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Leadership ‘boot camp’ delivers

Researchers benefit from District's partnership with mentoring program.

Two women standing in front of a fountain
SydneyConnect Image: Clinical Associate Professor Rebekah Ahmed and Dr Melina Georgousakis

Two Sydney Local Health District researchers have shared their experiences after participating in the Franklin Women’s Mentoring Program during the first year the District offered it.

“It was a leadership boot camp,” Clinical Associate Professor Rebekah Ahmed, a Staff Specialist Neurologist at RPA, said about the program.

Franklin Women is an organisation that supports women in their career journey in the health and medical research sector through professional training and initiatives that addresses systemic barriers faced by women in field.

“The mentoring program matches up-and-coming female researchers with both male and female leaders from different organisations across the sector.

“This takes the focus of the mentorship away from the mentees specific research area and focuses instead on their leadership journey which is something scientists get little training in,” Dr Melina Georgousakis, the founder of Franklin Women, said.

Sydney was the first Local Health District in New South Wales to partner with the program.

Dr Ahmed, who runs the Memory and Cognition Clinic at RPA, was mentored during the five-month program by University of New South Wales Professor Maria Craig, a paediatric endocrinologist who is an internationally recognised as a leader in her field.

Dr Ahmed stated that “Professor Craig understood the difficulties of combining clinical work and research.”

“I can now see the positives of my position – I will continue to build the clinical service and integrate research into it.

“I now feel empowered. That I have the skills to navigate the system. I now know the direction I would like my career to go in and I am able to plan my next steps,” Dr Ahmed said.

Professor Craig said while the pair worked in vastly different disciplines they’d both faced similar experiences.

“We talked about career development as a leader….what makes a good leader and different types of leadership styles.

[Rebekah’s] confidence blossomed during the program. As a mentor, it was incredibly rewarding,” she said.

Associate Professor Shilpi Ajwani, who heads the District’s Oral Health Promotion & Oral Health Research, also took on a mentoring role.

She mentored Dr Sarah Masso who is an Academic Fellow and speech pathology lecturer at The University of Sydney.

“Shilpi was a good sounding board for me,” Dr Masso said.

“She was able to help me shift the way I see my work. She didn’t tell me a solution. We talked through my experiences and she offered her insights.”

During the program, Dr Masso was awarded a $424 000 research grant via the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Early Career Researcher Award.

“It was opportune timing. I could share the news with Shilpi and share with her what it meant. I was supported and supervised [during my PhD] now I’ll be driving my own research and building a team to do it,” she said.

Associate Professor Ajwani said she offered Sarah guidance in career development.

“I aimed to give her the tools to overcome the issues that she raised.

“I strongly believe that women should support other women. I had a mentor who guided and shaped my career. I’m very passionate about it,” she said.

Dr Georgousakis said the program is having a positive impact.

“It has been rewarding to see the tangible impact participation in the program has had on mentees with promotions, new collaborations and exciting career moves.

“Just as importantly, it is impacting the mentors who have increased awareness about the challenges women face in their careers and how to lead change in their teams and organisations,” she said.

The District will offer the Franklin Women Mentoring Program again in 2020.

For more details, please see: https://franklinwomen.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2020_FranklinWomen-Final-Flyer.pdf

If you’d like to apply, please contact Imogen Baker, Program Manager, Sydney Research at Imogen.baker@health.nsw.gov.au to register your interest.