Jacinta Thorne – United Nations Day of Women and Girls in Science

This Friday, the 11th of February marks the United Nations Day for Women and Girls in Science. To recognise the day we will celebrate a woman in science every day this week.

Today we begin with Jacinta Thorne, physiotherapist and PhD candidate who works on the CREST Concussion Study.

What is your background?

I have worked as a physiotherapist for over 20 years, primarily focusing on musculoskeletal and sports physiotherapy. I have always been passionate about helping people overcome their injuries and optimise their physical wellbeing, and always strive to make a meaningful difference in people’s health and lives. In more recent years I have developed an appreciation of the importance of a population-based approach to health, and have undertaken further studies in public health and health research. I am now part way through a PhD focusing on mild traumatic brain injury (concussion).


Why did you become a scientist/what got you interested in TBI research/Have you always been a scientist?

I think I have always had a scientific mind – I have always loved the challenge of “figuring things out” and taking a logical and systematic approach to problem solving. I was certainly drawn towards science-based subjects at school and continued on to do a Bachelor of Science (Physiotherapy) at university. Having worked with sports people who have sustained concussion injuries, I was aware of the ongoing effects that concussion can have on people’s work, study, sport and social interaction and that perhaps it wasn’t being managed as well as it could be. So when the opportunity arose to become involved in concussion research I decided that was the area I wanted to move in to. I soon discovered that concussion is much more complex and challenging than I imagined.


What does your research focus on?

We know that most people who sustain a concussion recover well with minimal intervention, however a small number of people continue to have ongoing symptoms following a concussion which may take months or even years to resolve. Our research group is thus currently working on a project called the CREST Concussion Recovery Study, which  aims to identify factors that may be used to predict individuals at risk of poor outcomes following concussion injuries. My PhD research specifically focuses on symptoms that individuals may experience when exercising following a concussion, and trying to determine the reasons for this using heart rate monitoring and advanced MRI techniques.


What do you hope your research will help achieve?

Awareness of concussion injuries has increased dramatically in the past 10 years or so, and consequently concussion management is improving but there is still so much more we need to know.  I hope that my research will contribute to better assessment and management of concussions, particularly for those people who may experience ongoing issues following their injury. I also hope to be able to share my knowledge with other health professionals so that we can improve the services and facilities available to people who have experienced a concussion in Western Australia.


What do you most enjoy the most about your job in science?

I really enjoy the diversity that comes with a career in scientific research – sometimes you will be planning a research project, at other times conducting testing with research participants, doing statistical analysis or focusing on writing scientific material. So you need to have quite a diverse range of skills! I also love that both clinical physiotherapy work and research require more than just pure science.  It is so important to have good communication skills, and to be able to interact and communicate well with a diverse range of people, often at times when they are at their most vulnerable because they are injured or in pain. You also need to have creativity and imagination to think outside the box and find new solutions to a problem.


What advice would you give to young girls and women who aspire to a career in science?

There are so many different aspects to a career in science so take every opportunity you can find to explore all of them to find the one that suits you most. As a school leaver I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I did a lot of work experience and volunteering when I first started at university, and quickly decided I liked working with people and that physiotherapy was the career for me. In saying that, its never too late to change the direction of your career and try other things, so be open to opportunities as they come along and just give it a go – even if it seems a bit daunting to start with!


Is there a woman working in science you admire, and why?

I would have to say Professor Lindy Fitzgerald, who is my current PhD supervisor, professor of neurotrauma and Dean of Research (Health Sciences) at Curtin University, and CEO of Connectivity Traumatic Brain Injury Australia. She has worked tirelessly in the traumatic brain injury research space for many years – she has a wealth of knowledge and has achieved some amazing milestones. She also has an amazing ability to build up and encourage other women in science, including myself, and has built a workplace culture where women are valued, respected and given every opportunity to thrive in their chosen careers.

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