Thursday, 29 November 2012

Women were among the first students at UWA in 1913. Yet is was another 10 years before these graduates would be admitted into their chosen professions.

In 1923, Australia’s first female politician, WA’s Edith Cowan, introduced the Women’s Legal Status Bill in the WA Parliament, which allowed women to enter the professions.

That same year, the State’s first female medical doctor, Roberta Jull, formed, with 40 others, Graduate Women WA (GWWA). The group will celebrate its 90th anniversary while UWA marks its centenary.

They have kicked off their festivities early, launching a 12-month anniversary program at St Catherine’s College last month. The College exists due to the vision of Dr Jull, who saw the need for a women’s college for students attending the State’s only university.

Old girls’ network boosts research The program includes the awarding of scholarships to female students at all WA universities, and the launch (at the end of next year) of the history of GWWA. Activities range from reflecting the achievements of young graduates, who will present their stories at an anniversary breakfast, to celebrating the 90th birthdays of two members.

“We have the first 50 years of our history written,” said Hilary Silbert, anniversary convenor. “We are now working on the next 40 years, which will be completed next year and dedicated to UWA graduate Dorothy Ransom, who was driving the history project but died earlier this year.”

GWWA is part of an international organisation of women university graduates. It is one of the few organisations which owns its headquarters, in Park Road, Nedlands. The members run an academic dress hire service that has produced thousands of dollars to fund prizes, awards, scholarships and bursaries.

Two UWA PhD candidates were awarded GWWA bursaries at the launch, which will add to the impact of their research.

Laura Masters is studying in the School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine . Her research in microbiology and immunology is under the supervision of Dr Alec Redwood , Winthrop Professor Geoff Shellam and Dr Lee Smith .

She won the Mary and Elsie Stevens Scholarship for $4,000 which will allow her to include experiments she would not otherwise have been able to afford.

“My research examines how natural genetic variation can affect the ability of murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) to survive and persist in the host, in the face of a strong host immune response,” Laura said.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is an important infection in human populations. About 60 per cent of Australians are infected and this is as high as 100 per cent in the developing world. CMV causes serious disease in people with compromised immune systems, such as transplant recipients and HIV patients.

“Our laboratory uses mouse CMV (MCMV) to perform detailed and sophisticated studies of the host immune responses involved in protection from this viral infection,” she said.

“The extra work I can now do will greatly add to the understanding and impact of my research.”

Emma Dalziell won the Mary Walters Scholarship, also worth $4,000, which she will use to travel to field sites in Queensland or the Northern Territory.

Emma is studying the seed biology, distribution and functional ecology of Australian water lilies, in the School of Plant Biology . She is supervised by Permanent Visiting Winthrop Professor Kingsley Dixon , Dr David Merritt and Dr Renee Young.

“Increasing threats from human disturbance and climate change makes research necessary to ensure the conservation of the charismatic water lilies,” she said.

“With the scholarship, I can now extend my research and include a number of species not found in WA, which will increase my study to one of national significance.”

Published in UWA News , 26 November 2012


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