i-shadow*

It’s been quite a while since I posted here. Last time was just after my mum passed away. Since then, I’ve had to get used to a whole new world without my longest-standing ally and confidante. Mum even followed my blog, bless her.

It’s been tough, there’s no doubt about it. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t shed a tear. I miss her enormously. But life goes on, as my dear old mum would say. Now I can even laugh when I think of her, and how she would be whooping it up this weekend, dancing a jig and waving her Tigers scarf to celebrate the Richmond AFL Grand Final win after 37 years. And I can recognise how incredibly lucky I was to have such a remarkable person and amazing role model in my life and on my side.

Her story is inspirational to me. It’s all the more incredible knowing what mum went through, and the personal sacrifices she made, to achieve her number one goal: providing a safe and supportive home for her family. She succeeded against the odds. She never gave up, despite many, many disappointments. She picked herself up, dusted herself off, and tried and tried again every time life knocked her down. Seeing her tenacity, her persistence and determination to learn from failures was a lesson in itself. I couldn’t have carved my own path without understanding that aiming high will always lead to disappointment, and that for the most part no-one else sees those failures. Importantly, the lessons learned from trying and failing can provide a springboard to future success.

And so it is that I come to the topic of this post. My own shadow CV – the CV of failures and rejections (see a summary of others here). Scientific studies generating positive results are more likely to be published, and negative results are hardly ever published – giving rise to publication bias that skews science and its progress. It’s the same with CVs – reporting only positive outcomes skews the perception of what it takes to progress in academia.

So without further ado, I submit for your appraisal some of the many lowlights and sidelights of my shadow CV – an i-shadow* you might say:

• As an undergraduate I was accepted into a BPharm degree, but my CV doesn’t say that I was rejected from Vet Sci and Medicine (x2). Yep, BPharm was my fourth choice.

• As a postgraduate, I was awarded a Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Science Research Scholarship, but my CV doesn’t record that I was rejected from dozens of other schemes before that one was awarded, including the Rhodes and Kobe Scholarships.

• As a postdoctoral scientist I was accepted into Rockefeller University as a Research Fellow, but only after I was retrenched from my first postdoctoral position barely six months after starting at Bond University. So ashamed of this episode was I, that I didn’t include it in my CV for many years.

• After returning to Australia from Rockefeller University, I set up my independent lab at the University of Queensland, with my salary funded by an ARC Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship. What my CV doesn’t indicate is that I was on the reserve list for that Fellowship, and only got through because someone else did not accept their award. I often wonder who that was, why they didn’t take it up, where they ended up….whoever you are, thank you!

• Yes, I was fortunate to be awarded that Fellowship, but not so fortunate with my first grant. Rejection, rejection, rejection. Not recorded in my CV.

• Without funding for anyone but myself, I was the only person working in my lab. It was a group of one! That detail is not recorded in my CV. Research outcomes were slow and papers even slower. It took two years for the first paper to be published from my independent lab.

• Speaking of papers, my highlight CV records that a  paper from my lab was recently published in Nature Communications. Yay. What is not documented is that the process from first submission to publication took over two years, including rejections from three other journals, and an initial editorial rejection from this journal. (Yes, I know, I need to start submitting preprints).

• Then there are the award nominations that never got anywhere. Too many to mention. But what I will mention is the three last year for which I was a finalist, but not the eventual winner when the envelope was opened. So close, but no chocolate cigar (I don’t smoke). What to do when this happens? Join in the fun and celebrate with the winner; life is too short to spend it being miserable.

And as my dear old mum would always say, if it weren’t for the bad times, the good times would not feel nearly as good.

 

*Turns out this title was somewhat prophetic. I came up with the title and began writing the post a few weeks ago whilst on holidays. The day after I started, I suffered a detached retina – a medical emergency – that was evident as a shadow descending across the vision of my left eye.

I had a genuine eye “shadow”

Life, eh…..

 

99% perfect

This post is the text of the eulogy I gave at my mum’s funeral, and a poem chosen and read by my sister Cathy at mum’s burial. Mum was an incredible person and a wonderful, inspirational role model.

We love you mum and will miss you very much. Thank you for everything.


mum-atcafe

Judith Mary Martin


“Some people make things happen, some people watch things happen and some people wonder what happened” to paraphrase Jim Lovell, Apollo 13 astronaut.

Judith Mary Martin – whose life we celebrate today – unquestionably falls into the category of people who made things happen. Mum may not have flown to the moon, but she most certainly reached for the stars.

