect-the-dots of new concepts in ways that others might not think of.

  • What are the most interesting and boring parts of your job as an Experience Lead?

The really interesting parts of my role all involve our customers and end users – I always look forward to listening to people describe what their ideal day in the office would be like, and then figuring out how to use technology within the space to enhance that experience.

Not quite boring, but the part of my role that I enjoy the least is staying up late! Covid-19 has meant that we aren’t able to travel internationally to spend time with our clients and collaborate in person, so ‘the new normal’ has involved lots of late night or early morning video calls to try and find common ground between European, American and Australian Time Zones. It’s hard at times, but really rewarding knowing that I am helping to shape technology that will assist our global customer base to be happy and healthy as they transition back to working in the office.

About the expert

I talk to people to find the questions and talk to data to find the answers!

I’m Experience Lead at PlaceOS, a global Smart Workplace Technology Platform. Essentially, this means I combine my formal mathematics training with professional experience in UX, Marketing, Consumer Behaviour, Behavioural Economics, Web Optimisation and Persuasive Communication to help people get the most out of data generated by their smart buildings.

Overall, I specialise in researching & developing technically robust UX that helps “non-data people” harness the power of data, and communicate this effectively.

I graduated from The University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Science – Extended Major in Mathematics, and I’ve since done further training in data science, programming, cloud computing, UX, Marketing and Behavioural Science. The intersection of my curiosity, creativity and analytical skills is where the magic happens, and I harness this skill stack to optimise business processes through mathematics layered with persuasive storytelling and visualisations.

Image description: Photo of Brooke in a mustard coloured dress, inside a building with floor-to-ceiling glass windows.