Dr Elizabeth Thomas is researching genetic markers associated with cognitive impairment across the schizophrenia spectrum.
Elizabeth started her STEM career at Monash University, completing four years of a Bachelor of Biomedical Science and Bachelor of Science double degree and a subsequent Honours year. She recently completed her PhD and continues her research at the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre (MAPrc). During her PhD, she had a daughter and took a year of maternity leave.
“I’ve spent almost 10 years studying at university,” says Elizabeth. “It’s nice to have completed my PhD, particularly since I had my daughter during that time. She’s been my main motivation, not only to finish my doctorate but to continue working in research and promoting women in STEM.”
Going with the flow
In her last year of high school, Elizabeth switched her preferences last minute from graphic design to science. Even after her double degree, she was still uncertain of the science career she wanted to pursue. It was only after her Honours year that Elizabeth realised she was passionate about research and went on to complete a PhD focusing on genetics and cognition across the schizophrenia spectrum, an area that she continues to work in.
“It’s hard to know your career aspirations when you’re in high school, or even the beginning of university,” she says. “While it’s great to plan, you also need to be flexible and develop your interests as you progress through life. The more you learn about yourself, the easier it will be to figure out what’s right for you.”
Juggling career and motherhood
In addition to the day-to-day struggles of juggling research and parenting, many researchers miss out on other important aspects of research such as international collaborations and conferences. However, Elizabeth has been fortunate enough to take several opportunities despite having her daughter.
In 2018, Elizabeth received a DAAD short-term grant to collaborate in Germany. She was able to take her husband and daughter, who was 7 months old at the time, to Germany for a month to collaborate, attend a summer school on eye movements and present her work to colleagues and other esteemed researchers.
“Not a lot of women have the opportunity to travel for work with a baby. Without the support of my PhD supervisors and my husband, it would have been impossible to do,” she says. “For the best chance at success, make sure you surround yourself with supportive family, peers and mentors.”
Most recently, Elizabeth received a Family Care Grant to attend the Australasian Cognitive Neuroscience Conference in Launceston, Tasmania. “It’s great that conferences are starting to recognise the difficulties for parents to attend scientific conferences. Hopefully more conferences follow suit and provide more funding and facilities for academic parents to bring their children along.”
Educating the next generation
Aside from research, Elizabeth loves teaching and sharing her passion for science. She is part of the CSIRO STEM Professionals in Schools program, where she works alongside primary and high school teachers to help them with their STEM classes. She also tutors Immunology and Science Communication at Monash University.
“I think it’s important to get the next generation of students interested in STEM – they’re our future! In particular, I love talking to young women and getting them excited about STEM. We’re underrepresented, and we need to make our presence known!”
Elizabeth’s study and career pathway:
- Bachelor of Science, majoring in genetics/molecular biology and immunology/human pathology, Monash University, Australia
- Bachelor of Biomedical Science (First Class Honours), Monash University, Australia
- PhD, MAPrc, Monash University, Australia
Author: STEM Contributor
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