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Vikneswary Batumalai: a life dedicated to cancer research

By Linda Music

When Translational Research Fellow (SWSLHD/Ingham), Vikneswary Batumalai (Vicky), was a young girl she watched her grandmother undergo radiation therapy and was in awe of the work of the radiation team. This awe turned to passion when she decided, not only to pursue a career in radiation therapy, but also to a life helping cancer patients.

Vicky started as a radiation therapist in 2001 and continued in that role until she moved into her first research role in 2007.

“When I first stared in research, there was a lack of academic radiation therapists actively doing research,” Vicky explains.

“But the SWS Radiation Oncology Department saw the importance of building radiation therapists’ research capacity and have supported this role for more than a decade. Without this continuous support, a lot of the radiation therapist led research work which has been translated into clinical practice, would not have been possible.”

Having completed her PhD in Medicine (2016 UNSW) Vicky has gone on to publish 32 research papers which focus on improving clinical practice in cancer treatment.

“My early research showed that not all cancer patients received the same care according to best practice guidelines. Depending on where they live, or which health service or health professional they consult, these patients may be managed differently. These variation raises questions about quality, equity and efficiency in cancer care, and a reminder that scarce resources are not being put to best use,” she says.

In 2019, Vicky started her current research program, supported by the inaugural fellowship from Sydney Partnership for Health, Education, Research and Enterprise (SPHERE).

“My current research is to examine what variation exists in radiation therapy, the factors that predict the variation and develop strategies to overcome the inequity.”

Vicky cites her fellowship from SPHERE as her greatest professional achievement.

“It has allowed me to continue to focus on my passion. The fellowship further opened other career development opportunities for me including participation in Early Career Researcher (ECR) Masterclass by UNSW and the prestigious Franklin Women Mentoring program.

Participating in these programs gave Vicky the opportunity to connect with other ECRs and made her realise there was a need for a postdoc group in South West Sydney. This realisation sparked Vicky on a new mission: to establish an association which would bring postdocs in SWS together. The Ingham Institute Postdoc Association was born.

“We aim to improve the postdoctoral experience by supporting a culture of enhanced professional growth by facilitating connections, raising awareness and collaborating with other colleagues in the postdoctoral community,” she says.

Since commencing in September this year, the Association already has over 40 members, and has held events including Meet & Greet, Challenges faced by ECRs (with panel discussion) and Trivia.

“We plan to continue to facilitate highly beneficial events for ECRs including grant workshops, research showcase and life beyond academia,” Vicky says.

The year has certainly ended well for Vicky, with three awards presented within a few weeks of each other. These were: 2020 Outstanding contribution to Research – Early Career, (UNSW SWS Precinct Awards), Paper of the Year, (UNSW SWS Precinct Awards) and the Early Career Research Award presented at Ingham Research Excellence Awards earlier this month.

CONCERT is proud to name Vikneswary Batumalai as the December Member of the Month.