In touch with … Rebecca Golley

As the new Deputy Director of the Caring Futures Institute, Professor Rebecca Golley is determined to practise what she preaches. We spend a moment to learn about her passion for promoting how we can best embrace Better Lives practices.

What is your role and what does your work focus on? 

I’m the Deputy Director and the Better Lives Theme Lead for the Caring Futures Institute, which had a very successful year in 2020, including its development of a detailed Strategic and Business Plan. As Deputy Director’ I’ll be working with the Foundation Director, the Dean of Research and the College Leadership Team to implement this plan.

Three priority areas for 2021 are: ensuring Caring Futures Institute members have access to the systems they need to undertake high quality research and create a path to research impact; building a positive research culture underpinned by creativity, curiosity and courage to deliver the Caring Futures Institute mission of better self-care and caring solutions to improve care and health, and; developing the internal and external partnerships that will support high quality research to make a difference.

I also run a productive research group that generates evidence-based, engaging and scalable solutions for care givers, to improve the foods provided to children in a range of settings. We have several NHMRC and MRFF funded projects that will be implemented in 2021, including a study to evaluate the effectiveness of early obesity prevention through community playgroups.

In 2021, which is the FAO/UN International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, we will  continue our research sitting within the Hort Innovation-funded project VegKIT project which is developing and implementing new ways to ensure children get a healthy start to life by developing a love of vegetables.

What journey led you to this point in your career? 

My first postdoctoral role was in the UK, within the Research team of the School Food Trust which was responsible for implementing a national public health nutrition initiative to improve the access to and quality of school food. The research team built the evidence base for the health and education benefits of quality school food and undertook monitoring activities. It was research for impact before knowledge or research translation had a name. From this small start-up organisation, I learned the value of systems and processes to ensure the organisation could achieve its purpose. More importantly, I experienced what a positive organisation culture felt like, built by a shared purpose and with a staff that felt valued.

Flinders University’s establishment of flagship Research Institutes and Centres mirrors this approach and I’m excited to bring international experience into my role within the Caring Futures Institute. I’ve also worked at CSIRO, where I undertook applied and translational public health nutrition research, and I developed and validated the first Short Food Survey to assess Australians’ food intake against national dietary guidelines. This tool has been commercialised as the CSIRO Healthy Diet Score and completed by over 250,000 Australians. This free tool can help kick-start everyone’s healthy lifestyle goals for 2021.

Before coming to Flinders in 2018, I was a postdoctoral research fellow within Professor John Lynch’s research group. John is a world renowned epidemiologist and within his group I honed my craft as a researcher. I’m thankful for his mentorship and commitment to research rigour and use of innovative methods.

What was stimulating about this phase of my career was working within a multi-disciplinary team including epidemiologists, statisticians, psychologists, nutritionists and public health practitioners. I learned that to tackle complex research questions, you need a range of disciplines and perspectives. It can be a challenge to learn each other’s dialogue, but its just a matter of listening and wanting to understand.

Can you describe a challenge in your life and how you dealt with it? 

My partner and I are part of an increasing trend in Australia, in that I work full time and he is the primary carer for our two children. While we are in a privileged position to have this choice, and workplace policy means we could take turns to be at home with our children in the early years, it was – and still is – a challenge. A big part of this is addressing the social norms and expectations that we were swimming against. While it has been a win-win for all members of our family, the gender norms and identity packaged up in traditional domestic roles are strong. We’ve had to learn a lot of long the way. For anyone interested, books such as The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb and Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg are easy entry points into this important debate. This experience has influenced my research activities, and within the Caring Futures Institute I’m collaborating with Professor John Coveney, Dr Sarah Hunter and others to look at the influence of relationships and social norms on both care giver and child nutrition, development and health.

What is something you are most proud of? 

In recent years, I have reflected that my extended family – originally Barossa farmers – is made up of a high proportion of teachers, scientists and health professionals.  There is also a strong flavour of creativity, through dressmaking, woodwork and music, as well as leadership through service. What I’m most proud of is that this upbringing has shaped my approach to research and leadership. Together with the many supervisors, peers, role models, mentors and sponsors I have been fortunate to have, I’m proud of how I go about research and researcher development. I tell it how I see it, but I also bend over backwards to help others achieve their goals and potential. This may take a couple of gentle reminders to cut through the overflowing inbox, but I strive to be authentic, generous, creative and accountable in my interactions with others.

What does a normal day look like for you? 

A goal for 2021 is to re-introduce Think Well strategies for busy academics, such keeping email closed and dedicating the first 30-60 minutes of the day to writing.  I love the variety of my day, but there is a common thread of communication – listening, talking, reading, writing. Highlights of my week include a weekly research group meeting, where research updates are shared, problems are solved and new ideas are developed. I also enjoy the 1-1 meetings with my postdocs and PhD students, providing the chance to stay connected to the research process and see their growth. There are also plenty of meetings on Zoom or Microsoft Teams communicating and collaborating with the Caring Futures Institute team, as well as collaborations across Australia and around the globe.

How do you like to relax or spend your spare time?

I admire people who can answer this type of question with a fabulous hobby or a dedication to a community service role. In my early 30s, I struggled to understand what got me out of bed in the morning. I dabbled in various activities – long-distance running, tree planting, bush walking, scuba diving – but nothing ignited a commitment or passion. A wonderful colleague at the time pointed out that what I seemed passionate about was trying new experiences. This reframing stuck with me and still helps these days, when there is limited spare time between work and family responsibilities. Currently I’m loving camping and you’ll find me convincing anyone and everyone to plan a trip to see this great state we live in.


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