Born in 1934 in country Victoria, Judy had an older sister Faye, and a twin sister Joy. When still a little girl, her parents separated, and she moved with her mum and two sisters to Melbourne. It was the middle of the depression era: they lived in abject poverty, surviving on bread & dripping at times, doing midnight runners to avoid paying rent, and going to the pawnbrokers to get items out of hock when her mum – a factory worker – got paid. As a young girl, mum had already decided she would never work in a factory; she would get educated, work hard, and make sure that her family would have a stable and loving home life. She achieved all that and much more, despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Having to leave school at grade 8 – aged 14 – wasn’t a great start. Mum’s first job was at the Imperial War Graves Commission, but she really wasn’t cut out for office work. She toyed with the idea of becoming a nun, but in the end chose nursing as her vocation. Once the decision was made, she then made it happen. Trouble was, nursing training couldn’t begin till she was 18, and mum was just 16. So she hounded the nursing director till she got a job as a probationer and then after significantly more hounding, she entered nursing training at the tender age of 17 years and 5 months. She was in her element, she loved the work, and she loved the girls she worked with. She said that those years were the best of her life, the most carefree, and loads of fun.

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Mum completes her nursing training

She worked hard, was determined to succeed, and eventually became Nurse Unit Manager (Charge Nurse) of the entire operating theatre department at a major Victorian Hospital. Although she left school at 14, she returned to study part-time aged 52, first to complete her VCE and then to graduate with a Bachelor of Nursing in 1992 aged 58; all the while working, and caring for her youngest children. She was still working two nights a week at the age of 72.

Life was anything but plain sailing. Two weeks after she started as a nursing probationer, her adored father died – he was 42 and she just 16; still a child.

Mum married twice, had 10 children and 8 grandchildren. For much of the early years, there was very little money, and life was a constant struggle. By mum’s account, her first marriage was very unhappy and didn’t last long. In her second marriage, it was mum that mostly set the family goals, she who made things happen to achieve her aspirations. She orchestrated family moves upward, including from a “hovel” to a housing commission home (the “lap of luxury”) in country Victoria, by literally begging the local MP who she collared at a school function. She also triggered a later move by reporting the house we lived in to the local council, who swiftly condemned it as unfit to live in.

Meanwhile, there were personal misfortunes to contend with. As an infant, Geoff nearly died from an infection in the mid-60s. Later that same year, Dad was also in hospital for months after a terrible logging accident, leaving mum with a family of 6 kids and one on the way, with no income and no insurance. On Christmas Day 1979, a car ploughed through a red light into ours and mum and dad ended up in hospital for many weeks. Much, much worse though was the loss of two children: in 1973, mum’s 10th child Gerard died in childbirth. And in 1991, her 7th child Peter died aged 25, in a car accident. These tragic events nearly broke her heart. But as she said in her own words many years later:

“There are always things in life you wish you didn’t have to go through, because they hurt so much. But you know what? That’s part of the journey too.”

“Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward.”

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The whole family in 1984 – including the first grandchild

Mum did what she could, with the few resources she had, to improve the family’s lot: buying Lan Choo tea because it came with coupons to claim gifts in the store in town; getting her driver’s licence, and then helping teach many of her kids to drive – even if that did include falling asleep in the passenger seat with Steven at the wheel. In the 1970s, mum’s name was picked out of the barrel to spin the wheel on the Ernie Sigley Show. She won a TV, we think – and a trip to Sydney after Ernie found out she had so many children. Asked what message she wanted to send her family on national telly, mum famously said:

“I just hope someone remembers to make the school lunches”.

Perhaps it was the Ernie Sigley trip that started the travel bug: she began taking road trips with youngest children Jan and Cally – to the Great Ocean Road, Adelaide, Sydney. She took her first overseas trip when she was 47, with Cathy to visit Tony and Olga and grandson Eann in Israel and then on to Italy and the UK. Because she was going to be away such a long time, she left us a long list of things to do. Including a fire drill every evening. Which we promptly ignored. Mum took to the jetset life with gusto, soaking up history and cultures, and traveling around the world into her 70s. On one notable occasion, and despite family misgivings, mum set off to Bangkok, by herself, just after 9/11 – aged 67. She was on her way to visit Ian and Cally in London, and nothing was going to stop her from doing that.

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“Swanning around Europe” with two family members

One of her greatest delights was creating things for others. After knitting her first jumper at age 11, the knitting needles hardly ever stopped. Look at any family photo from the 60s through to the 80s, and you’ll inevitably see kids sporting mum’s handmade knits. She was a prolific letter-writer too. Seeing her beautiful handwriting on a newly arrived envelope when you were far from home, was certain to lift the spirits – with family news, photos and mum’s life advice. In the 1990s, mum discovered patchwork quilting after a visit to an Amish Village in the USA. She created over 100 exquisite quilts, that are now our treasured heirlooms.

