Get to know your College: Dr Amy Reynolds

Dr Amy Reynolds, Senior Research Fellow in Epidemiology, FHMRI Sleep Health

Amy is a Senior Research Fellow in Epidemiology (Sleep Health), working with Professor Peter Eastwood on her postdoctoral research in sleep in large cohorts. She began at Flinders in November 2020 and has recently published a new article titled, “It’s not just about putting a smile on your face, it’s about keeping people safe”: Causes and consequences of sleep loss and fatigue in the coral reef tourism industry.

What do you value most about working at Flinders? So far for me, I most value being part of a large, supportive environment where all ideas are encouraged. Seeing our team workshop future grant applications and manuscripts, and having the opportunity to get regular feedback is great. The team at AISH are encouraging, constructively critical, and collaborative – a great combination in a research environment. In terms of ‘vindicating moments’ – I think for me it was recognising the potential for translation between foundation science (laboratory, statistics, algorithm development), epidemiology work we are doing, and stakeholders (including patients, clinicians and stakeholders) which are all available through University and hospital networks here at Flinders. As someone who really enjoys working in multidisciplinary teams, this is a great environment!

What led you to research in sleep health? Well, I certainly didn’t start out determined to be an academic, and certainly not in sleep! A defining moment for me was during my Psychology honours year. I had the privilege of working with a (then) PhD student who was about to submit her thesis. She was an outstanding and inspiring supervisor who taught me the excitement that comes with research, while also learning how to manage the trials and tribulations associated with working in the field. Combined with a co-supervisor who had a passion for statistics, I had a perfect intro to research – and rapidly realised that this was the career for me as it was one where I could constantly think, explore and communicate about emerging science.

Your most recent paper was about sleep loss and fatigue in the tourism industry. How did that come about? I have a love for working with industries affected by sleep loss and fatigue, particularly when the workers’ voices may not be as ‘heard’ as they could be. The work we did recently up on the Great Barrier Reef was an amazing opportunity to work with a group of employees to better understand the impact of sleep loss and fatigue in their work and personal lives. I am a firm believer in finding solutions and strategies rather than just finding ‘problems’ in research; so through this work we were able to identify ways that the industry, employers and workers themselves could start to manage challenges with sleep loss and fatigue. This was from directly talking with the workers and hearing their experiences.

What advice would you pass on to students contemplating embarking on postgraduate study? Spend a lot of time meeting researchers in the Flinders community and beyond before you start – listen to their stories, and find out about their research. But most of all, from this find your own passion. The most successful (and happy) scientists I have met so far seem to have the common thread of being motivated by a true passion for the work they do. This helps you get through the trickier days in study (they happen!) when manuscripts may be rejected, or experiments may not work out how you had planned, and keeps you going.

If you get stuck along the way, or find yourself looking for answers and not being sure who to ask – find a mentor with experience in the challenging area. Mentors come from far and wide, and should come from beyond your supervisory team and even your research group – hunt them down online, reach out and don’t be afraid to ask for advice or new perspectives.

Tell us something about yourself others may not know. I have a personal motivation for encouraging patients (or consumers) to be actively involved in the research we do every day. In addition to being a researcher, I am also a patient research partner as I live with a chronic illness. Wearing the ‘patient’ hat is something I could gladly do without, but I like to believe it has taught me to always ask ‘What about the patient (or other end user, be it worker, workplace, industry)? What answers do they need? How can my research really help this group?’. I like to think this is one of the main reasons I like to research with partners or end users, rather than about or on a particular group in our community.

What’s one thing you couldn’t live without? My lovely family, immediate and extended – I could not do what I do without them all.

Read more: Dr Amy Reynolds’ latest paper (co-authored with Anja Pabel, Sally A.Ferguson and Anjum Naweed), titled “It’s not just about putting a smile on your face, it’s about keeping people safe”: Causes and consequences of sleep loss and fatigue in the coral reef tourism industry is available to view online here.

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