While studying at Flinders, Karen Hawke never dreamt she’d be joining an elite group of women scientists on a journey of discovery in the frozen reaches of Antarctica.
She’s the first to admit to the struggles of getting through a difficult transition to university, of completing a degree and postgraduate study, and then of championing her career path.
Now well on her way as a medical researcher at SAHMRI, Dr Hawke says it’s time to give back and take more steps to make the world a better, healthier place – particularly for women and children. “I have a passion to improve health and my heart is with at-risk populations,” she says.
“There’s a real opportunity for the skills I learn on this Antarctic trip to be taken back home and applied to this area.”
With funding from Flinders to kickstart her appeal, Dr Hawke is completing her warm-up challenge to raise $30,000 to travel to Antarctica with the 2016 Homeward Bound program taking 78 female scientists from around the world for three weeks of professional and personal skill building.
“I want to be a better leader and show other people from less privileged backgrounds such as mine that it is possible to do this, and that it is possible to change your life,” Dr Hawke says.
The Flinders University alumna is aiming high to improve gender equality and promote women leadership in science.
Dr Hawke says the support she has received from Flinders University over many years has helped her to reach to this point in her journey. All along, she says Flinders was “there for me”.
“I now want to support and inspire others to set their sights on their own achievements,” she says.
At 38 years of age, Dr Hawke sees her journey taking another turn for the better as she aims to leave her mark on Aboriginal health and to inspire other women in science and medicine to follow her example.
Among many friends and mentors during her time at Flinders, Dr Hawke wished to specially acknowledge her PhD supervisor, Head of Public Health Professor Paul Ward, as well as her undergraduate degree mentor, Associate Lecturer Geoff Fraser, from the School of Psychology.
With a Bachelor degree in Behavioural Science, first-class Honours in Neuroscience and PhD in Public Health (Infectious Diseases), she now specialises in maternal and infant health in Aboriginal health at SAHMRI (the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute).
She believes that collaborative research is the way of the future, and interdisciplinary scientists such as herself, with combined laboratory and public health backgrounds, offer a unique skill set.
“Different fields of science can work together to solve complex problems, and being a hub between laboratory science and public health means I can translate findings into understandable language for a diverse population, which leads to better communication, collaboration and action,” she says.
Tax-deductible donations for Karen’s once-in-a-lifetime Antarctic challenge through the Homeward Bound program can be made on her personal Homeward Bound or SA team crowd-funding site, or via her Facebook page or SAHMRI webpage.