Monash BDI researcher wins coveted award for women scientists

Associate Professor Ana Traven.
Associate Professor Ana Traven.

Congratulations to Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute’s (BDI) Associate Professor Ana Traven, whose work in fungal disease has been honoured by a Georgina Sweet Award for Women in Quantitative Biomedical Science.

Associate Professor Traven, who heads a laboratory in the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, was one of three women who won the award, which carries a prize of $25,000.

She was recognised for excellence in work into fungal pathogenesis, notably the potentially deadly Candida.

“It is a great honour to win this prestigious prize, and I am particularly thrilled that work on fungal pathogens has been recognised this time,” Associate Professor Traven said.

“Fungal infections have become a very serious problem, with estimates indicating that up to 1.5 million people die yearly from fungal infections, and many others have debilitating fungal diseases,” she said.

Associate Professor Traven said a major goal of her research was to decipher how Candida evades immune destruction.

“We are pursuing a novel line of research in this area, to understand how specific metabolic and nutritional mechanisms could be harnessed to combat fungal infections. It is really exciting, perhaps the most exciting research that I have ever worked on!” Associate Professor Traven said.

She said the Georgina Sweet Prize would enable her to support a fellow in her lab to study this problem.

She also planned to use some of the funding for career coaching.

“Women in science, as in other professions, have to battle unconscious bias from senior leadership. This is particularly true in the middle part of our careers–when we are stepping up to senior positions unconscious biases prevent our organisations from trusting that we can get the job done,” she said.

Career coaching could help women navigate problems such as this, she said.

The 2018 Georgina Sweet awards were presented at a ceremony held at the Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne, on Monday 8 October. Ms Leanne Harvey, Australian Research Council (ARC) Executive General Manager, delivered the keynote address, followed by talks by the three winners.

The awards were created in 2015 by the Bio21 Institute’s Professor Leann Tilley as part of her ARC Laureate Fellowship program to promote and support talented female scientists.

“Awards such as this one put a spotlight on great research and leadership by women scientists,” Associate Professor Traven said.

“They also provide an opportunity to assess where we are with respect to gender equity in science, to both celebrate how far we have come and discuss what next,” she said.

“Winning a prize like this opens up networking opportunities (not always easy for women). Last but not least, and in common with all professional awards, it is a fantastic confidence boost.”

Georgina Sweet OBE was an Australian zoologist and esteemed parasitologist, and a passionate supporter of women's rights. She was the first woman to graduate with a Doctor of Science from the University of Melbourne (1904), and the first female acting professor in an Australian university.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.