Women of Bio21 - Kirsty Turner

Tell us about your work? 

After working for more than a decade at the laboratory “bench”, I moved away from academia into scientific management. As the Research Support Services Manager, I have a central role in the Bio21 Institute management team with responsibilities for oversight and support to the Institute’s Platform technologies, Research Groups and industry tenants. I am responsible for managing and supervising laboratory support activities that underpin the Bio21 Platform technologies, ensuring that compliance requirements for all research laboratories in the Bio21 Institute are met, and manage tenant relationships within the Institute.

What did you want to be growing up?

Growing up on the Mornington Peninsula, my love and passion for the ocean developed at a young age. To my parent’s horror, I had a love of sharks that shaped a lot of my childhood dreams and ambitions. “You had to love the fish with the biggest teeth”, was commonly heard from the car as I jumped off the pier for a scuba dive after school. I wanted to become a Marine Biologist and specialise in shark developmental biology, but ended up studying Applied Science at Monash. After I completed my degree, I volunteered in a lab for 9-months to build up my laboratory skills in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology (now Anatomy and Neuroscience) focusing on the developing brain. I may have been looking at mice brains, not shark brains, but I was still working in the field of developmental biology, which I really enjoyed. I stayed in the department working on different developmental biology projects for more than a decade before moving on to become a Laboratory Manager in the School of Botany under Professor Tony Bacic. This was the start of my new career path into management.

A key challenge you’ve faced?

Early in my career, I was strongly encouraged to complete a PhD. It was pitched to me that in order to be a “successful woman” in medical research, I had to have a PhD in order to compete with my colleagues. But, I have always questioned what this “success” really looks like. Not every success story in STEM comes from the completion of a PhD and my career path has been an example of this. There are many STEM career paths that I could have chosen and none of these required the completion of a PhD.

My most recent challenge has been adjusting to a different work/life balance after the miraculous arrival of my little girl, Alyssa. The thought of returning to work terrified me – I didn’t want my career ambitions to impact my new role as a mum, and vice versa. However, unexpectedly I have found that being a mummy not only makes me a better employee, working makes me a better mummy. Having the tremendous support of my team and colleagues has not only made my transition back into the workplace enjoyable and not terrifying, but has allowed me to grow, contribute, be productive, and succeed in ways I never thought possible in the workplace before having Alyssa.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Alyssa is by far my proudest achievement. I was always so career-driven, and her unexpected arrival has completely changed my life. I believe that things happen for a reason and when they’re supposed to, and although becoming a first-time mum at 40 was not in my life plans, I couldn’t be more happy or proud to be a mummy. Alyssa has been the most wonderful addition to my life and has taught me so much already about the world and myself. I thought my “life bucket” was full before she arrived, but I have come to realise that your bucket is never really full. As you grow, the bucket simply gets bigger and allows you to fit more and more in. I simply can’t imagine my life without her now.

What do you hope for women in STEM?

My hope for woman in STEM is that more support and assistance is provided to them during child-bearing years, and that these short “career breaks” that are taken to raise children are encouraged rather than seen as an inconvenience. The transition into motherhood is an empowering journey, but to know you have time to develop the necessary skills required in this new important role whilst being supported in the workplace is essential for both career and motherhood success without sacrificing one over the other.

Who inspires you most?

My inspiration are my parents. They have taught me the most basic and fundamental life lessons that can be applied to all facets of my life. Their strong work ethic, determination to succeed against all odds, and always make the most of every opportunity has been the driving force behind achieving my own goals and dreams. They have always encouraged me to be the best I can be, take nothing for granted, work hard and honestly, and to push my limits to discover my hidden potential. These lessons, combined with always being kind and doing everything with a smile, have been instrumental in developing my own ambition and determination to succeed.

What is your passion/hobby/interest outside of work?

My love and passion for sharks has never waivered. You’ll still find me watching every episode on Discovery Channel during Shark Week, craving to throw the scuba gear on and get back in the water again. I also enjoy travelling and experiencing different cultures, particularly adventure holidays (Everest Base Camp and the Kokoda Trail are my favorite adventure holidays so far). I’m also an avid lover of all sports, particularly Formula 1, V8 Supercars, MotoGP, cricket AFL, tennis and snow skiing in the Winter months. Being a “social butterfly”, there’s nothing I like more than having a friendly chat about anything and everything to anyone and everyone – it’s rare to find me stuck for conversation.