President's Letter - April 2021

Written by  Dr Susan Northfield, MRACI

Published 12 April 2021

Dear RACI Victorian Branch community,

I hope that you all had a relaxing Easter Break. It was certainly a stark contrast to the same time last year, and I hope that many of you were able to visit with family and friends and enjoy some time together. 

On a serious topic this month, I am sure many of you have read the recent article in The Age newspaper about proposed budget cuts to teaching positions and technical staff at The University of Melbourne. This article follows a broad funding crisis at universities due to the pandemic, which has seen staff losses in Chemistry and other Sciences at other Australian Universities, including ANU. I am pleased to advise our Victorian members that our national board, including both President Prof Steve Bottle and CEO Roger Stapleford, have issued a statement from the RACI voicing opposition to these cuts.

As Steve expressed in his letter on behalf of the national board, Chemistry is a central STEM field that is vital for the future. I strongly echo this sentiment and acknowledge that particularly in the last couple of decades science has become an increasingly multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary enterprise. Grants are awarded now in part on their diversity, and showing that you can work well with people of other disciplines is considered both a strength and an asset. Science disciplines are no longer operating in isolated silos. It therefore stands to reason that budget cuts to chemistry will impact all science disciplines – a hit to one discipline is a hit to us all.

Like many of you, I am concerned that these cuts are coming at a time when it has never been clearer that investments into science and medicine are crucial for our national (and global) future. The RACI have voiced their concerns, and I have done the same with my own social media accounts and will continue to speak to this issue. However, change comes more readily when more voices are heard. I encourage you all to consider speaking out on this issue by using social media, writing to your local MP, or simply talking about it with your friends and family. The more awareness we can bring to the importance of funding STEM at universities (and funding STEM more broadly through national and state funding schemes) the more chance we have of moving the needle on this conversation.

I am also sad to advise that Isabel (Joy) Bear, who was an active part of the RACI (including elected fellow in 1986) has passed away peacefully this week at the age of 94. Joy worked at CSIRO for more than 40 years and was the first women to be awarded the RACI Leighton Medal. We refer you here to some of her research and career highlights. We offer our best wishes at this sad time to her friends and family.

The next couple of months will see a lot of activity from the Victorian Branch of the RACI. There will be calls for applications for RACI awards, professional development opportunities, networking opportunities (as an example, I direct you to the approaching Women in Chemistry virtual event, with a great prize on offer), and competitions for school students. I encourage everyone to keep an eye on the Events Page of the RACI website for further details.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to an exciting event coming up in July. The Victorian Branch is running a virtual conference that features early and mid-career (EMC) Chemists. The conference, called CHEM2021, is open to everyone to attend but the speakers will all be EMC presenters. We are holding this event to support EMC’s, providing them a much-needed forum to get some deserved promotion, which is especially important following the impacts of the last year. You can get all the details on our website. We encourage chemists from all chemistry disciplines to attend, and we would love to see a strong attendance from students and senior scientists too. We are excited to announce that Merck are partnering with us for this event to run a virtual poster session. There will be prizes on offer and we will be using their well-established virtual platform. We thank Merck for their partnership on this event. I would like to particularly thank our hard-working group of Branch Committee members who have been working on this event. It is being run by EMC Chemists for EMC Chemists, and will be of great benefit to us all – especially RACI members who will receive excellent registration discounts. Early bird registrations and abstract submissions are open now!

Best wishes to you all!

Dr Susan Northfield
RACI VIC Branch President



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