Meet Monash University’s latest Women in STEMM Student Leaders – Emily Pryor

PhD Candidate – Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences

Research focus: discovering innovative ways to help preterm newborns who are struggling to breathe.

Emily Pryor

Emily Pryor 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 Emily upon accepting this award.

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

I’m completing both my PhD and a Doctor of Medicine. In my PhD, I’m researching how different medications and ventilation strategies can be combined to best help babies who are struggling to breathe at birth. Working with individual patients and their families is incredibly rewarding, but I also wanted to contribute to our understanding of how these interventions are working to improve outcomes on a broader scale, which is why I chose to finish my PhD in addition to my medical degree.

What is your favourite aspect about this STEMM field?

I love both being able to see a problem or develop a question on the wards, then go back and think – why is this happening? What can we do to help? The combination of individual patient care and taking those questions back to the lab and researching potential causes and solutions is very rewarding.

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

My PhD is developing a way to use lung ultrasound to assess how different medications and ventilation strategies are working on the lungs in real time. We hope to be able to use this technology to tailor the care we give to newborns at the bedside and reduce lung injury.

Can you tell us a little of your leadership experience?

During my PhD, I have worked closely with both students, the University and the Monash Graduate Association to advocate for PhD students during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic affected everyone, PhD students who were also primary carers had a particularly difficult time trying to balance their research with childcare while schools were closed. In my role as Research Officer for the Monash Graduate Association and a student representative on the Graduate Research Committee, I advocated for initiatives to support these students. For example, I lobbied Monash University and the Department of Education and Training to provide additional paid and unpaid carers leave, extensions to candidature, and to extend the eligibility criteria for the Graduate Research Completion Award to beyond four years for students with carer responsibilities. I also helped to develop and implement a $2,000 payment funded by the Graduate Association for carers, to pay for childcare over the school holidays so they could work on their thesis.

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

I love my research, my clinical studies and my advocacy work, and I hope that I have made a positive impact on the lives of others during my studies. I do all these things because I love them and I am passionate about them, and receiving this award is just the icing on the cake.

What will the $1,000 cash prize to support your studies go towards?

The $1,000 cash prize has meant that I can reduce the amount of time I spend working and focus on the things that really matter to me, like my research and advocacy.

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

While there are lots of women entering STEMM fields and completing STEMM degrees, in my area, women are underrepresented in leadership and senior management. I think awards like this, which mentor women through their degrees and give them opportunities to network with both likeminded students and leaders in their fields, are a crucial step towards changing this in the future. I can’t wait to meet both the other recipients and the other women in the networking opportunities this award offers.

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

Just give it a go and see if you enjoy it! Or if you’re currently in the degree and there’s anything stopping you from achieving your full potential, reach out for help. There are so many people of all genders in this field who want to see women in STEMM succeed, and so many programs to help make this happen.