UNSW Medicine Scholarship Helps Balance Parenthood and Academia

Dr Emma Barrett ( left) receiving her scholarship from Professor Minoti Apte
Date Published:
10 Mar 2017
Contact person:
Emma O'Neill, Marketing and Communications Officer, UNSW Medicine
T: +61 (2) 9385 2672

The challenge of transitioning back into full-time academia after maternity leave isn’t easy, but the journey may be a little smoother for Dr Emma Barret who was this week presented with the 2017 Apte Scholarship. The $20,000 scholarship –named after the 2015 NSW Premier’s Woman of the Year Professor Minoti Apte OAM – is designed to encourage early career academic women to focus on research projects when returning to work after parental leave.

Dr Barrett, who is based at National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), said she was delighted to be this year’s recipient and that the scholarship would provide her with highly beneficial support to re-establish her full-time career at UNSW and support her research into improving the evidence base surrounding the treatment of co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.

“I have recently returned from the US after spending an incredible 10 months at the Medical University of South Carolina on a Fulbright Scholarship. Now back at UNSW I will commence a 3-year NSW Health Early-Mid Career Fellowship. The Apte Scholarship will play a significant role in this transition as it will enable me to employ a research assistant to help with key research activities, including the preparation of journal publications and setting up exciting new research projects. This assistance will also provide me with the space to undertake research activities as Chief Investigator on two new NHMRC projects funded in 2017,” she said.

Dr Barrett said that one of the toughest parts of balancing motherhood and academic was coping with ‘what often seems to be an overwhelming load of responsibilities, both professionally and personally, combined with moments of intense self-doubt (and memory loss!).’

“This can be particularly tough as an early career researcher aiming to forge an independent research career. I am extremely grateful to my husband who has made significant sacrifices in his own career in order to support mine. I have also been extremely fortunate to have incredible mentors and colleagues who have shown me it is possible to successfully balance motherhood and academia and still have a laugh along the way. It seems that getting the right support and relaxing one’s own professional and personal expectations is essential for this balance.”

Professor Apte, who presented Dr Barrett with the scholarship during an International Women’s Day event this week, said she was delighted that UNSW Medicine was able to support Dr Barrett in her research and academic career but hoped that one day gender equality would be the norm.

“My path from medical student to senior academic while raising a family was challenging. I was lucky to have received a lot of support but inequality and disadvantage for women returning to work remains a big problem in Australia,” she said.

“This scholarships shows that UNSW Medicine is leading the way in creating family-friendly workplace arrangements and supporting women who want to balance family with pursuing a career in science, academia or medical research.”

Dr Barrett is only the second recipient of the Apte Scholarship which was introduced by the Faculty in 2015; she hopes she is one of many.

“There are significant challenges for females pursuing careers in academia and research, particularly for those on the cusp of forging their independent career while also embarking on motherhood. My recent experience in the US made it clear to me how fortunate I am to access maternity leave and the highly valuable support from the Apte Scholarship to transition back into full-time work. Some colleagues in the US expressed that the lack of maternity leave and the disruption to their career were major factors that influenced their decision not to have a child. The Apte Scholarship is an excellent example of how UNSW can lead the way in supporting the professional and personal choices of female academics.”