A birthday quilt, one of over 100 quilts mum made, five of them for me

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Close-up of text on the birthday quilt “Made during a time of old age and ill-health” Oct 2007-Nov 2010 “From Mum”

Mum didn’t just create tangible things like jumpers, letters and quilts, she also created intangibles – memories, moments, merriment – especially around celebrations of birthdays, Easter, and Christmas. She truly cared about people, and she enjoyed having a bit of fun too! She loved movies and music, and would sing or dance at the drop of a hat.

“Life is to be lived” she said, “to be enjoyed right to the end. Make the most of every moment.”

Coming from good Irish stock, Mum had a fine sense of the absurd. When Tony Abbott announced that he was bringing back Knights and Dames, mum’s planned morning tea morphed into a Royal Tea Party and she crowned herself Lady Muck of …… Some years before, she came to my New York–themed fancy dress party in QLD when I was about to leave for America. There was King Kong, Crocodile Dundee, several movie stars, and as guest of honour I was Madonna. Much to my embarrassment, the guest-of-honour’s mother turned up as a New York bag lady. Oh how she laughed remembering that story recently! Going back even further, when we as kids would ask how old she would be on an upcoming birthday, it would always be 29. Or 28. Or 25.

When mum first let me know a few years ago that she wanted me to give the eulogy at her funeral, I wondered if there was anything particular she wanted me to say.

Mum simply said: “Don’t sugarcoat it; just tell it like it is”.

Me: “OK….. so you don’t want me to say you were perfect?”

Mum, after a moment’s pause: “Hmmm, well, let’s say 99% perfect”

I asked what she was most proud of achieving in her very full life. This time without hesitation, she said

“My family. I feel very, very fortunate with my children. I have a very blessed life. And I love my grandchildren to bits. There’s not a one of them – kids or grandkids – that you wouldn’t be really glad to know. So I am twice blessed.”

Always fiercely independent, after succumbing to side-effects of treatment for multiple myeloma, mum had to let go, to allow her children to arrange her affairs, chauffeur her, take her to appointments, feed and look after her, as she had done singlehandedly for all of us so many years ago. What she didn’t seem to understand was that far from being a burden, doing these things for her was a privilege and an honour. Looking after each other – well you taught us that mum, that is what families are for.

Despite being in constant pain, mum accepted her lot, remaining positive and curious about the world, right to the end. She was anxious about one thing though. Late last year, when Christmas was coming up, followed soon after by several family birthdays, she said:

“I’m looking forward to Christmas so much, seeing everyone together again. It’s extra special this year as I wasn’t meant to be here for this one.  I just don’t want to die on anyone’s birthday.”

Well, mum, you successfully navigated that minefield. Your death was the way you wanted it, peaceful, quick and not coinciding with a family birthday. You were ready to go, even if we weren’t ready for you to leave. We will be reminded of you every day by the simple things you always loved: a Richmond scarf, a cake stall, a flower garden, an old movie, a cup of tea with sympathy.

Personally, I will treasure the times we spent together recently, especially our last day – when you laughed over taking selfies. How many other 82 year olds have an iPhone, I ask you?

Mum, I will never forget that it was you who inspired me to reach for the stars, you who put that first precious sprinkle of stardust into each of your children’s hands, so that we too could aspire to be people who make things happen.

Judith Mary Martin, Judy, Mum, Granny

What an extraordinary life you lived, a life that touched so many

Now, you are, without doubt, forever 29 years old

and 99% perfect

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Mum and me together a few years ago

 

The text below is the poem read out at mum’s burial, by Cathy Martin

“Remember me” David Harkins 1981

Do not shed tears when I have gone but smile instead because I have lived. Do not shut your eyes and pray to God that I’ll come back but open your eyes and see all that I have left behind. I know your heart will be empty because you cannot see me but still I want you to be full of the love we shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live only for yesterday or you can be happy for tomorrow because of what happened between us yesterday. You can remember me and grieve that I have gone or you can cherish my memory and let it live on. You can cry and lose yourself, become distraught and turn your back on the world or you can do what I want – smile, wipe away the tears, learn to love again and go on.

 

reaching for stars

My beautiful, beloved mum passed away. I owe her everything and will miss her terribly.

In 2006 I gave a graduation speech at the University of Queensland, inspired by her life lessons. The text of that speech, is given below. I hope to post more about this extraordinary woman over the next week.

“Chancellor, Acting Vice-Chancellor, Master of Ceremonies, Dean, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman,

I am *delighted* to be the first to congratulate our new graduates – so congratulations – you’ve made it, *well done* everyone.

Your hard work over the past few years has now been rewarded with the conferral of a degree in Science, and you, your friends and family deserve to be enormously proud of your achievements. Today is a day to celebrate those achievements and I trust that each of you *will* celebrate in an appropriate manner this evening and that this day will be one to remember for the rest of your life!

