175 diverse faces show importance of role models

Inspirational teachers make a difference to the future careers of their students.

This was brought home to me recently when I was listed as one of only two Australians – and the only living Australian – on a prestigious new website published by the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK.

I was profiled in “175 faces of chemistry”, a diverse online compilation of 175 people involved in chemistry since the 18th century, to celebrate the Society’s 175th anniversary. 

The list is now complete, and frankly I find myself astonished by the online company I am sharing.

Faces include UK celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, popular author Bill Bryson, astronaut Helen Sharman, Nobel Laureates Dorothy Hodgkin and Ada Yoneth, and other celebrated chemists such as X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, known for the structure of DNA, and Joseph Priestley, credited with the discovery of oxygen.

I only recently looked through the list and noticed that three of us were female scientists who attended the same school – Rugby High School in England – 40 years ago.

What are the chances that three people from the same school could make this list without an inspirational teacher? It shows that individuals can make a difference in the lives of others,

In my own case, I have built an international career researching the chemistry and chemical ecology of bioactive metabolites from marine sponges and molluscs.  I also conduct research into the chemistry of medicinal plants, in collaboration with chemists from south-east Asia.

After obtaining my PhD from the University of Cambridge, I migrated to Australia in 1983 as a Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellow.  My current role is Professor of Chemistry at UQ.

When I was sitting in third-year lectures in Lensfield Road, Cambridge, I would never have guessed that this would eventually lead me to completing over 400 scuba dives and to having a marine flatworm (Maritigrella marygarsonae) named after me.

So my advice to others would be that the opportunities are always there – but you have to be willing to spot them.

So do not wonder ‘what if?’. Instead, be prepared to give a new role a go, but always have a plan B if things go pear-shaped.

One aspect of my role is about training the next generation of scientists, both to undertake research and also to contribute to the intellectual development of their surroundings.

It is also about teaching them how to communicate modern science to the layperson, since they may end up as teachers, technical sales representatives, health care professionals, or even patent attorneys.

I am a strong supporter of women in the sciences, and Nobel Laureates Marie Curie and Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin are my ‘heroes’, and  a source of inspiration.

Professor Garson is a titular member and the immediate past president of division III (organic and biomolecular) of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), and has been recognised with a string of awards, including a Distinguished Woman in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering award by IUPAC in 2013 and the 2012 Leighton Memorial Medal for distinguished service to the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.

Last updated:
30 March 2016