Inspiring woman - Emily Nicholson awarded inaugural Fellowship

Research news

01 December 2015
A Deakin ecologist has become one of four women in science to receive a coveted new veski.

On encountering a career brick wall, when seeking to progress her career and care for three young sons, Deakin conservation scientist Dr Emily Nicholson made the discovery that reframing her achievements could provide a way forward.

Taking a scientific approach to her problem, she realised that reporting her productivity metrics to account for her time away from work, including numbers of publications, citation rates, and grant income - and showcasing her time away from work - would help to ensure she was judged fairly. The approach worked. She gained a tenured post in the next position she applied for, at Deakin.

More importantly, she shared her tactics in “Science” and became a role model for women across the globe. Her article has been viewed over 21,000 times since being published in May 2015, and is in the top 1% of all articles measured by Altmetrics for social media reach.

Dr Nicholson has just been acknowledged as an outstanding female leader in STEM research through "The inaugural inspiring women fellowships” funded by the Victorian Government through the Office of the Lead Scientist and delivered by veski.

The Fellowship was presented by the Victorian Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade, Hon Philip Dalidakis MP, at Government House on December 3.

Valued at $150,000 over three years, the Fellowship will allow her to remain competitive in her field, “enhancing the current talent pool and affecting cultural change.”

Deakin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander said the new “Inspiring Women” Fellowships would “help to ensure we don’t lose the expertise, energy and perspective of so many talented women in science.”

“I am delighted that Emily has been recognised for her immense achievements as a researcher and role model for women in science,” said Professor den Hollander.

“Her efforts in raising awareness about existing inequities and ways of successfully juggling the challenges of family and career are an inspiration for us all.”

Now a Senior Lecturer in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, and a mother of boys aged 2, 4 and 6, Dr Nicholson has worked as Research Fellow for such prestigious institutions as Imperial College London and Princeton University and, in August, received a 2015 Australian Museum Eureka Award for her work on the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems.

Since 2009, when she had her first son, she has managed to produce 26 publications – despite only working 3.7 years FTE. As sole or joint CI, she has also attracted $1.34 million in research funding, including two individual research fellowships and an ARC Linkage grant (2013-2017).

In addition to her impact on conservation theory and research (over 1000 citations by other scientific articles), her research is having significant practical impact. She is part of the global research team that developed a new framework for ecosystem risk assessment, the Red List of Ecosystems, which has been adopted as the global standard by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) - the world’s biggest environmental organisation - and by governments, researchers and NGOs worldwide, and has influenced Australian policy.

As a leader for women in STEM, Dr Nicholson has co-organised a plenary on gender equity for the 2015 Ecological Society of Australia conference and led research teams investigating gender bias in ecology positions within Australian universities and ARC grants success rates. She also participated in Deakin's Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment 2015 Gender Summit, to develop strategies to reverse the shrinking pipeline in STEM.

At Deakin, she is mentored by Prof Maria Forsyth, Australian Laureate Fellow and Alfred Deakin Professorial Fellow, in a university-wide scheme that provides insight into funding processes and the University system.

Dr Nicholson said that an important aspect of the Fellowship is that it offers flexibility to decide how the funding is used.

“My leadership in the Red List of Ecosystems has been hampered by missing important meetings while on maternity leave,” she said. “A key component of my proposal is to lead and host strategic workshops that will enable me to take a leadership role in the Red List of Ecosystems in Australia and globally, and in the IUCN.

“Deakin has also been very supportive with this goal and recently funded an IUCN Red List steering committee workshop at the Burwood campus, where we created a draft strategic plan.

“Travel presents one of the biggest challenges to balancing family and research. Instead, this funding  allows me to bring the international and national experts to Melbourne.”

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Dr Emily Nicholson has become one of the first Inspiring Women Fellows. Dr Emily Nicholson has become one of the first Inspiring Women Fellows.

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