Bernadette Fitzgibbon: Neuroscientist, pain expert – and mum

After graduating from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, Dr Bernadette Fitzgibbon decided to complete her PhD at Monash University in Australia.

It turned out to be one of the best life choices I ever made,” she says. “I’m still here, almost nine years later!

Her journey to success

Bernadette knew she wanted to pursue a career in research after completing her PhD in neuroscience. Surrounded by leading researchers in the field, and in particular, a group at the Monash School of Psychology and Psychiatry doing work with phantom limb pain, Bernadette was inspired to deepen her knowledge in the field.

“I did a post-doc,” she said. “And started applying for fellowships, I was given a Monash Bridging Fellowship, which gave me a whole year to develop myself as a researcher and start applying for more grants.”

Bernadette became the first person to conduct clinical and neurophysiological studies on a new pain phenomenon in amputees. Her work has been covered in a number of media outlets including New Scientist magazine, Australasian Science, and The Psychologist.

The importance of awards

While seed funding can launch a research project, Bernadette extols the value of awards in taking it to a new level. During her graduate study at Monash, Bernadette was awarded the Best PhD Thesis from the School of Psychology and Psychiatry, and the Vice Chancellor’s Commendation for Best Doctoral  Thesis, all of which has helped move her work forward.

“Without the awards, I wouldn’t have been able to secure my National Health and Medical Research Council Fellowship – which I’m doing now.”

Gender equity at Monash

With more awards on her plate – including the 2014 Tall Poppy award and the 2014 Bethlehem Griffin Foundation Young Researcher Award – Bernadette’s research seems to be growing from strength to strength.

Monash has also awarded her some grants to continue that momentum, including the chance to travel to the United States to meet with researchers from Harvard.

Most significant, however, was the Monash grant to assist female researchers with career disruption, which enabled Bernadette to continue her research while she took twelve months off to start a family.

“Monash is one of the best universities in the country when it comes to gender equity,” Bernadette says. “That grant isn’t just a byline in my CV – it was meaningful. I was able to use it to assist with staffing costs in one of the clinical trials I was running, so that work kept going.”

See Bernadette’s profile