Written by Dr Lara Malins, Westpac Scholar, 2021 Research Fellow, The Australian National University
As academic researchers, we quickly become accustomed to the yearly ritual of grant writing. For me, this process involves countless drafts of aims and diagrams, in the hopes of achieving the difficult and delicate balance between being boldly innovative yet still scientifically feasible, and at once both concise and sufficiently detailed. Yet despite my growing familiarity with this annual routine, my journey to becoming a Westpac Research Fellow last year was one that profoundly challenged my grant writing methodology and my underlying research ethos.
Unlike many funding opportunities available to early career researchers, the Westpac program focuses on the personal growth and leadership potential of applicants as much as their track record of research excellence. The fellowship aims to identify and nurture Australia’s next generation of leaders, and the unique opportunities for professional development and networking were key motivators in my decision to apply for the Westpac Research Fellowship after first learning about the opportunity through the ANU Research Office. Equal parts innovation and introspection, the application challenged me to reflect on my academic ambitions through the lens of my own personal narrative in order to identify what really makes me tick.
As a synthetic chemist, my story is underpinned by a passion for building molecules and a fascination with the awe-inspiring molecular shapes and structures which characterise the world around us. My research aims to use cutting-edge chemistry to improve on Nature’s molecular templates with particular focus on a promising new class of antibiotics produced by bacteria inside our gut. Such molecules may unlock new therapies to combat the imminent threat of resistant bacteria and help ensure the health and well-being of Australians.
Securing Australia’s future is a core tenet of the Westpac Scholars Trust. The fellowship thus stood out as a unique opportunity for me to build the scientific capacity, leadership skills and networks I might need to lead such a charge. Yet tackling the grand challenge of antibiotic resistance requires more than just new therapies. Industry engagement, government policy and public awareness are equally critical, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the broader Westpac network to engage beyond academia in pursuit of a goal that to me is both motivating and deeply fulfilling.
If you are a researcher with bold ambitions seeking a supportive platform, I encourage you to share your unique story in this year’s application process!
For more information, to nominate or apply for a Westpac Research Fellowship, visit the Westpac Scholars website