Distinguished Professor Elizabeth SullivanFaculty of Health
Liz Sullivan is not only the Assistant Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Chair of UTS’s Athena Swan Self-Assessment Team, she’s an internationally esteemed public health physician, too.
Liz began her research career in 1987 by undertaking a Master of Public Health.
Today, she says, “My particular area of interest is vulnerable reproductive populations. I’ve spent a long time doing research on mums and babies and in recent years I’ve started doing a lot more research in justice health.
“The first study I did in this area, in 2009, was looking at mothers and gestation in prison. That really raised so many issues that hadn’t been fully researched and I thought needed an evidence base to be able to impact policy and practice.”
It’s a natural fit for Liz, who has “always been interested in women’s empowerment and education”.
“In developing countries women start childbearing at a very young age, and that makes it more difficult, historically, for them to have further education.”
Of course, childbearing can impact women in the developed world, too.
Liz, a mother of three (the youngest is now 19), worked full-time throughout her children’s youth. She was only able to access paid maternity leave following her last child’s birth.
“I always wanted a family, so that was, and is, very important to me.
“But it was extremely challenging and exhausting, and I was very lucky I had a highly supportive partner and parents.”
These days, says Liz, “I think we’re a bit smarter about what you need to progress. Initiatives around paid maternity leave and re-entry where there’s support for researchers to maintain their research while they go on carers leave and to help when they come back are certainly much more common. And that’s enormously important.”
Liz’s suggestion to female researchers? “Sit down with someone be it your supervisor, colleague or mentor and work out a five-year plan.
“Once you’ve done that, it’s much easier to identify what you need in terms of training, resources, collaboration and partnerships as well as opportunities to participate in committees, external activities and events.
“One of the wonderful things about the STEMM disciplines,” she says, “is there are endless possibilities.
“When you look at younger children at a science museum, we see both girls and boys equally enthused. But somewhere along the lines, that gets lost.”
She says, “We need to remember university is the end point, not the beginning. We need to ensure high-level maths and science are attractive so we retain younger females in these disciplines and so there’s an opportunity for them, when they come to university, to pursue those careers.
“UTS has a very strong history of really good initiatives for gender equity, but there is always more we can do.”