Fostering future science leaders

By Rob Clancy, staff writer. Reviewed by Professor Suzanne Miller

Professor Suzanne Miller with her PhD students Arya Jithoo, Beth Piscopo, Charmaine Rock and Tegan White Fostering future science leaders
L-R: Arya Jithoo, Beth Piscopo, Charmaine Rock, Tegan White, Professor Suzanne Miller

In 2023 Professor Suzanne Miller was awarded the Monash University, Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Dean’s Award for Excellence – Postgraduate Research Supervision.

In addition to being a world leader in the field of fetal and neonatal physiology and brain injury, Prof Miller is a leader of people; as head of The Ritchie Centre, she oversees more than 150 research staff and students, including fetal physiologists, immunologists, stem cell biologists, neonatologists, paediatricians, obstetricians, gynaecologists and radiologists.

In the past five years, Prof Miller has supervised 13 postgraduate students who came from around the world to undertake biomedical and clinical research. Her greatest motivation is seeing an individual grow and then thrive once their studies are finished.

Prof Miller shares insights on mentoring students…

Recognising individuality is critically important – as a supervisor my role is to get to know each student and how they work best. We all have our strengths and weaknesses in science and in life, and my role as a supervisor is to harness and extend my students’ strengths while acknowledging and improving areas of weakness.

My research approach has always been one of collegiality and acknowledging that we achieve more as a team. This is important in our field, in which we use fundamental science techniques and see problems through a translational lens. With this approach, students gain multidisciplinary knowledge, learning
to look at a problem from several angles and to independently tailor their studies.

Being a biomedical scientist builds resilience – In research there are plenty of days that do not go to plan, so as a supervisor it’s essential to acknowledge this and instil a belief that resilience is necessary in science and as a broader life skill for the future.

An important expectation as a supervisor is to develop students’ independence as researchers and individuals. I strongly encourage selfdirection, providing the framework within which students can plan their experiments and outcomes, which is a critical step in the learning process of independent research.

I undertook formal training in mental health awareness and first aid as I recognised that many students were struggling with their mental health, particularly coming back to onsite study after COVID-19. Talking about our mental health is now part of routine self-care and I am confident that it has given me better awareness as a supervisor and mentor to talk about and address problems early.

Australia has a reputation for excellence in biomedical research, particularly in the field of fetal and neonatal research, for which we are world leaders. Thanks to our great relationships with clinical partners, Monash Health and Monash Children’s Hospital, and academic partner, Monash University, we attract outstanding students who are highly skilled and sought after across the world.

My greatest motivation is watching an individual grow – It’s incredibly rewarding to watch PhD students give presentations that demonstrate increasing confidence in their work, results and interpretation. To watch them go on to thrive post PhD is both gratifying and comforting – to know medical research is in the hands of future leaders in science and discovery.

My role as a supervisor recently came full circle as I was lucky enough to co-supervise PhD student, Dr Madison Paton, who finished in 2018. After graduating, Dr Paton went on to secure the role of Senior Research Fellow at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and recently became a Fulbright Scholar, which is an outstanding achievement.

“Having a great science mentor like Suzie shows younger scientists a roadmap of what is possible in the field and in life. Suzie shows what it looks like to lead with compassion while maintaining high standards of research.” Arya Jithoo

“Suzie is a leader who prioritises creating a space that is encouraging and supportive. She celebrates the successes of all her staff and students and is empathetic and supportive during challenging times.” Beth Piscopo

“Suzie always makes me feel like a valued member of the team; she fosters an environment where students can comfortably share ideas and grow as scientists.” Charmaine Rock

“Having a mentor like Suzie allows me to grow as a scientist. I am continuously learning and improving
with her feedback and unwavering support.”
Tegan White

Collaborators | Monash University, Monash Health, Monash Children’s Hospital

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