Eminence grise developing new leaders

19 July 2011

Dr Sharon La Fontaine just one researcher helped by Professor Andy Sinclair.

Professor Andy Sinclair has become something of a resident eminence grise for research and researchers at Deakin University.

If he spies someone doing good things, he likes to offer encouragement and to see their work acknowledged, and it doesn’t matter much whether they work in his field or not.

So it was hardly surprising to find Professor Sinclair signed up as part of the University’s increasingly highly regarded – both inside and outside the organisation - Developing Research Leaders program, where he has taken Dr Sharon La Fontaine under his large wing.

Nor is it surprising to learn that Dr La Fontaine has benefitted greatly from the input of her sage mentor.

“He was terrific,” she said.

“For me just having another person to talk to about relevant biomedical research issues was very valuable, also someone who understands the nitty gritty of grants and grant applications.

“He was able to say here’s what you need to do and here’s who you need to talk to.

“He paved the way for me to get on to the committee of the Australian Society for Medical Research.

“He saw there was no one from Deakin on the committee, so he made the calls himself to find out what I needed to do to join the committee. This has been incredibly helpful in improving my networking”.

Dr La Fontaine also felt this was valuable from a Deakin perspective bringing the medical research opportunities and activities initiated by the society to the attention of Deakin students and also in enhancing Deakin’s visibility among the Melbourne medical research community .

“He has offered me on advice on where and how to branch out with my research; he provided feedback on manuscripts  and grant applications, he was full of suggestions about so many things I could do.

“I feel responsible to keep on improving the way I go about my research now because of all the opportunities he has created for me.”

Born in India Dr La Fontaine grew up in Melbourne, did her PhD in microbiology, then moved into mammalian genetics and molecular biology, looking at metals in medicine, and particularly the way that copper is balanced in the body.

“This is very informative research because a number of diseases have now been connected to copper imbalance, including cancer, neuro-degenerative diseases and pre-eclampsia,” she said.

Professor Sinclair, the Director of Deakin’s Metabolic Research Unit and an eminent researcher in his own right, said he enjoyed working with Dr La Fontaine.

“We met frequently in the first year, about every 6 weeks,” he said.

“We formed a working relationship of trust over the first couple of meetings.

“We talked about a lot of strategic things, where her was career going, where did she want it to go?

“We look at the options at each decision point, what were the current and future barriers to efficient progress, how to handle HDR matters, difficult students and so on, how to become better known in the medical research community and also workload issues.”

“She sent me drafts of papers and grants for feedback.

“I really enjoyed the process since Sharon is a high achiever and it was nice to be of some assistance to her.”

Professor Andy Sinclair

Dr Sharon La Fontaine

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