Meet the team

Dr Maggie Kirkman

Senior Research Fellow

Dr Maggie KirkmanDr Maggie Kirkman has been a member of the Global and Women’s Health team since its inception in 2011. In 2019 she was named as one of Women’s Health Victoria’s inaugural Champions for Women.

“My interest lies in understanding how people make sense of and find meaning in the vicissitudes of life,” says Dr Kirkman. “The roles played by gender and culture seem to me to be of particular relevance.” She therefore specialises in research on sensitive topics that complicate personal lives and society. These topics include psychosocial aspects of health and illness, bodies, reproduction, and sexuality, all considered across the lifespan. Dr Kirkman is an expert in qualitative methods, especially interview techniques, but is also experienced in survey methods.

Recent publications have reported research on women from the Baby Boom generation (born 1946-1964), the mental health impact of COVID-19 restrictions, young women and pornography, endometriosis, and female genital cosmetic surgery. Dr Kirkman is an experienced PhD supervisor, and some of these publications arise from students’ PhD research.

Her research also includes aspects of organ transplantation in Australia; an investigation of how women from the Silent Generation (born 1925-1945) have succeeded in taking on new endeavours relatively late in life; and a project, working with the Urology Society of Australia and New Zealand and the Prostate Cancer Outcome Registry-Australia and New Zealand, to understand how clinicians receive and use quality indicator reports.

The organ transplantation research undertaken by Dr Kirkman and the late Dr Claire Stubber includes the production of an online video resource of interviews with recipients of donated hearts and lungs [https://www.hlttv.org.au/news-resources/transplant-interview-videos/about], and the publication of a systematic literature review of people’s experiences of heart, lung, and heart and lung transplantation. This work will continue despite Dr Stubber’s death in December 2020; further funding is being sought.

Political and social circumstances around the world make it clear that we cannot ever stop doing our best to reduce social and gender inequality.

Dr Kirkman’s career trajectory has contributed to her research interests. She began as a kindergarten teacher and undertook further study to become a teacher of profoundly hearing-impaired pre-school children. This built on her interest in language and language acquisition and gave her an introduction to the families of children with disabilities. It also allowed her to learn of Deaf culture and raised awareness of the many cultures within society. Dr Kirkman spent two years teaching in English schools for children who had been diagnosed as being, in the shocking language of the time, “severely subnormal”. Some of these children were institutionalised, others lived at home, and the differences between them were profound.

Pursuing her desire to learn more about social psychology, child development, and human interaction, Dr Kirkman completed an honours degree in psychology at the University of Melbourne. She became a lecturer at her old teachers’ college and then a tutor in psychology at the University of Melbourne.

“After my daughter was born and I had been shocked by what I saw as the inadequate research on infertility, I undertook PhD research into women’s experiences of infertility at La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society,” says Dr Kirkman. “This was when I became interested in qualitative methods, using narrative theory to understand experience, in what was a novel approach in psychology.”

Dr Kirkman’s NHMRC postdoctoral fellowship (at the University of Melbourne’s Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society) explored experiences of donor-assisted conception. Along with the peer-reviewed publications from this research was an edited book (with Heather Grace Jones) called Sperm Wars.

Dr Kirkman developed an early interest in feminism, having read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex when she was a teenager, and The Female Eunuch (Germaine Greer) soon after it was published. She acknowledges improvements in the status of women since Second Wave feminism, but notes that political and social circumstances around the world, including in Australia and the United States of America, “make it clear that we cannot ever stop doing our best to reduce social and gender inequality.”

Dr Kirkman is “inspired by people who tell me their life stories for research, by my colleagues and students, and by young women such as Greta Thunberg who give me hope that the future might be more ethically managed than the present.”