Prof Deborah Hodgson

Pro Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation, and as Director of the Laboratory of Neuroimmunology at the University of Newcastle
Newcastle New South Wales
Science and Engineering,
Health and Medical
Research Intensive
Senior Leadership

Deborah Hodgson has a unique perspective, as an active research scientist with a senior executive career in Higher Education. A leading international expert in the field of fetal programming, Deborah holds dual roles at the University of Newcastle (UON) as Pro Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation, and as Director of the Laboratory of Neuroimmunology.

Deborah has faced multiple decision points in her studies and career, starting when she commenced her undergraduate degree in Medicine at UNSW and shortly after shifting her focus to Neuroscience at Macquarie University. A major career challenge for Deborah was choosing an academic over a clinical career path: a clinical career was low risk, but ultimately Deborah chose a research career for the freedom to pursue ideas intellectually and the exceitment of discovery based science.

While undertaking her PhD in neuroscience, Deborah studied how an individuals’ psychology affects the perception of pain and how it impacts our response to illness. It was during these studies that she committed to learning more about the interactions between the brain and the immune system. Determined to learn from the best, she applied to the University of California in 1993, and was awarded a highly esteemed Post Doctoral Fellowship in Neuroimmunology.

In 1998 she made the decision to return to Australia, leaving behind a successful career in the US where she had established strong networks. Establishing and building a network in Australia took time and came with all of the challenges that early career academics face. The pressures to secure grant funding, publish papers, fulfill teaching and administrative responsibilities  whilst also managing a growing laboratory, were significant. However, establishing strong supportive national and international networks provided an important support structure  throughout the early years.

Taking up the role of Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Newcastle, was Deborah’s first serious foray into executive leadership. Whilst heavily committed to her research, Deborah also wanted to make a contribution to the University through leadership. This initial role proved to be one that was stimulating and Deborah enjoyed the contribution she could make through the development and implementation of strategy. Deborah more recently progressed to her current role of PVC of Research & Innovation, and whilst she had concerns that balancing research with a senior executive role would be an either/or decision, she made the deliberate decision to do both. Deborah continues to face the challenge of balancing workload to ensure that there is a healthy balance between work and life choices. She has come through the ranks, been promoted through all of the normal channels and has held an executive role whilst still being active in her research team. She is still supervising 10 PhD students, 3 post-docs and Honours students, and mentoring across the University. She enjoys her time with her PhD students; she learns from them as much as they learn from her.

Deborah’s passion for her work comes from knowing the research she and her team conduct makes a difference. Her work has been translated into research projects in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, where attempts have been made to improve maternal outcomes through improved understanding of the impact of the early neonatal environment on long term health outcomes. She is committed to supporting women in academia, and is an advocate for the sponsorship of women. 

Deborah was responsible for the implementation of the first mentoring program at the UON and is committed to the continued support of academics at all stages of their careers. Deborah is the lead academic champion for the Science Australia Gender Equity Pilot being conducted in Australia. She is a mentor for numerous academics from a vast range of disciplines from within the University, and those external to the University. She views the role of mentor as one of privilege, to be entrusted to support and  facilitate those on their own career journey.