In the lead up to the 2021 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes Award Ceremony on 7 October, we caught up with some of this year’s finalists.
Who Dr Melina Georgousakis, founder of Franklin Women
What Dr Melina Georgousakis is committed to developing the next generation of Australia’s researchers and ensuring that women are equally represented among them. Through the establishment of Franklin Women, she is providing the infrastructure for a sector-first mentoring program, delivering events and building a community to foster the formation of new mentoring relationships.
Finalist in the 2021 University of Technology Sydney Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers
Tell us a little bit about the inception of Franklin Women
I started Franklin Women when I was an early career researcher. I had just left a lab-based role and had moved into immunisation policy and was loving it. This career pivot got me thinking about my career aspirations and the skills and connections I might need to get there.
At around the same time I had started to hit some barriers to these aspirations and after speaking to my peers and then looking at the data, I realised that many of those barriers were because of my gender. I came to recognise that despite women being overrepresented earlier in health and medical research careers, they were grossly underrepresented in leadership roles. Ultimately, despite a large investment in their training, they were being lost from the sector.
That was the year I started Franklin Women, a social enterprise that connects and provides development opportunities to women in their career journeys across the sector. The rest, as they say, is history!
Over the space of seven years, you’ve built a thriving community. Can you tell us a bit about the women in it?
What I am proudest of with Franklin Women is the amazing women who have touched our community over the years. One of the things I was very intentional about when I started the organisation was that I wanted it to connect women who shared a common passion to improve health, but came from different organisations, roles, career levels and disciplines.
This is exactly what Franklin Women has become — a supportive community of women working across the entire health and medical research ecosystem, whether they are in lab-research or implementation science, in government, at a medical research institute, completing a PhD or leading an organisation. Wonderful things have come from bringing these women together.
One of the things I was very intentional about when I started the organisation was that I wanted it to connect women who shared a common passion to improve health, but came from different organisations, roles, career levels and disciplines.
What philosophies underpin your approach to Franklin Women?
One of the main philosophies we have tried to embody is one of collective investment in our overall mission — to create a health and medical research sector where women thrive. We have this in mind with everything that we do as it’s our strong belief that much more can be achieved, and at a much faster rate, when individuals and organisations come together. It is also a lot more fun working with others than on your own!
Some good examples of how we go about this is drawing upon Franklin Women’s individual memberships to fund our annual Carer’s Scholarship, connecting a leader from one organisation with a future leader from another through our Mentoring Program and even our Academic Partners — an alliance of diverse health research organisations who have each invested in Franklin Women and our mission for the greater benefit to the whole sector.
Your events are hugely popular among women in the health and medical research sector. What role do they play in your approach to mentoring?
They have been popular which is amazing for us as we feel like we have hit the mark with providing what women need, and want, right now. I guess they contribute to mentoring in two ways. The first is by creating opportunities for women to find a mentor or to mentor someone else. Our events bring together women in diverse roles, organisations and career levels, creating this amazing mixing pot of opportunity.
The second way is by providing training on mentoring. We came to realise that while everyone seemed to be telling women to ‘get a mentor’, doing so is often easier said than done. To address this, we have delivered a few events that talk about what mentoring is, provide tips on how to go about finding a mentor and how to get the most out of mentoring relationships. The conversation at our first mentoring event brought to light just how underutilised mentoring relationships were among women in the medical sector and inspired our Mentoring Program, which we have now been delivering for five years with the amazing support of leadership consultants, Serendis Leadership.
Just do you. Often in the research sector a single career path is promoted that is built around very specific metrics of success.
What advice do you have for young female researchers trying to carve their own path?
Just do you. Often in the research sector a single career path is promoted that is built around very specific metrics of success. This can create an environment where we try to mould ourselves to fit this system as opposed to reflecting on what our unique strengths are, and where we can bring the greatest value and get the most happiness.
The one thing the Franklin Women community has shown me is the varied career paths out there that call upon research skills and where you can have great impact on health. The fun part is finding that path this is right for you.
What are your ambitions for Franklin Women?
Well, my biggest ambition is that Franklin Women becomes redundant as that means women are thriving in their respective roles and workplaces, but I think that might be a while off yet. In the meantime, I obviously hope the organisation can grow to reach and support more women in their career journeys. But more important than growing is ensuring that the support we provide is meaningful. I always ask the team, “How will this thing that we are delivering help someone right now?”
The 2021 Australian Museum Eureka Prize winners will be announced on Thursday 7 October at a live broadcast Award Ceremony. The event is open to everyone and free to attend.