Associate Professor Heidi Smith-Vaughan started her career with Menzies in 1990 as a molecular microbiologist and quickly developed a passion for respiratory health, health promotion and youth mentorship.

Reflecting on the early days of her 30-year career at Menzies, Heidi says she grew up as a scientist and researcher here with founding director, Professor John Mathews, leaving the greatest impression.

“I was incredibly fortunate to have had this opportunity,” Heidi said.

“These were exciting times of rapid technological change allowing us to do amazing new things.

“I still remember fondly the staff meetings where John would read to us works from greats such as Popper and Medawar. He was also always promoting collaboration over competition.”

Fast forward 30 years, Heidi continues to be inspired.

“Menzies has always attracted remarkable and inspiring people and it’s these people who established a culture that has stuck,” Heidi said.

“For an institution of Menzies’ size and isolation to work right along the research timeline (from exploratory research through to translation), and to do it extremely well, is quite extraordinary.

“Being a health researcher means striving to help others and to create a better world. Menzies provides opportunities to help others in our local community and our northern neighbours as we adapt to where community need drives us. As Professor Peter Morris says, “research is a team sport”, and I still feel very privileged to be able to work with these teams, and remarkable people like Peter, Amanda Leach, Anne Chang, Kim Mulholland and many others.”

Heidi currently oversees a wide-ranging portfolio. She works with the Child Health Laboratory Group on molecular and genomic public health projects here in Darwin and with satellite teams in Vietnam and Papua New Guinea.

She also runs the Menzies HealthLAB, which she conceived in 2014 with the late Associate Professor Sue Sayers to educate young people about how they can take control of their own health through a mobile, interactive laboratory. Excitingly, after many years of volunteering, Heidi’s daughter Charlotte has spent her GAP year working with HealthLAB.

Heidi has always championed traineeships and pathways for Northern Territory youth. Together with Jemima Beissbarth, Heidi established Menzies’ Indigenous traineeship opportunities, a program now embedded in the organisation. “I love working with our trainees. They bring with them dreams and so much potential, and are a connection to the community, the people we serve,” Heidi said.

“Opening Menzies’ doors to youth and seeing them grasp these opportunities and fly, is so rewarding!”

Most recently, Heidi worked with long-term colleagues, Mark Mayo, Dr Robyn Marsh and Dr Kalinda Griffiths to further build on her passion for youth with the establishment of the Ramaciotti Regional and Remote Health Sciences Training Centre, developing a sustainable, local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander biomedical and health sciences workforce in the Northern Territory. On top of this, Heidi currently acts as the associate director for research, with a focus on Menzies’ higher degree by research students.

“Since first beginning with Menzies in 1990, Heidi has displayed an unwavering commitment to excellence in all of her research, capacity building and community engagement endeavours. As a principal research fellow, Heidi continues to represent the best of Menzies on the national and international stage,” Menzies director, Prof Alan Cass said.