PROF. HE­LEN CHENERY

RIS­ING TO BE­COME ONE OF FOUR EX­EC­U­TIVE DEANS AT BOND UNIVER­SITY, THIS COUN­TRY GIRL IS A STUDY IN SUC­CESS

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - EYE | PEOPLE - AS TOLD TO SALLY COATES

Iwas born and raised in Bund­aberg. My ma­jor mem­ory grow­ing up is that my mother and fa­ther al­ways ad­vo­cated for the power of ed­u­ca­tion. It was very much around be­ing en­thu­si­as­tic about school, choir, learn­ing a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment, speech and drama. There was al­ways a lot of em­pha­sis on ed­u­ca­tion.

I didn’t have am­bi­tions to be a sci­en­tist or clin­i­cian, but to­wards the end of sec­ondary school I was deeply en­gaged with lit­er­a­ture and the­atre. But I also loved the sci­ences. In high school it struck me that do­ing speech ther­apy – now speech pathol­ogy – would be a great way to have a ca­reer that blended both lan­guage and science. What I didn’t know then was that speech pathol­ogy is less about elo­cu­tion and more about how lan­guage is pro­cessed in the brain, or the neu­ro­science of lan­guage. Mine was a mod­est be­gin­ning, but in an en­vi­ron­ment that val­ued and en­cour­aged cu­rios­ity.

Af­ter I grad­u­ated from univer­sity, I was pretty keen to get out and see the world, as one does at the age of 21.

I’m still as­tounded at how brave I was, but I took on a role in Gee­long as the only speech pathol­o­gist in a neu­ro­log­i­cal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion hos­pi­tal. It was a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. I was out on a limb and had to work hard to es­tab­lish a sup­port net­work. That was the late ’70s.

Af­ter that I came to Bris­bane to work as a speech pathol­o­gist in a hos­pi­tal. I was al­ready think­ing, “We re­ally don’t know enough about how lan­guage is pro­cessed in the brain and what hap­pens to lan­guage when the brain is dam­aged”. I en­rolled in my masters part time to dis­cover more and loved it.

Then a po­si­tion came up at the Univer­sity of QLD as a full-time se­nior tu­tor. The low­est rung in the aca­demic lad­der. I ac­tu­ally took a sig­nif­i­cant de­crease in pay to go back and con­tinue my stud­ies while also be­gin­ning my aca­demic ca­reer.

That was in 1984. I had found the place I wanted to be.

Uni­ver­si­ties are won­der­ful, com­pli­cated, in­spi­ra­tional, hum­bling, and some­times frus­trat­ing places. But they’re an en­vi­ron­ment that fa­cil­i­tates change and trans­for­ma­tion.

Af­ter my masters I be­gan my PhD and dur­ing that pe­riod I had my two won­der­ful chil­dren.

Then, with a large amount of self-ef­fort and sup­port from oth­ers, I pro­gressed through the pro­mo­tions process to pro­fes­sor. It was around 2004 that I moved out of my dis­ci­pline of speech pathol­ogy and into a broader lead­er­ship role. I was the As­so­ci­ate Dean Aca­demic in Health Sci­ences at UQ, then be­came Deputy Ex­ec­u­tive Dean (Aca­demic). Af­ter eight years I moved side­ways back into re­search, be­com­ing the di­rec­tor of a trans­la­tional Deep Brain Stim­u­la­tion re­search cen­tre.

And then in 2014 came an un­ex­pected but very at­trac­tive op­por­tu­nity. I was per­fectly happy and con­tent, ev­ery­thing was laid out and then Bond ap­pointed me to the po­si­tion of Ex­ec­u­tive Dean of the Fac­ulty of Health Sci­ences and Medicine. Af­ter 30 years at UQ it felt right.

But what I was am­biva­lent about was mov­ing to the Gold Coast. Liv­ing in Bris­bane I only ever read the trou­bling head­lines. But I now live on and love the GC. I think it’s the warm­est, most con­nected and wel­com­ing com­mu­nity.

I knew about gen­der in­equity and wanted to do some­thing about it when I was in my early twen­ties. It was a tu­mul­tuous time around fem­i­nism and equal op­por­tu­nity.

There was this very clear un­der­stand­ing as I stud­ied speech pathol­ogy that I’d work in a hos­pi­tal, get mar­ried – hope­fully to a doc­tor – and start a fam­ily. But then I had this amaz­ing rev­e­la­tion: I don’t need to marry a doc­tor, I can be a doc­tor my­self.

It’s pretty ob­vi­ous when you look at the sta­tis­tics that gen­der eq­uity does not yet ex­ist in the science, tech­nol­ogy, engi­neer­ing, math­e­mat­ics and medicine dis­ci­plines in Aus­tralia. I think what has hap­pened for a long time is a recog­ni­tion that gen­der eq­uity is im­por­tant, but de­spite that ac­knowl­edg­ment, women con­tinue to be squeezed out of science ca­reers by struc­tural and cul­tural bar­ri­ers.

We all ben­e­fit by hav­ing di­ver­sity and dif­fer­ence in our work­places.

“THEN I HAD THIS AMAZ­ING REV­E­LA­TION: I DON’T NEED TO MARRY A DOC­TOR, I CAN BE A DOC­TOR MY­SELF.”

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