On the job with…Vanessa Vaughan

EMCR Forum
Vanessa Vaughan from Deakin University


EMCR Forum interview with Vanessa Vaughan

Name: Vanessa Vaughan

Position: Lecturer (Public Health Medicine), International Coordinator (Medicine) at the School of Medicine, Deakin University, Geelong

Time in Role: 2.75 years full time, plus two years casual before that (not including the decade of March 2020)

Describe a typical day in your job

A lot of time spent at a desk… unfortunately, it is not always glamorous jet setting. I have two dedicated research days a week. On one, I focus on my clinical research, working with our local health service to develop prognostic and treatment strategies for people with cancer-associated muscle loss. This can mean interviews, data crunching, Zoom meetings, or writing. The other day I dedicate to my students’ projects, whether that is helping with planning a cell culture assay, proofing their data analysis, or being the guinea pig for the new health literacy questionnaire. I usually have two days of teaching a week with our medical students across all four years of our program, ranging from teaching fundamentals of public health, how to work in multidisciplinary teams, how to support people to make positive lifestyle changes, and in our research training program.

The other 1.5 days I spend on international support and recruitment, helping prospective students with applications and questions, doing interviews, helping our current international students navigate moving to Australia, and all the crazy things that go along with it. Sometimes that means a 6 am webinar to Winnipeg or a couple of days in a rural Vietnamese hospital. Somewhere in there, we squeeze coffees, chats, and discussions of my next hair colour—because I’m part of an awesome team that prioritises health and wellbeing above everything else.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?  

The mathematically minded among you may note that my ‘typical week’ doesn’t add up to five days. It’s not 9–5, or even 8–5.30. It can be really hard to switch off when you head home, especially when you work in a field that you see so much of in day-to-day life (hello junk food advertising, pandemic log graphs, people being racist on social and traditional media). I’m still learning to let go of perfectionism and prioritise the things that matter (eg. helping patients, helping our students become awesome doctors, being there for my family), but sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. Having good friends both within and outside of academia has helped a lot to keep me passionate, but in touch with the bigger picture.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

Working with students to find the best version of themselves! Teaching public health means I open a lot of their eyes to a whole new way of thinking about the world, and what they can do to help make it a better, safer place for everyone. Helping them put their grand plans into action always blows me away, be it their community kitchen program, a mental health awareness bike ride across the Nullarbor, or improving the opportunities for intersectionality in medicine. What I do also changes every single day, so it is never boring!

How does your PhD help in your daily role?

So much of a PhD is translatable, which is what helped me transition from molecular biology to translational medicine and public health. I use critical analysis and data skills to teach medical students about evidence-based practice and help drive our student recruitment strategies. I use lab management to run my own non-lab research group and manage our team. And I use those once dreaded presentation skills to facilitate learning for our students and our community. The 3-Minute Thesis was probably my one standout skill acquisition: learning how to distil everything down to the core take-home details, a skill I am thankful for in every grant application, Medical Council report, and statistics lecture!

Any advice for EMCRs wishing to pursue a career in this area?

This is a marathon, not a sprint. You will want to say yes to everything, to go to everything, to apply for everything, and you will be tempted to cancel social plans to do work things. DON’T!

Do the things that you are really passionate about, not just the ones that will look good on your CV. And if you find you’re not where you want to be, it’s not the end of the world. Talk to those around you (at a socially responsible distance) on how to gradually shift, and down the track you will find your perfect niche.

© 2021 Australian Academy of Science