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Prof Beazley: “It’s very important to see a balance because there are often opportunities for the best basic research to be translated for the benefit of the state.”For Prof Lyn Beazley, science has been a lifelong passion and she is now WA’s advocate for this field. It is a position she fills fulltime with the idea of preventing the brain drain from WA as well as encouraging our brightest young minds into the science fields.

“I passionately believe that with the challenges our planet faces, science will play a very important part in ensuring a good future.”

From her early studies in zoology at Oxford University to a career in biomedical research, and her current role as WA’s Chief Scientist, Lyn’s life in science has not been without challenges – whether solving WA’s skills shortage, tackling gender inequality or juggling work and family life. Looking back, she said science was not the natural path for her to take.

“I certainly wasn’t from a science-directed family. I was the first person in my family to attend university, though I’d always loved science at school. I initially went to university to read botany before swapping to zoology, and after that I had a career in medical research.”

The catalyst for her science career was an evening lecture at Oxford by Prof Mike Gaze, who ended up as her doctoral supervisor.

“He spoke about the ability of some animals to regrow their nerves and regain function in a way that doesn’t happen in mammals. This was intriguing and it started my career in the area now known as neuroscience – it actually didn’t even have a formal name when I started.”

So she moved from zoology to neuroscience and to Edinburgh University to complete her doctorate and meet her husband, Clin/Prof Richard Tarala, current Director of Postgraduate Medical Education at Royal Perth Hospital.

One daughter later – in fact it was 1976 and she was approaching school age – they looked past the horizon to Perth.

“We were both offered posts at UWA and we initially decided to come for two years to see how it worked out. We thought it was splendid, professionally and for our family, so we have stayed.”

With a successful career and now three daughters – all of whom are involved in science to some degree – balancing work and family life has been quite an act.

“It’s always a challenge but it also helps you set priorities and ensures you have time management well organised. For me, having a wonderfully supportive partner also made a huge difference; we’ve always been a very close family and I’ve always seen family life as paramount.”

Lyn’s work as WA’s chief science advocate is full-time. She remains enthusiastic about quality research and said the shift towards translational research has been positive, but basic research should not be forgotten.

“It’s very important to see a balance because there are often opportunities for the best basic research to be translated for the benefit of the state. In WA we have so much to be proud of and certainly if we want the best clinicians it means we need the best medical research because the two are always very closely linked.”

She promotes technology, engineering and maths as well as mainstream science. Then there is the advice to governments on important issues.

“It’s very important that each state embraces the concept of a Chief Scientist because it gives an independent voice to governments. I passionately believe that with the challenges our planet faces, science will play a very important part in ensuring a good future.”

WA’s future is focussed on the resources boom, which cries out for good scientists. A greater uptake by women is part of the solution, particularly in fields like engineering where they make up as little as 20% of enrolments. Biology and medicine are better, but science still remains a male-dominated domain. Lyn has never found this daunting.

“It hasn’t been a disadvantage in the slightest and I’ve been extremely fortunate. UWA has a very strong program in supporting women in leadership roles but nevertheless there is still work to be done.”

Just as her Oxford lecturer inspired her to pursue science, Lyn said teachers can be great motivators of children.

“You start by having excellent science teachers. You really should be setting alight that love of science throughout primary school, and especially in the upper years because it will then flow through to high school.”

Training scientists in WA is one thing; keeping them is another. What of the ‘brain drain’ that sees WA’s best talent moving interstate or overseas?

“We need to have the best people and infrastructure we can offer to ensure when people come they can really perform optimally.”

In this regard, she is keen on the Premier’s Research Fellowship Program that offers a $250,000 annual package for four years. Nine fellows have been appointed so far and each has become a science ambassador, much like Lyn. Her enjoyment in that role is obvious.

“It’s a tremendous chance to see what’s happening in WA from Kununurra right down to Esperance and Albany, and I was in Merredin recently to see the biggest wind farm in Australia being built there. I really appreciate the opportunity to see the potential of science across our great state.”

“I’ve had a very busy life, but I would much prefer it that way.”