Dr Lucy Palmer says she was ‘utterly shocked’ to discover she’d won the Women’s Agenda Leadership Award in Technology this year, but her humble response certainly wasn’t shared by anyone else.
As Laboratory head at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne, Lucy and her team apply innovative techniques to investigate neural activity on the mammalian brain. In essence, they’ve improved data on a multitude of different neurological and psychological conditions, including stroke, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease multiple sclerosis, depression, schizophrenia and addiction.
We caught up with Lucy to get an update on life post the awards, what she’s focusing on at the moment and what she believes would change if more women were given the opportunity to thrive in science.
How does the average day play out for you?
There really isn’t an average day in the world of neuroscience as you never know what you will discover, nor what insights you will gain on any given day. That said, typically my mornings are spent having meetings with lab members and discussing their latest findings, and the afternoons are filled with data analysis or providing technical advice. My favourite days are those where I am in the laboratory helping with an experiment.
What does it mean to you to be this year’s ‘Emerging Leader in Technology’?
I am truly honoured to be the winner of the Women’s Agenda Leadership Award in the Technology Sector. I was utterly shocked to be selected as a winner and am extremely grateful to Women’s Agenda. Since there is a lot of failure in the day to day life of a scientist, it was absolutely amazing to win this award and have my work recognised.
How do you think this will help your career?
Winning this award will help my career immensely. Females are severely underrepresented in the sciences, especially in the field of neuroscience. On a personal level it will give my science recognition, but more importantly, it will help the younger generation of females neuroscientists realise that it is possible to run a successful research laboratory as both a female, and mother to two young children.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
My inspiration stems from the pure pursuit of knowledge. How does the brain work? How is our sensory environment encoded? How do we make decisions? How does our previous experience influence our ability to interpret our surroundings? How do we process sensory information and decipher what is important and what can be ignored? How does a single brain cell receive and process input? These questions, and many more, provide daily inspiration and motivation.
What are your big career-goals over the next ten years?
Over the next ten years, I hope to make significant progress into our understanding of how the brain functions. It is an exciting time to be conducting research in neuroscience. Many great techniques have been developed which now enable us to probe deeper into brain function and ask questions that we were never able to address before.
What key attributes make a great leader?
Passion. Willingness to tackle the big questions. Engagement.
Why do you think it’s important that women put themselves forward for awards?
Women, by nature, typically do not put themselves on a pedestal. However, it is very important to put ourselves forward for awards as we should be acknowledged for our achievements.
What big change/s do you wish to see in your industry over the next decade?
There have been amazing advances in neuroscience over the last decade, and I expect the same level of growth to also occur over the next decade. The tools that we can use to probe brain activity have grown in leaps and bounds, and over the next decade we will push the boundaries to enhance our knowledge of how the brain works.
What would the world look like, if more women led?
Currently, senior roles in the field of neuroscience are dominated by males. If there was more equality, then our gifted younger generation of up and coming female scientists will have more role models and be able to realise that they too can contribute to the wealth of scientific knowledge.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
My parents who have always encouraged me to follow my dreams, give 100% to whatever I pursue and always finish what I started.