STEM Careers Interview: Wellbeing Research with Associate Professor Justine Gatt
Associate Professor Justine Gatt is an academic from the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales, and Lead Scientist of the Gatt Wellbeing & Resilience Group at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA). Her work is focused on understanding the neuroscience of mental wellbeing and resilience. Justine holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Sydney and has won numerous awards for research excellence. Her current projects include studying wellbeing in children and adolescents and developing ReNeuWell® , a wellbeing app for the general public.
We recently caught up with Justine to ask her a few questions about her career journey and her tips for students who are interested in the neuroscience of wellbeing and resilience.
Can you tell me about the type of work you do?
I am a research-focused academic from the School of Psychology at UNSW with a conjoint appointment at Neuroscience Research Australia where I am physically based. I lead the Gatt Resilience Group which is a team of research students and staff focusing on understanding the neuroscience of mental wellbeing and resilience. We then use this information to develop and test ways we can promote optimal wellbeing and resilience in different population groups. Being the lead of a research group, my time is spent on things such as overseeing the various projects we do, supervising staff and HDR students, writing and preparing grants for funding, writing, reviewing and editing scientific papers, preparing talks for presentations and lectures, meeting with collaborators and other investigators, drafting and submitting ethics applications and amendments, and the like.
What led you to your current role and how did you get started in this field?
I completed my Bachelor and Honours degree in Psychology at the University of Sydney in 2000, after which I completed my PhD in Psychology in 2005. After my PhD, I was then successful in obtaining a postdoctoral research position at the Brain Dynamics Centre at the Westmead Research Institute focusing on the neuroscience of anxiety and depression. Following this position, I was then successful in obtaining several fellowships and research grants focusing on wellbeing and resilience leading to my current position.
What are some notable achievements that you or your team have made?
Some notable achievements include:
Commonwealth Health Minister’s Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research for 2014 ($50,000) – only one awarded nationally per year
NHMRC Excellence Award: Top Ranked Applicant in CDF Scheme in 2014
Development of the COMPAS-W Wellbeing Scale in 2014
Discovery of a wealth of novel neuroscience markers of wellbeing and resilience using COMPAS-W (2014-2022)
WUN Success Story awarded to the WUN Resilience Research Group for ‘Exceptional Levels of Achievement’. Awarded at the WUN Conference in Dublin on 22 May 2019
Featuring in the ABC TV iView Series ‘Our Brain’, Episode 4 ‘Happier’ 2022 https://iview.abc.net.au/show/our-brain
Development of our ReNeuWell® wellbeing app soon to be launched to the general public 2022 https://www.neura.edu.au/project/reneuwell
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced within your role or field?
The biggest challenge in research has always been (and probably always will be) obtaining research funding. So little money and so many amazing scientists means a whole lot of competition! This means in the future we need to consider other funding options for sustainability, including the commercialisation pathway.
What is the most important next step that you’d like to achieve in your work?
There are a few things I would like to achieve next. This includes launching the ReNeuWell® wellbeing app to the general public over coming months, validating our COMPAS-KIDS wellbeing measure in children and adolescents, and identifying novel neuroscience markers of mental wellbeing and resilience in our 10-year longitudinal twin cohort.
What advice would you give to readers interested in this field?
If you are interested in a research career, then you need to complete a PhD; however, if you are more interested in clinical work, then this would be the Masters pathway. If you are not really sure, then you can do a combined degree. That being said, nothing is fixed and you can always change your pathway down the track if you feel you are not in your element. Be open to change and flexible with your choices as there are many. And if you are not sure, then just ask! There are many people like myself who are happy to have a quick chat and answer any career questions you may have. The biggest thing to figure out is your key values, interests and passions and then go with that.
You can find out more about Associate Professor Justine Gatt and her current projects at https://www.neura.edu.au/staff/associate-professor-justine-m-gatt/