26 November 2020.

Two hugely talented public health researchers were recognised yesterday at the Sax Institute’s 2020 Research Action Awards, which was held this year as an online event due to COVID social distancing restrictions.

Over 170 senior policy makers and research leaders registered to attend the awards ceremony and celebrate the achievements of two early- to mid-career researchers whose work has made a real difference in very different areas of public health. They were:

Established in 2015, the annual Research Action Awards recognise researchers whose work has made a significant impact on health policy, programs or service delivery.

This year’s guest speaker was NSW Health Secretary Elizabeth Koff, who spoke about the challenges of responding to the COVID crisis and how it is at such times that the depth of public health expertise in government really pays dividends.

Research was a critical component of meeting the challenge and informing key policy decision-making, she said, mentioning in particular the work the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) did on COVID infections in school settings and also that of the NSW Sewage Surveillance Program in helping detect COVID outbreaks in the community.

In accepting her award, Associate Professor Joshi reiterated the need to support the younger generation of researchers, as they were the ones who are putting fresh ideas and innovative solutions on the table.

“In large research projects, early- and mid-career researchers are often forgotten and can feel underappreciated. Awards like this are an important encouragement and show our work is valued, while at the same time inspiring us to focus on research impact beyond publication.”

Associate Professor Wolfenden, in his acceptance speech, reflected on the many challenges of working in prevention, zeroing in on the complexity of the problems that in turn require complex solutions, drawing in many agencies and organisations to address them.

“But that complexity and dynamism is what makes public health research so exciting. You need a range of technical and soft skills to engage a coalition to work together to improve health, and that’s what I find so rewarding.”

This year’s ceremony also included a lively panel discussion based on the theme of research in the time of COVID. The distinguished panel comprised NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant, NCIRS Director Professor Kristine Macartney and Professor John Kaldor of the Kirby Institute.

Dr Chant spoke about how the pandemic showed the need for decision makers to be prepared to pivot and change policy positions based on the evidence as it comes in.

“Early on, we recognised that research was so pivotal to our understanding and that Australia would be in a unique position to generate some of that evidence,” she noted.

This year’s winners join an illustrious list of researchers who have been recipients of a Research Action Award. They include Professor Julie Leask, who was last year named by the Australian Financial Review as Australia’s most influential woman; and Associate Professor Melissa Kang, who has been a tireless advocate for young people’s mental and sexual health.

Read more about the winners’ research here.

Watch videos of the winners discussing their work here.