Meet Monash University’s latest Women in STEMM Student Leaders – Jane Tiller

PhD Candidate – Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences

Research focus: understanding genetic discrimination in Australia

Jane Tiller is a recipient of a 2021 MIME Women in STEMM Student Leader Award. These awards aim to recognise, celebrate and support women students at Monash University who are contributing to innovation in healthcare and medical technologies. MIME spoke to Jane upon accepting this award.

What is your chosen degree and what inspired you to pursue this path?

I have a double Bachelor’s degree in Science (majoring in Genetics) and Law. I also have a Master of Genetic Counselling. After years working as a litigation lawyer, I missed the wonder of genetics and wanted to return to my science roots. I did my Masters as a way of returning to a career in genetics, but this path didn’t take me into clinical genetic counselling work – I ended up in a great career that combines law, ethics, genetics and public health.

What is your favourite aspect about this STEMM field?

I love that the research I do is directly translational. Working in public health genomics means that our main focus is to identify challenges for the implementation of genomics into public health, and to work to influence health policy and improve public health outcomes. I love that my work is so intersectional and that I can influence real change.

Can you elaborate on your contribution to innovation in healthcare and medical technologies?

One of my main research focuses is on the use of genetic test results in life insurance underwriting (genetic discrimination). Five years ago, we identified this as an issue of real concern, and started conducting research and engaging with policy-makers about this issue. After forming the Australian Genetic Non-Discrimination Working Group, providing evidence to a Parliamentary Inquiry into the Life Insurance Industry, and conducting several projects gathering evidence about genetic discrimination in Australia, we have seen some progress. The Parliamentary Inquiry recommended a ban on using genetic test results to discriminate in life insurance underwriting. Although the government hasn’t implemented a ban, the life insurance industry has introduced a partial moratorium on the practice. This is a huge step forward for consumer protection, although there are still some issues with this solution. We have received a government grant to pursue a three-year project (of which I am project manager) monitoring the effectiveness of the industry moratorium. The final report of this project has the potential to influence health policy in this area in the future.

Can you tell us a little of your leadership experience?

As co-founder of the Australian Genetic Non-Discrimination Working Group, I brought together colleagues from all around Australia from interdisciplinary backgrounds, with a common concern about genetic discrimination. I have also collaborated widely with numerous international colleagues in this area. I lead the A-GLIMMER (Australian Genetics and Life Insurance Moratorium – Monitoring the Effectiveness and Response) project, which also brings together a stellar cast of national researchers and international advisors.

The MIME Women in STEMM Student Leader Award recognises student leadership. What does receiving this award mean to you?

This award is a wonderful recognition of the importance of this work and the ongoing need for policy attention on the issue of genetic discrimination. As genomic medicine becomes more and more incorporated into public health, ethical issues such as this become more prominent, and good policy responses are critical.

What are you most looking forward to in regard to the MIME networking opportunities afforded to you due to receiving this award?

It will be fantastic to connect with other women who are thinking big and making changes to benefit future generations in this field.

Why do you think awards like this are important for Women in STEMM?

Women in STEMM are often underrepresented, given fewer opportunities and face challenges in leadership and growth potential. It is so important to promote, celebrate and honour women in these fields and encourage diversity and inclusion.

What is your advice for women in STEMM or those thinking about a career in STEMM?

STEMM fields are diverse, creative, intellectually stimulating and desperately need a balance of personalities, strengths, genders and skills to move forward in the most effective way. Women are capable of and excel at being involved in all STEMM fields, and should look to these exciting fields as potential career opportunities. STEMM is the future, and women are a critical part of that future!