Nurturing the next generation: The Early Career Scientists International Fund

June 20, 2024
Dr John Henstridge (left) and Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger AC FAA. Credit: Dr John Henstridge.

Supported by Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger AC FAA and Dr John Henstridge

At the heart of the Academy’s mission is a commitment to advancing Australia as a nation that embraces scientific knowledge and contributes significantly to global scientific endeavours. For many years, the Academy has fostered international collaboration at all levels of research within regional and global science networks.

To support these endeavours, we are very pleased to announce the establishment of the Early Career Scientists International Fund, made possible by a leadership gift from Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger AC FAA and Dr John Henstridge.

The primary focus of the program is investing in learning opportunities for graduate students and young researchers from the Asia-Pacific to travel to Australia and to help elevate the voice and profiles of young scientists in the region. Through these engagements, participants will have the chance to enhance research capabilities and foster international collaborative links.

The inaugural recipients will have the unique opportunity to attend Science at the Shine Dome 2024.

This prestigious event will provide them with invaluable experiences, including participation in early career-focused events, engaging with Academy Fellows and networking with other sector professionals.

“We both felt that we had benefited from our educational opportunities and see this as a means of giving back to the science community which had supported our career pathways. We have had many links with mathematicians in Southeast Asia and believe that Australia has an important role in strengthening science across the region,” Cheryl and John said.

Established as part of the Academy’s investment portfolio, the Fund is designed to ensure the longevity and sustainability of their donation to ensure support for early career scientists into the future.

We asked Cheryl and John about the Fund and its mission to other potential donors.

“Science and, for us, especially the mathematical sciences, are important to our society in numerous ways, underpinning all technological advances and helping us respond to global challenges. We have benefited from the training and resources which allowed us to pursue careers in mathematics and statistics, and also both of us have interacted with numerous young scientists internationally, particularly from our region.”

During Cheryl’s term as Academy Foreign Secretary, she saw that discretionary funding directed at supporting young scientists in our region could lead to successful links between those young people and their Australian colleagues, and also between the Academy and other national academies in our region.

“We were pleased to have the opportunity of giving to the Australian Academy of Science, and we were delighted with the Academy’s suggestion that an Early Career Scientists International Fund be established, building on our donation, to provide an effective way of supporting young scientists in our region in an ongoing way. 

“We suggest that other people who feel similarly to us might consider donating to support the mission of the Early Career Scientists International Fund.”

This act of generosity has already gone on to inspire others – including a gift from the President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Chennupati Jagadish AC PresAA FREng FTSE, and Dr Vidya Jagadish. Their combined support will help to bolster the Fund, and collectively have greater reach and impact.

The launch of the Early Career Scientists International Fund is an important step towards our commitment to fostering scientific excellence, collaboration and providing opportunities for early career scientists in the Asia-Pacific region.

We thank Cheryl and John, and Jagadish and Vidya for their visionary leadership and generous support.

About Professor Praeger and Dr Henstridge

Professor Cheryl Praeger has established an enviable reputation for her highly original research in the theory of permutation groups, both finite and infinite, in algorithmic group theory, in graph theory, and in other combinatorial theories.

Cheryl was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1996 and served as Foreign Secretary from 2014 to 2018.

Cheryl has run mentoring programs for women in mathematics and was a long-serving board member of the Australian Mathematics Trust and chair of the Australian Mathematical Olympiad Committee. She has received numerous awards including the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science and was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia in 1999 and a Companion in 2021 for her eminent service to mathematics, and to tertiary education, as a leading academic and researcher, to international organisations, and as a champion of women in STEM careers.

Dr John Henstridge is one of Australia’s most eminent statisticians. In a career spanning 40 years, he has been recognised as a national leader in developing solutions to real world data problems, through modern technology and innovative statistics.

John founded Data Analysis Australia in 1988 and has managed the company’s growth into the largest commercial group of statisticians and mathematicians in Australia. He has held the position of National President with the Statistical Society of Australia (where he was also recognised for his work with young statisticians) and is a Fellow and Chartered Statistician with the Royal Statistical Society in the United Kingdom.

A gift in honour of our family

Cheryl’s father Eric changed his career path at the age of 40 when he studied to be a naturopath and chiropractor and left his job in the Commercial Bank of Australia in country Queensland to begin work with Maurice Blackmore’s Naturopathic Clinic in Brisbane in the CBD. Cheryl was then 14. 

He’d had to leave school when he was aged 14 as his father had died and there was not enough money to allow him to finish school. 

After service during WWII he returned to the bank, as by then he was married, and it was the natural thing to do. But he was never happy in the bank, and becoming a chiropractor was really his calling in life. Maurice Blackmore was his professional mentor. 

While working in the Blackmore clinic, or sometime afterwards when he was in his own practice, the vitamin and mineral remedies (which were developed by Blackmore, and had been available only via individual practitioners) were produced more systematically as Blackmore’s remedies, and Eric became the Secretary of the new Blackmores Naturopathic Organisation Pty Limited. 

The company was successful, and when it became a public company Blackmores Laboratories Limited in 1985, Cheryl’s parents gave their children and grandchildren some shares. Eventually after Cheryl’s parents’ deaths she inherited one third of the shares owned by her parents, and in 2023, Blackmores was bought by a Japanese firm, and family members had to sell all their shares at that time.

Cheryl therefore had a strong loyalty to the Blackmore company and had not contemplated selling her shares, so the sale of the company was quite an unexpected thing for her. And so, the donation to the new Fund honours Cheryl’s father Eric. It also honours Cheryl’s mother Queenie who had been her champion in gaining permission for her to finish school. It had been Queenie’s wish that one of her children should go to “the university”.

Queenie also had to leave school at age 15 because her father had been off work for more than a year with rheumatic fever, and when he was well there were no jobs because of the great depression. So there was no experience within Cheryl’s immediate family of university education, or even finishing high school. 

Eric had thought that commercial skills were what Cheryl should learn, and after 18 months of discussions, with Queenie supporting Cheryl’s wish to study science, she was allowed to go into the academic stream in junior high school, and ultimately to complete her 12 years of schooling. The rest is history!

Written by Emeritus Professor Cheryl Praeger AC FAA and Dr John Henstridge together with the Australian Academy of Science.

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