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From lab to leadership: Burnet celebrates the International Day of Women and Girls in Science

  • 11 Feb 2024

Image: Ashleigh Stewart (left, courtesy of Monash University), Amaya Ortega Pajares (centre), Gabriela Khoury (right).

Women have played, and continue to play, a crucial role in shaping the landscape of scientific discovery.  

To mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11 February, we are recognising and celebrating the contributions of our female staff, students and collaborators.   

With more than 60 per cent of Burnet’s Australian-based staff identifying as female, we understand and appreciate the enormous contribution women make every day to our workplace and to science and medical research more broadly.  

We spoke with three of our female researchers, in various stages of their careers, about their journey and the importance of women’s contribution to science.  

These women reflect the invaluable drive and insight women bring to Burnet. 

Dr Gabriela Khoury, Burnet Theme Leader in Antiviral Immunity, is an immunologist-virologist with expertise in T-cell biology, infectious diseases, and immunodeficiency. 

“Science is a great field where you can be creative, solve problems and potentially have a direct impact on people’s lives,” she said. 

“Scientific questions and global health issues require creative thinking and input from diverse teams with unique perspectives and experiences.If 50 per cent of the community is not represented, or if their ideas are not heard or acknowledged, research suffers, and this has an impact on health outcomes.” 

For Dr Amaya Ortega Pajares, a biomedical scientist, and manager of the Cellular Responses to Disease and Vaccination lab, science is a public service. 

“I do what I do with the hope that, ultimately, it will contribute to individuals, their communities and people seeking a healthier life, through improved interventions for the control, prevention, and treatment of parasitic diseases,” she said. 

“I see our research as a powerful tool to achieve health equity, and that keeps me passionate about science.” 

Dr Ashleigh Stewart is a public health epidemiologist and senior research officer at Burnet in coordination roles for the InCHEHC and SIRX studies. 

She’s been with Burnet since 2017, where she also completed her PhD. She said it was the people she worked with who have kept her driven and inspired. 

“In particular, I am lucky to work with many incredible women at Burnet who keep me motivated through their own impressive research achievements and career aspirations,” she said. 

“And that we foster an environment that encourages and supports women and girls to pursue their passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics without constraints or limitations.” 

Burnet strives to create an environment that supports and encourages women and girls to pursue their passion for science, technology, engineering, and maths, without constraints or limitations.  

Dr Khoury said it was important for individuals and organisations to acknowledge the unconscious bias we all have.  

“It is how we manage this unconscious bias and alter our behaviour that will improve workplaces for women and other underrepresented groups, allowing them to thrive.”