Dr Alison Todd has built a distinguished STEM career and international health science business based on passion and curiosity
Alison Todd’s amazing career started early. As young kids, Alison and her brother would go bush with their Dad. He would point out plants and insects and set up discovery challenges for his children.
“Dad was an extraordinary and humble man,” Alison said. “Unbelievably, he enrolled in university from age 16 and was still taking different courses at 80! He inspired me. He inspired my curiosity and awe of the planet. And my love for humanity. He also showed me the excitement of exploring and investigating.”
Exploring, investigating, and figuring out how things work, as well as how you can create new tools for discovery, are some of the building blocks of science, Alison says.
Today, as the Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of SpeeDx, a molecular diagnostics company, Alison spends her days inventing. She has 85 inventions so far, with 57 more waiting for approval!
Her company, SpeeDx, is focused on improving healthcare around the world. Whether that is developing diagnostic tools for infectious diseases or cancer to help doctors select the right therapy for individual patients, or developing fast COVID-19 tests.
Alison started off at uni studying vet science. She soon shifted to a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Physiology. But it was DNA and molecular biology where she finally found her home during her third year.
DNA is at the core of her career as an ‘accidental entrepreneur’. It is how you can monitor disease through simple blood tests and create clever tools to translate the results to help patients.
Her most important career crossroad came when Alison’s PhD supervisor asked her to look at various mutations in DNA in people with leukaemia. His suggested method would have taken three days and used radioactivity. But Alison was keen to get the results more quickly and simply.
Her dream was to take a blood sample, unlock the secrets in the DNA and use that information to monitor the disease and predict its response to therapy. And that’s what she did. As well as inventing, Alison is also a teacher and mentor. As Adjunct Professor at the University of NSW, she supervises and encourages higher degree students to ask and then try to answer the difficult questions.
“I am passionate about mentoring the next generation of scientists and entrepreneurs,” she says. “Science is such a wonderful career. It’s just great fun.”
In 2020, Alison and SpeeDx co-founder Dr Elisa Mokany were awarded the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering’s Clunies Ross Award for Innovation, highlighting fun can lead to success.
“Follow your passion, be patient and persistent,” says Alison. “And above all do what you love. You spend so much time working, it makes no sense not to.” – Louise Denver
Alison’s study and career pathway
- PhD (Molecular Biology), University of Sydney
- Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Science, UNSW
- Chief Scientific Officer and Co-founder, SpeeDx
This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Science 2022.
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Author: STEM Contributor
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