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It’s been a fascinating journey so far - even taking in Norway - as Dr Lana Williams finds herself a part of Deakin University and not that far from where she went to school in Geelong.
Dr Williams is a member of the Barwon Psychiatric Research Unit, a group of highly regarded researchers who, following the establishment of the Medical School at Deakin, have transferred from The University of Melbourne.
The recipient as a chief investigator of a NHMRC project grant she is also pivotal to the mental health sub-study of the world-renowned Geelong Osteoporosis Study, a large epidemiological study involving an age-stratified, random, population-based sample of men and women from this region. This was the basis of her PhD project, which was awarded in December 2008 without the need for further examination or amendments.
“I did a Bachelor of Psychology at Victoria University, and then my Masters and PhD at the University of Melbourne under Professor Michael Berk, that was in the research unit he headed up in Geelong.
“After finishing my PhD I continued with the research unit which, of course, has now moved to Deakin.
“The move is an exciting one for me. I went to the Faculty of Health information day at Deakin recently and there was just so much that seems to be happening, especially since the arrival of the Medical School.
“So I am seeing the move to Deakin as a very positive one.”
Dr Williams said she was drawn to research right from her early undergraduate days.
“I am not sure what the inspiration was, I guess I just had this leaning towards research, particularly in the area of psychiatric epidemiology and more specifically physical outcomes of the common psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety,” she says.
“A cornerstone of my research is my work linking mental disorders and the agents used in the treatment these disorders to endocrinology endpoints, such as bone density, fracture and body composition.
“We know that depression and anxiety can lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and now bone loss.”
Dr Williams has received a number of prestigious awards acknowledging the work she has undertaken, including a Australian Academy of Science grant, an Early Career Research Award from the Australasian Society for Psychiatric Research and the G-force Researcher of the Year Award for the Population, Health and Lifestyle category.
After finishing her PhD, Dr Williams was invited to Norway, to undertake a postdoctoral appointment during which she developed projects using data from the prestigious Nord-Trondelag Health Study (HUNT study), including starting the largest study ever to be conducted investigating psychopathology and bone mineral density.
The invitation to be part of the HUNT study came from Associate Professor Ottar Bjerkeset at the Norwegian Institute of Science of Technology who had heard her presentation at a conference in Melbourne and had been impressed by her research.
That initial trip has led to annual return visits to maintain this collaboration and to continue ongoing projects that have grown to involve a number of researchers across Norway in the fields of psychiatry, epidemiology and bone and mineral research.
As well as Associate Professor Bjerkeset, Dr Williams continues to enjoy the on-going guidance of Professor Berk who joins her at Deakin as the chair in psychiatry in the Medical School.
“He is a fantastic mentor, he truly is,” she says as she makes her plans to become a mentor to young researchers.
Dr Williams has accepted an offer to head the Australasian Society for Psychiatric Research (ASPR) Early Career Researcher working party.
The aim of this committee is to assist ASPR members early in mental health and/or psychiatric research, to provide a support structure to enhance research skills and strategic knowledge of early career researchers and facilitate networking opportunities.
As part of this role, Dr Williams will be responsible for organizing seminars, concurrent sessions, information evenings and social events at the 2011 ASPR conference to be held in New Zealand.