In the lead up to International Women's Day on March 8, Global Challenges is sharing stories of women in academia who have developed partnerships and mentorships, to celebrate their collegiality and friendship. These partnerships show the power of women when they come together, to face challenges and adversity. Thank you to all women who took the time to share their stories and who will no doubt inspire the next generation of women in research.
Image: A/Prof Lyn Phillipson and Dr Louisa Smith
Dr Louisa Smith, Australian Health Services Research Institute (AHSRI)
I met Lyn in 2017 at a writing group that she started. I was still working at another university in Sydney but living in Thirroul, so a mutual friend suggested that I attend. I think this friend described Lyn as a fierce intellect and a real go getter. I was a bit intimidated. Of course, both of these things are true, but that’s not the first thing that hits you when you meet Lyn. Instead, it’s her warmth that’s striking and that you know straight a way that you’ll like her.
I ran into Lyn in Thirroul Park with our children and mentioned that my contract was coming to an end. She said that she was looking for someone to work with her on her NHMRC fellowship, and before I knew it, I had a contract, an office and was part of Lyn’s team – some of whom have been working together for over 10 years. This kind of loyalty that Lyn inspires is because as a team we all work to support one another’s aims and goals.
“We are always looking for ways to inform one another’s work that offers support and ways forward. This makes work a fun, happy and kind place to be.”
Well, firstly, Lyn and I like one another. When we started working together, we had a discussion about how demotivating academic culture can be when it focuses on critique. Emotionally, critique is often distancing, disconnecting and alienating, and the opposite to how we want our work to be. There is obviously a place for feedback, but early on we gave ourselves a challenge to see if we could make connection and collaboration the focus of our academic work together. Because of that, we are always looking for ways to inform one another’s work that offers support and ways forward. This makes work a fun, happy and kind place to be. I don’t think we acknowledge the significance of good work relationships enough in our society, but some weeks I spend more waking hours with Lyn than anyone else, so it makes a really big difference to my whole life when my relationships at work are good.
Lyn has taught me the importance of having strong and ongoing relationships with the Illawarra community. Lyn has been working at UOW for a long time and has broad, rich and deep networks across health and community services in the Illawarra Shoalhaven. Being embedded in this way, Lyn is always locating her work within communities and exchanging her knowledge into immediate outcomes for individuals, community groups and even whole communities.
“I’ve never felt so brave, free or productive as an academic as I have since receiving Lyn’s mentorship and partnership. It’s an incredible dance that she manages, and I’m grateful for it every day.”
Lyn is an incredible mentor. Initially, I was going to say that being a mentor is similar to being a friend. Aspects of it are. Lyn really cares about my interests and supports me to maintain focus and commitment to them; she recognises me and helps me have integrity. Sometimes this involves keeping me focused and sometimes this involves pushing me to make a leap: a bit like a friend getting you to go swimming in the rain. But unlike a friend, I really appreciate that, as a mentor, Lyn gives me lots of space. I have freedom to work independently and do things my way, even make mistakes she might have been able to predict. She’s close when I need support, she helps me when I have problems, but doesn’t intrude when I don’t. I’ve never felt so brave, free or productive as an academic as I have since receiving Lyn’s mentorship and partnership. It’s an incredible dance that she manages, and I’m grateful for it every day.
A/Prof Lyn Phillipson, School of Health and Society, Faculty of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities
Louisa and I met 4 years ago as part of an academic writing group. From memory, I had initiated the group as an attempt to gather some colleagues together who all were working in the aging or disability research space. I had organised the group around the pragmatic purpose of ‘writing a paper in 7 days’. I can’t remember now if I ever wrote the paper. But I do remember meeting Louisa. She was vibrant, colourful, authentic and deeply analytical. I was attracted to Louisa’s values, intellect and perspectives. From the first time we met, we bonded over ideas and our commitment to practicing research in a way that was inclusive and represented the voice of people with disabilities.
“I believed in her [Louisa’s] vision and her motivations, and I also knew that my own health research would benefit from her perspectives as a sociologist and disability scholar.”
When we met, Louisa was a stellar early career researcher with a very unusual mix of skills developed whilst conducting innovative research with people living with disabilities. However, too often in academia, especially in recent times, young researchers like Louisa are not given the opportunities they deserve. I was fortunate enough to have funding over a number of years associated with an NHMRC Fellowship. I saw this Fellowship as a chance to not only serve my own research goals – but also to provide some opportunities for Louisa to build on her existing pathway. I believed in her vision and her motivations, and I also knew that my own health research would benefit from her perspectives as a sociologist and disability scholar.
I think we are both intensely curious and interested in exploring ideas. We are also both quite creative, and it has been lovely to work with someone else who is not afraid of trying to think and work differently – to challenge the status quo. Louisa has contributed enormously to my thinking about dementia and introduced me to the world of disability scholarship. She has also encouraged me to develop my writing style and to strive to find the voice and perspectives I represent in my conversations on the page.
“It has been lovely to work with someone else who is not afraid of trying to think and work differently – to challenge the status quo. Louisa has contributed enormously to my thinking about dementia and introduced me to the world of disability scholarship.”
Louisa and I are colleagues, but we are also friends. She is always reminding me to share, delegate and accept her support and that of others. As a busy research leader, I also have way too many demands on my plate. Louisa works to help me to meet these demands. She is also great at prompting me to reflect on what I consider to be my core values and goals. She reminds me that I can and should say no to things that take me away from the tasks and the people that matter most.
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Read the other profiles:
Women in partnership: Dr Farzana Tanima and Professor Judy Brown
Women in partnership: Prof Fiona Probyn-Rapsey and Dr Quah Ee Ling Sharon