Q&A with Associate Professor Tracy O'Mara


 TracyOmarapic.jpgIt was an honour to have SJFC ‘old girl’ (class of 1997), Associate Professor Tracy O'Mara visit the College this month to talk to the girls about her post-school journey into the field of science. Tracy is a postdoctoral fellow at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and runs a research program investigating the genetics of gynaecological cancers. She has recently taken leadership of an international collaboration of scientists researching the topic.

We took great pleasure in interviewing Tracy about her journey thus far.  


 ​Q1. What Science Subjects did you study in year 12?

Physics and chemistry

​​Q2. What were your career ambitions when you graduated in 1997?

I initially enrolled in a Bachelor of Commerce at UQ with the intention of becoming an accountant. That didn’t last long and I didn’t finish the degree.

 Q3. What did you study at Uni and where?

I completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (Biochemistry & Biotechnology) with Distinction followed by Bachelor of Applied Science (Life Sciences) with First Class Honours. I then completed a PhD in Cancer Genetics. All at QUT.

 ​Q4. What was your career progression from graduation university to now?

​During my PhD, I was fortunate to be involved in a world-first large-scale genetic study of endometrial cancer (cancer of the endometrial lining of the uterus). On completion of my degree, I was awarded a $300K fellowship to work at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane to build on this work and continue to grow my reputation in endometrial cancer genetics. I now lead an international collaboration of 14 studies of endometrial cancer from Australia, USA and Europe. I have co-authored over 50 journal articles, have been invited to speak about my cancer research findings nationally and internationally, and have been a visiting scientist at Harvard University and the University of Cambridge to extend my research skills. I was recently awarded a highly competitive grant from the Australian Government, investing $1.5 Million to develop my independent research program over the next 5 years.

 Q5. Did you have to break through any barriers being a woman in a male dominated industry and any advice for girls who’d like to pursue STEM based careers.

I highly recommend finding strong female mentors in the field for guidance and advice. I have been extremely lucky to have been supported throughout my career by amazing female researchers, particularly my long-term mentor, Professor Amanda Spurdle.

 Q6. What would you say to your high school self now?

You’re going to face some challenges when you leave school. Things aren’t always going to go the way you would like but you’re resilient and it won’t be the end of the world (it will just feel like it). Trust in yourself to make the tough decisions to get through. Everything is going to be okay in the end – and if it’s not okay then it’s not the end! Enjoy school and no adult responsibilities while you can!