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Interview with Associate Professor Stella Clark AM (WCLP’97)

15 August 2019 By Associate Professor Stella Clark (WCLP'97), written by Will Brodie

Curiosity has taken Associate Professor Stella Clark AM a long way.

Her achievements in science and administration were recognised when she was made a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Yet Stella says her career has been “totally unplanned”.

“I had no idea I’d do most of the things I’ve done. 

“Neither parent was scientific. I had a love of nature, birds and wildflowers, and I enjoyed science subjects at school. I just drifted in to it.”

Stella says she’s been “opportunistic…I’ve taken things as they appeared.”

As an undergraduate in Australia, Stella’s career changed course when she worked on a diabetes project.

“I just sort of became interested in that side of things.”

Following that interest led to medical research. But Stella didn’t like the idea of spending her entire career in hospitals or laboratories.

“Routine and me don’t get along together!” 

Studying for her PhD, “the bigger picture of science” appealed and she found her niche at the Australian Society for Medical Research.

“I ended up as President, so I had two years to see the broad operations of health and research organisations. Lobbying, politics, conferences, marketing.” That Presidential experience exposed Stella to leadership and management practices. Then a colleague sent her an internal email about the Leadership Victoria’s 1997 Williamson Leadership Program, “it was a terrific experience.” After the completing the program, Stella become a chair of Skillsbank, which then led her to the LV board, where she served for eight years. 

She’s involved to this day, mentoring and working on selection panels. 

“LV provides a fantastic environment to develop leadership at whatever level you’re at – for example, the emerging leaders program for young people…Leadership Victoria helps graduates make a real change in the community.”

An advocate for women in science, Stella says things have dramatically improved in recent years. “There’s more women involved in biomedical science to PhD level... then the number of women drops off. There’s high demands and to balance career and family as a female researcher is extraordinarily difficult.”

Stella says there are now scholarships to assist. And many institutions are subject to SAGE (Science In Australia Gender Equity) protocols.

However, Stella is concerned by the decline in kids taking up maths and science and the lack of qualified teachers. 

“There’s geography and history teachers teaching maths and science. The world is very technologically driven and if you don’t understand the basics it’s hard to have a career in that high-level type of area.”

She finds hope in young and emerging leaders she’s encountered at LV.

“I encourage them to have courage and belief in their visions for the future. The older people in the room are very encouraged that leadership is in good hands in the younger generation.

“Maybe we’re going back to a community level village-type model.”

Dealing with issues such as climate change and wealth disparity, Stella doesn’t see an “overarching solution”, but believes fresh approaches offer hope.

“Take your grassroots work in one community, make it work, and spread the ideas.”

This is where she sees a big role for Leadership Victoria and its participants. 

“There’s fantastic opportunities for the organisation in the community and not-for-profit sectors.

“It involves people with the issues of the day and you get speakers’ insights into areas you would never have experienced. You meet fantastic people and get great networking opportunities.”

Stella maintains a broad network of contacts in the health medical research sector but through Williamson, she was exposed to people with “completely different backgrounds”.

Their feedback is valuable these days as Stella runs her business Stella Connect. She also works with Therapeutic Innovation Australia as their Scientific Advisor and with the Doherty Institute and is on the boards of The Bionics Institute, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Integrative Brain Function and The Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation.

She’d get bored doing one thing. 

 

Associate Professor Stella Clark AM PhD, GAICD

Stella runs own business Stella Connect P/L, helping people, organisations and their ideas connect to maximise productive outcomes. She is currently working with Therapeutic Innovation Australia as their Scientific Advisor and with the Doherty Institute. Previously she was CEO of Obesity Australia and for nine years before that was CEO of the Bio21 Cluster, Victoria’s leading health sciences/biotechnology research cluster. This was preceded by senior management roles at the School of Graduate Studies, University of Melbourne and the Baker Heart Research Institute.

After gaining a PhD from the University of Melbourne in 1984, Stella spent three years as a CJ Martin Fellow at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London before returning to a research career in Australia. Her career as a biomedical research scientist in the area of diabetes was recognised in 2014 when she was listed on the NHMRC website “High Achievers in Australian Health and Medical Research”. In 1994, Stella helped establish the Premier’s Award for Medical Research in Victoria, which recognises outstanding talent amongst young Victorian medical researchers.

Stella is currently on the Boards of The Bionics Institute the ARC Centre of Excellence for Integrative Brain Function and The Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation. Since2012 Stella has been an Honorary Principal Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Department of Medicine, Royal Melbourne Hospital. In 2013 she was awarded a Certificate of Merit upon graduation from the AICD Company Director’s Course and in 2018 became an Honorary Life Member of the BioMelbourne Network. Stella was made a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours.