Glaucoma researcher a Superstar of STEM

CERA glaucoma researcher Dr Jennifer Fan Gaskin will encourage women and girls to aspire to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as part of the Superstars of STEM program.


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The look of devastation on a man’s face when he was told he would never see again set Dr Jennifer Fan Gaskin on the path to a career as an eye surgeon and researcher dedicated to saving sight.

As a medical student in Auckland in the early 2000s, Dr Fan Gaskin almost ruled out a career in ophthalmology because of the prevailing view among her peers that it was ‘almost impossible’ to get into the highly competitive field.

“Then I was in clinic one day when a man was told he would never see again,’’ she recalls. “The look on his and his wife’s face was of absolute devastation.

“It made me realise how important my sight was and just how awful it would be if I was told I would never see again. It made me determined to do everything in my power to stop other people from having to go through that experience.’’

More than a decade later, Dr Fan Gaskin leads ocular fibrosis research at CERA – investigating safe and effective ways to prevent scarring and vision loss after glaucoma surgery.

She is also a glaucoma specialist at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and an active member of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) in roles encouraging professional development and the advancement of women.

She also advocates for the needs of patients on Glaucoma Australia’s ophthalmology committee and is a board member of the Australia and New Zealand Glaucoma Society.

Superstars of STEM

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews this morning announced the Superstars of STEM for 2021-22.

Dr Fan Gaskin will be one of 60 women to take part in the national program, run by Science & Technology Australia, which encourages women and girls to aspire to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Over the next two years, Dr Fan Gaskin and the other women in the program will be supported to develop skills and confidence to step into expert commentary roles in the media.

Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert says the program aims to overcome the under-representation of women in STEM leadership roles.

“It’s hard to be what you can’t see,” she says. “Women are still seriously under-represented in STEM leadership roles.

“The Superstars of STEM program sets out to smash stereotypes of what a scientist, technologist, engineer or mathematician look like – these powerful role models show girls that STEM is for them.”

Dr Fan Gaskin says she is he thrilled to be part of the program.

“I’m looking forward to working with the other women in the program to promote the great potential of a career in STEM,’’ she says.

“Together we can share our experiences to help young women overcome the obstacles that many of us experienced earlier in our careers.’’

Glaucoma in the spotlight

Dr Fan Gaskin also hopes her involvement in the program will raise awareness of the importance of glaucoma research.

“Blindness from glaucoma can be prevented but it has taken the sight of more Australians than any other disease,’’ she says.

“About 50 per cent of people with glaucoma do not know they have it because in the early stages the disease has no symptoms – so we need to do more to improve detection and treatment.

“My research aims to find new treatments that can prevent blindness and maintain a patient’s quality of life.

“And in the future, we hope that new treatments such as gene and cell therapies may be able to cure the disease altogether and restore sight.’’

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