Laila Simpson has a natural affinity for numbers and while many young girls told stories through dance or song, she told stories in a different way – through numbers.
Laila, now the Research Impact and Engagement Manager at the Office of Research Enterprise, pursued maths and science subjects which at the time were less popular for most young women.
Her passion for numbers began at a very unique small country school in the mystical Scottish Highlands.
“With only 30 kids in the entire school, our teacher gave us a lot of freedom to explore whatever we wanted.
“I was a problem-solver from an early age and questioned far more than the village school priest approved of. Finding solutions was important to me because science was a huge fascination and still is; to me it provides logical explanations that we can understand.
“Once in high school I chose subjects that led me into an undergraduate course majoring in public health genetics and from here I respected the need to be statistically literate,” Laila says.
Laila completed her Honours degree by examining mutations in Rett syndrome at the Telethon Kids Institute where she was a research assistant on a study looking at the causes of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in children.
“I was fortunate to have access to a corridor of expert researchers such as Dr Helen Leonard, Professor Carol Bower, Professor Nick De Klerk, Dr Helen Bailey and Dr Liz Milne, who helped me to shape a hypothesis of enquiry and answer it statistically,” Laila says.
From here Laila applied to work with Professor Peter Eastwood at UWA’s Sleep Science Centre as a PhD student and it was here that she achieved one of her greatest accomplishments.
“I was able to demonstrate a relationship between the severity of sleep apnoea and body fat distribution. This was a new way of thinking about the relationship between obstructive breathing during sleep and fat distribution, which has opened up a whole new area of research,” she says.
But Laila’s proudest accomplishment is being a mum to her two daughters aged eight and ten years old.
She believes while it’s important that both her girls are mathematically literate, they should be free to celebrate their own strengths.
“They are both very different – one is creative and the other is interested in STEM – but they will most likely take a very different path to me,” she says.
Having told many number stories to her daughters from an early age, there is little doubt that her girls will always have a solid relationship with maths subjects, no matter what road they choose.
In the meantime, Laila admits she is a numbers nerd and likes to get them as perfect as she can.
“I find it particularly satisfying in my new role to evidence research impact through concrete metrics from UWA’s research impact case studies.
“As a university we strive to demonstrate the positive impact our research has on society, and it’s inspiring to work with researchers who do that so well,” she says.