It 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.
Physics and chemistry
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!