1 May 1997

It may be difficult to believe that a molecular geneticist and a remote sensing specialist would have much in common, but at the University of Queensland they share a bond.

The two researchers have resumed academic careers thanks to the University of Queensland's Re-Entry Postdoctoral Research Fellowship scheme for women.

Dr Felicity Coffey from the University's Geographical Sciences and Planning Department and Dr Jennifer Ovenden from the Zoology Department have both received two-year, full-time fellowships.

Only a few Australian universities offer this type of scheme enabling researchers to resume their careers and re-enter the academic mainstream after absences.

The proposal for the fellowships came forward from the Status of Women Committee and was implemented seven years ago by the University's Research Committee, in accordance with the University's Research Management Plan, to advance women in research.

Dr Ovenden said the scheme would allow her to initiate a new project on the evolution and biogeography of wet tropics beetles.

Working out of the Molecular Zoology Laboratory as part of the Co-operative Research Centre for Tropical Rainforest Ecology and Management (CRCTREM), Dr Ovenden's research aims to understand the processes and patterns of tropical species diversity, especially among invertebrates such as beetles.

The University of Queensland is a core partner in the CRC based at James Cook University's Cairns campus.

'The fellowship scheme represents a fantastic opportunity for women to restart academic careers after caring for their young children at home,' Dr Ovenden said.

'It is very difficult for women to re-enter the workforce after long absences and the University of Queensland should be congratulated for the scheme.'

Dr Ovenden worked as a full-time research fellow in the University of Tasmania's Zoology Department for seven years and then part-time for two years before taking a complete, three-year break to care for her sons, now aged four and six.

'Returning to research after three years is difficult because there have been some significant changes in my field. Caring for young children and working full-time is certainly a challenge,' Dr Ovenden said.

She recently returned from a week's field trip collecting beetles with Queensland Museum entomologists in rainforest between Innisfail and Mossman in Queensland's north.

Dr Coffey said the fellowship would enable her to publish her research in the field of hydrology and remote sensing.

'The fellowship scheme offers women a great opportunity to resume or launch academic careers after caring for a family at home,' she said.

While caring for her three children now aged six, nine and 11, Dr Coffey completed a masters degree from the University of New South Wales in hydrology and remote sensing and a PhD from the University of Sydney in coastal geography.

In 1996, she worked as a principal environmental officer with the Queensland Department of Environment on a temporary, full-time contract. For the past three years, she has lectured part-time in the area of remote sensing with the Queensland University of Technology's Planning, Landscape Architecture and Surveying Department.

Twelve female researchers have been awarded either full-time or half-time fellowships since the scheme began in 1990 within a range of host departments and centres including the Centre for Molecular and Cellular Biology and the departments of Anatomical Sciences, Speech and Hearing, Biochemistry and Microbiology.

The re-establishment of the fellowship recipients in academic research careers is a clear indication of the scheme's success and an encouragement to current and future fellows, according to Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Postgraduate Studies) Professor Peter Sheehan.

'Recent follow-up of former awardees has indicated that each one subsequently proceeded to worthwhile careers,' Professor Sheehan said.

'It is also a pleasing result for those people in the University who instigated the scheme.

'The fellowships give female researchers who have been out of the workforce an opportunity to update and enhance their skills and knowledge in order to compete more effectively for grants and employment.'

Fellowship recipients receive a full-time salary of $35,974-$40,087 per annum and a grant of $3500 is made to the host department or centre to cover additional costs such as field work or conference attendance.

For more information, contact Dr Coffey (telephone 3365 6654), Dr Ovenden (3365 1037) or Jill Hillman-Marks (telephone 3365 3784).