National recognition for top female researchers

Advancing Society and Culture

The reputation of Deakin’s women researchers continues to grow, as a financial economist and anthropologist from the University have received two of only 12 national “Women in Research” Citation Awards.

Deakin financial economist Dr Susan Sharma and cultural anthropologist Professor Emma Kowal have each received a “highly cited early to mid-career Australian female researcher” award at the inaugural “Women in Research” Citation Awards, hosted by Thomson Reuters IP and Science, and the Australian National University (ANU).

Deakin’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Peter Hodgson congratulated the researchers and said their success reflected their passion and commitment to their respective fields.

“Both Dr Sharma and Dr Kowal are outstanding examples of researchers who have devoted their careers to making a difference and it is no surprise that their success has been recognised,” Professor Hodgson said.

“More broadly, Deakin is proud to be part of an initiative such as this that aims to improve recognition and opportunities for Australian women researchers.”

Although high impact researchers have been recognised in award ceremonies since 2001, these are the first awards to focus on Australian women researchers across all fields of research in science, social sciences and the humanities, and are part of an initiative that aims to improve recognition and opportunities for Australian women researchers.

The awards were presented to Dr Sharma and Prof Kowal by Professor Brian Schmidt, ANU Vice-Chancellor, Nobel Laureate and Thomson Reuters 2008 Citation Awardee.

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Dr Susan Sharma – an intrepid financial economist

Dr Sharma has journeyed far since her childhood on a remote Fijian sugar cane farm, which was in some ways idyllic, but on most of the rainy days required a 90-minute walk to the school bus.

The citation award recognises Dr Sharma’s advanced knowledge through authoring and co-authoring influential papers within her discipline – a major achievement for a researcher barely in her 30s. Her research has focused on the pricing and profitability of commodity markets and attracted a Deakin Vice-Chancellor’s Early Career Researcher Award in 2015.

This research is of huge significance, with potential to achieve billions of dollars of savings through improved forecasting.

“For investors and traders, my research findings offer approaches that can be used to analyse the behaviour of stock market (or commodity market) prices,” Dr Sharma said.

“For policy makers, it offers data-based forecasting models. Forecasting is an integral part of the work of policy makers across a broad spectrum of public policy platforms, such as at the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Treasury. The accuracy of these forecasts affects Australia’s national budget.”

Dr Sharma has encountered career challenges herself and argues that a critical mass of senior women researchers would allow more young women to reach their research potential.

“In my view, it is important for successful women researchers to take the opportunity to be a part of recruitment, promotion, and probation committees, to build the critical mass we need to see more women promoted to senior positions,” she said.

Dr Sharma, who joined Deakin in 2011, is currently researching the effect of news on the prediction of commodity returns from stocks such as oil, gas or corn – a hot topic within the field. Another hot topic she is pursuing is Islamic finance, an under-researched field that has the potential to improve international trading and build intercultural understanding.

“Deakin has provided me with some excellent opportunities and is taking steps to help women researchers across all disciplines with initiatives such as mentor programs for early career researchers. I have received career coaching at Deakin, which has been fantastic,” she said.

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Professor Emma Kowal – determined to make a difference

Now a member of Deakin’s Alfred Deakin Institute, Professor Emma Kowal began her studies by concurrently completing her medical degree and Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Medical Anthropology at Melbourne University.

She then headed to the Northern Territory to work in indigenous health where she came face-to-face with the tensions of non-indigenous people working with indigenous people. This was the beginning of her bid to bring a new level of sophistication to the issue and help Australia find a way forward.

Her work focuses on two major anthropological streams: indigenous health; and science and technology studies in areas such as genomics, biomedical research, bioethics and public health, particularly in understanding the emerging role of genetic science in Indigenous health and ancestry.

Although she never planned to be an academic, Professor Kowal’s experiences in the NT acted as a catalyst for her post-doctoral research and contributed to her book “Trapped in the Gap: Doing Good in Indigenous Australia.”

“As a society, we make huge investments in addressing Indigenous disadvantage, and they have largely failed to make a difference,” she said.

“Social science perspectives are crucial to understanding why that is and what we can do differently. Long-term field research, the mainstay of anthropology, offers insights that no other method can.”

Prof Kowal received the 2014 Paul Bourke Award for Early Career Research from the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, in recognition of the “national and global influence” of her work. She is also the recipient of a 2012 ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) and a national citation for teaching in indigenous studies in 2013.

She is convenor of the Asia-Pacific Science, Technology and Society Network, editor of “Postcolonial Studies,” and Deputy Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics, the first Indigenous-governed genome facility in the world.

Having submitted her PhD when her oldest child was seven months old, Prof Kowal is well aware of the challenges women face in progressing their research career post-children, but she says Deakin is leading the way in increasing gender equality in research.

“The first years after completing a PhD are the most challenging, especially for women juggling work and parenting responsibilities, and women are leaving academia in droves in these years,” she said.

“It’s a terrible waste of talent we can easily address. Deakin is ahead in this area through its participation in the Athena SWAN program and in creating policies that make it possible for women to get on with their work.”