I certainly remember my graduation day when I wore this gown for the first time 16 years ago. This beautiful scarlet and peacock number is an Oxford University Doctor of Philosophy gown! I’d like to tell you how an Australian girl came to be studying at Oxford for a postgraduate degree. After completing a pharmacy degree in Melbourne and doing well at the course, I made up my mind that I wanted to further my study overseas, by doing a PhD¹ at the University of Oxford. I knew that achieving this dream would be difficult, since it would require obtaining a competitive scholarship to fund my studies. But I did have a backup plan (and it’s always good to have a backup plan). In the case of no scholarship I would travel overseas anyway on a working holiday.

I applied for any scholarship for which I was eligible, probably about 25 over the 12 months. Initially, I received rejection after rejection. But this just made me more determined, and it also meant that my applications became more polished at each round. Finally, on the day I was at the airport, literally boarding the plane to take me overseas, I received a phone call from the Dean of the Pharmacy College in Melbourne to let me know that I had received a scholarship to go to Oxford. The evidence that I duly completed the PhD is here before you now.

The message here is, to achieve your dreams requires focus and determination. Or in the words of my dear old mum – Never give up!

 

You will have found during your study and research for your degrees, that it always looks much easier than it actually is. There are hurdles to jump, obstacles to remove and often your own demons to overcome – these trials and tribulations generally go unnoticed by friends and family who do not see the hard work and toil that you put in. It was no different for me. After I was awarded a PhD from Oxford, you would think it would be plain sailing. I returned to Australia in 1990 to the science and technology school at Bond University on the Gold Coast. Some of you will be saying “there isn’t a science and technology school at Bond Uni”. That’s correct, it was closed three months after I arrived. I was absolutely devastated. A PhD from Oxford and I was unemployed. But I used this situation as an opportunity to develop my career further, by taking a position at very short notice at Rockefeller University in New York, a city that (to be honest) I would never have chosen to live in except that I was in such dire circumstances. This turned out to be a great career move and I subsequently returned to Queensland in 1993 to establish my own lab here at UQ.

The point I’d like to make is that even when life and circumstance get in the way of your goals, you can sometimes turn these obstacles into opportunities. Or in the words of my dear old mum, when one door closes, another opens.

 

Now that you have a tertiary degree in science, whether it be Bachelor, Master or PhD, you will have many opportunities opening up to you – because you are now part of what is being termed the innovation economy, or the knowledge economy. Knowledge and innovation are the new currency in world economics. You are the unit of that currency and it will be up to you to apply your knowledge and to derive a better future for yourself, your family, your country, your world. We have the opportunity to shape a better world by addressing the big issues – improved quality of life and developing a sustainable environment. A science degree also brings with it responsibilities. It is our responsibility to work ethically, to inform scientific debate, to mentor younger scientists and to raise awareness of science and technology among the general public.

A major concern in science is the role of women. You will have seen today that around 50% of our graduates are women. Our University medallists are women. Our valedictorian is a woman. But if you look through our hierarchy or any hierarchy whether it be science, academia, industry or government the percentage of women reduces at each level so that by the time we get to the top of the tree the percentage of women is around 10%. This is a vexing issue. We are losing half of our most brilliant people. In a report that was tabled earlier this year, The US National Academy of Sciences said that in an era of global competition we simply cannot afford “such underuse of precious human capital.” They found that American women in science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and “outmoded institutional structures”.

My challenge to you – both men and women – is to ensure that this situation changes, so that when you are my age there will be no such anomaly.

This will surely require all your knowledge and innovation. Or as my dear old mum would say, two heads are better than one.

 

I would like to leave you with a final word of advice from my most inspirational role model, my dear old mum. Unlike you or I, my mother did not have the opportunity to undertake tertiary study. In fact, she didn’t even finish high school. She left school at grade 8 to go to work. After a year or so, she was accepted into a hospital to undertake nursing (one of the few professions available to women in those days). She worked her way up the ranks through sheer force of will and determination to be charge nurse in surgery in a major hospital in Victoria. In the meantime, she married, had nine children², and supported this family by working night shifts. She is now 72 and continues to work two nights a week in surgery.

 

My mother is a genuine role model. She never gives up, she always maintains a positive attitude and she takes no nonsense from anyone, including surgeons! She has succeeded against the odds. Her advice to us when we were growing up was “Reach for the stars – you never know what you’ll pick up on the way down”. It has certainly worked for us, with 12 tertiary degrees between the nine of us and high profile positions in academia, investment banking, IT and government.

So my final words are to encourage you to take my mother’s advice, and aim high!

Thank you everyone.”

 

  1. Actually it’s called a DPhil in Oxford, but who’s counting
  2. Mum gave birth to ten children; the last of the ten died in childbirth