Deputy Leader, Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform, CSIRO

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Do something you are passionate about and you will be successful.

Dr Alison Rice

What do you do?

I am the Deputy Director of the Commonwealth Scientific Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO)’s Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform. CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, invested in a suite of Future Science Platforms as a mechanism to help reinvent and create new industries for Australia while growing and developing a new generation of researchers to work on this future science. The SynBio FSP, as we call it, is focussed on the necessary ‘blue sky research’ to build a vibrant synthetic biology research and development community to drive the bio-based industries of the future. As Deputy Leader of the SynBioFSP, my role is to support the Director to deliver the strategic objectives of the SynBioFSP. The role is diverse and sometimes difficult to define. I assist with the development and execution of strategy, lead and manage complex projects and teams, analyse, interpret and synthesise data. I also engage with stakeholders about the potential of synthetic biology and the key role it will play in creating new industries and opportunities, which in turn have a positive societal impact.

Why did you choose this field?

I was not a stellar high school student but enrolled in a Science degree at the University of Adelaide (Australia). As the subject matter became more interesting, I did better and better. I majored in Microbiology & Immunology and undertook an Honours degree in Immunology. My interest in Immunology and Haematology was driven by my father’s work as a paediatric oncologist and growing up hearing about the progress of his patients and getting to know the long-term survivors. A pivotal moment for me was finding out that one of his longest survivors (who I knew well and was my age) had relapsed. I asked my father why he couldn’t just give her more chemotherapy and he explained that it was no longer possible. I didn’t understand why kids had to die from cancer – and I wanted to do something to change this.
I graduated a Bachelor of Science with Honours from the University of Adelaide and a PhD in biological sciences from the University of Bordeaux II in France. I have worked as a senior research scientist leading research groups focused on new therapeutic options for the complications of haematopoietic stem cell transplantation in Medical Research Institutes in Sydney and Brisbane (Australia) respectively.
In 2012, I made the successful transition to a career in research development, incorporating research policy, research management and business development at Griffith University. In 2018 I took up a role as a Principal Policy Officer in the Health Innovation, Investment and Research Office (Queensland Health). I have drawn on my experience as a research scientist and research development expert to bring content-specific knowledge about research, researchers and the research sector to the government sector.
The common theme throughout my career has been the application of research to improve human health. Further, my experience in medical research, the higher education sector and government has provided me with experience in strategy development and execution, leading and managing complex projects and teams, knowledge creation, data analysis and the opportunity to engage with and develop meaningful relationships with stakeholders.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I led a research team that helped develop a new pre-clinical model that is now being used to test anti-leukaemic drugs and was also part of research teams that developed and tested new therapeutic options for patients with leukaemia who needed a transplant to cure their disease.

Why do you love working in STEM?

STEM is exciting. STEM drives innovation, which drives change which benefits health, the environment, industry, the economy & society.

Best advice for next generation?

High school results do not define you. Do something you are passionate about and you will be successful.
Get one or more mentors to talk to about your journey and join a peer support network. I joined Women in Technology (Australia) which was a fabulous organisation to build my skills and broaden my networks. I got so involved, that I was asked to join the Board and later became Co-President!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

Fun fact - I am a native English speaker. I did my PhD in France (Universite de Bordeaux II) and wrote and defended my PhD in French. This experience gave me a new appreciation of the challenges that international students face on a daily basis.

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