Flinders emerging stars of science recognised as Young Tall Poppies

Four Flinders University early and mid-career researchers have been recognised as future science leaders for their outstanding research and science communication after being named in the South Australian Young Tall Poppy Science Awards for 2024.

Clinical epidemiologist Associate Professor Amy Reynolds, exercise physiologist Dr Matthew Wallen, criminologist Dr Simone Deegan, and dietitian Dr Brittany Johnson have won a Young Tall Poppy Award.

Flinders has scooped up four of the eight awards that recognise outstanding research by young scientists and science communicators this year.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Raymond Chan congratulated the four Tall Poppy winners on being recognised for their outstanding research achievements and dedication to promoting science.

“As emerging leaders in their fields, our four Tally Poppy recipients are encouraging science participation and increasing understanding and passion for Flinders research in the broader community, so we can all share in the benefits of scientific discovery.”

“Their achievements as science communicators mirror our impressive research growth trajectory – over just 5 years Flinders’ research income has grown by 140%, and our researchers’ passion for community engagement is ensuring that the broader public joins us on the journey towards future discoveries that improve lives.”

Associate Professor Amy Reynolds

Associate Professor Amy Reynolds at FHMRI Sleep Health.

Associate Professor Amy Reynolds is the co-lead of insomnia, shift work and body clock disruption research at FHMRI Sleep Health. Her research program focuses on sleep disorder care for shift workers, and especially for our emerging workforce, as  1 in 5 young Australian adults aged 18–30 live with a sleep disorder, and 80% are undiagnosed and unmanaged.

This is a particular problem for the 25% of the population who work shift work. “My research shows that sleep disorder symptoms are often dismissed as a consequence of shift workers’ work schedules rather than an independent issue – so diagnosis and treatment are delayed. The consequences are serious – many report safety-related events like falling asleep at work, or at the wheel. By middle age, the rate of sleep disorders among shift workers doubles to over 40%.”

“I am passionate about preventing the huge rise in sleep disorders we see from early adulthood to middle age, and making sure our young workforce know they have options to improve their sleep. I am leading an Australian-first trial on early screening, and management for our future healthcare workforce – to make sure we tackle sleep problems early. My aim is to shift the focus from treatment to prevention and early intervention so we can ultimately reduce the health and safety burden.”

Associate Professor Reynolds’ research was showcased in the three-part SBS documentary ‘Australia’s Sleep Revolution,’ which aired nationally earlier this year.

“This Tall Poppy Award is such an important opportunity to keep this critical momentum with community and government awareness of the need to prioritise sleep in Australia.”


Flinders Researcher Associate Professor Amy Reynolds from the Adelaide Institute of Sleep Health (AISH) Sleep Clinic expertly explains the importance of sleep and how shift work can affect an individual’s mental and physical health 😴 ⏰ Want to know more? Explore Sleep research at Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute! #FlindersUniversity #FHMRI #AISHSleepClinic #sleep #Research #ShiftWork #SleepHealth #FlindersHealthMedicalResearch #shiftwork #shiftworklife #shiftworker #shiftworkerproblems #sleepproblems #sleepproblems101

♬ original sound – Flinders University

Dr Matthew Wallen

Dr Matthew Wallen in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences.

 Dr Matthew Wallen, Senior Research Fellow in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences, is studying how lifestyle interventions can benefit people living with cancer, and those needing organ transplantation.

“At the core of my research lies the pursuit of optimising physical health and wellness before major surgery. I am passionate about identifying personalised interventions and models of care that can ensure the best outcomes for cancer survivors and people requiring transplantation.”

Dr Wallen, who publishes research in prestigious international journals, leads a community-based exercise service for people with cancer.

He has participated in numerous cancer and transplant support groups, educating and advocating for the importance of exercise and lifestyle interventions for hundreds of patients and their families.

As a passionate Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Dr Wallen says he is deeply committed to communicating science and engaging with the community.

“I volunteer to improve the health of South Australian communities through the Pinnaroo Project and at national policy forums such as the Parliamentary Friends of Lymphoedema and Senate Inquiry into Rare and Less Common Cancers. The importance of these forums to benefit the health outcomes of the wider community cannot be overstated.”

Dr Brittany Johnson

Dr Brittany Johnson at the Caring Futures Institute.

Dr Brittany Johnson, Senior Research Fellow and Dietitian in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences, is exploring how to best support families of young children to develop health-promoting behaviours. Including how the introduction of school-provided meals in Australia could benefit families, schools and communities.

“My goal is to make it easier for parents and caregivers to promote healthy habits and behaviours for young children, through access to evidence-informed policies and practices through the settings where families spend their time.”

Passionate about community engagement, Dr Johnson has volunteered with the SA Committee of the Home Economics Institute of Australia (HEIA SA) to connect with professionals in education, community health, and industry on nutrition guidance, and she has run workshops with over 60 teachers from across the state.

“Volunteering has connected me with over 1600 members across Australia and the peak national body for home economics professionals. It’s a great way to improve the nutritional literacy of teachers, which they could pass on to their students.

Dr Johnson regularly does national media interviews and writes on her research topics in online media such as the Conversation.

“Members of the public have reached out to find out more about our research or how they can get involved, so there’s no better way to connect directly with the community that will benefit from our research.”

Dr Simone Deegan

Dr Simone Deegan.

Dr Simone Deegan in the College of Business, Government & Law is combining criminology and law to understand how trauma and disadvantage set young Australians on a pathway to prison.

Her research aims to empower young people to step outside of endless repetition and setbacks.

“While there are many “on-ramps” that push children into risky behaviour, we also know there are “off-ramps” that can help them escape. The ultimate goal of my research is to find these “off-ramps,” building better lives and safer communities.”

Dr Deegan is changing inaccurate perceptions about “bad kids” being locked up as a solution by understanding the impact of punitive sentencing practices and how justice involved youth can accomplish dramatic transformations. This is achievable when they’re provided with opportunities to learn, mature and grow into constructive members of society.

“As a volunteer, I conduct programs with students and at-risk young people to educate them on their legal rights and navigate relationships. This awareness helps them to refrain from illegal acts and to avoid future victimisation.”

Dr Deegan’s research has also culminated in ongoing film projects with incarcerated young people as a tool for broad reaching social change and justice reform. These documentaries tackle issues of entrenched disadvantage, juvenile brain development, mandatory sentencing as well as issues around reintegration and parole.

“My first documentary, ‘Stuck in Time’ (2019), tells the story of an Aboriginal teenager sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder he didn’t commit. My film’s reach was significant and is available through SBS On Demand and NITV.”

Presented by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science, the Young Tall Poppy Awards were created to celebrate achievement in the sciences and communicating the passion and purpose of Australia’s finest scientists to a wider audience.

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