Driven by curiosity and a pioneering approach to pelvic pain research, Dr Kelsi Dodds is changing the way we understand how sensation is relayed from the uterus to the brain. Kelsi completed her PhD four years ago and now leads uterine physiology research in collaboration with Prof Nick Spencer’s lab at Flinders Health & Medical Research (FHMRI), seeking to understand more about how the uterus interprets pain signals. This is important in shaping our understanding of female pelvic pain conditions such as period pain and endometriosis.
After completing a Bachelor of Health Sciences with Honours, Kelsi worked as a Research Assistant for a few years. She enjoyed the work and building upon the skills she had developed but reached a career crossroads when she decided to embark upon a PhD. She remembers the time very well: “I had enough experience and insight by that point to ask myself what was really going to make me happy, and the answer was doing my own research”. She describes the experience of a PhD as intense learning: “You learn a lot of technical experimental skills, as well as translational skills, such as how to critically evaluate literature, present and write up data, and how to work as a part of a team – including how to ask for help when needed! It benefited me not just in my research career, but in my own professional and personal growth. It’s given me the confidence to ask the ‘why’ questions”.
A highlight during Kelsi’s PhD was attending the World Congress on Endometriosis in Vancouver, Canada, and being awarded runner-up for the best scientific presentation. “It was mind boggling. My co-runner-up had presented work published in the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, so for my work to be appreciated in that way, was incredible – especially being a student at the time.”
Completing her PhD has opened many doors for Kelsi, primarily allowing her to apply for independent funding to develop new, cutting-edge ideas and to pursue discoveries that could improve the quality of life for millions around the world who suffer from pelvic pain. “Current treatment options don’t always work – in many cases they’re inadequate. I want to understand how and why these conditions develop so that we can target the source of pelvic pain more accurately. There’s no limit to where it could lead.” Kelsi has also recently been appointed as a Science and Technology Australia 2023-2024 Superstar of STEM. This prestigious program aims to promote the visibility of diverse of women and non-binary STEM experts in the media, with the hope of inspiring the next generation of young Australians to the field.