Sally Ferguson’s background is in circadian biology and researching how our body clocks work with the world around us. She has worked with industry partners in mining, rail, healthcare, marine pilotage, aviation and the emergency services. Currently she is a Research Professor and Deputy Dean of Research in the School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences at CQ University in Adelaide.
Sally grew up in Mount Gambier and moved to Adelaide to undertake a degree in science at Flinders University. In her last year of university, she became interested in mental health. Her grandmother had suffered from bipolar disorder, and she took a particular interest in the link between manic depression and circadian rhythms.
Honours had not been on Sally’s radar, but a chance meeting with a lecturer in the campus Tavern illuminated an opportunity for an honours project, analysing the circadian rhythms of depressed rats. After finishing with First Class Honours, she took a job as a research assistant in a hospital where she spent the next year working. Despite enjoying the work, and the opportunity to work with surgeons on basic clinical research, she realised she could be enjoying her own research and getting a PhD at the same time. Sally undertook a PhD in Neurophysiology at The University of Adelaide.
On completion of her PhD she worked as a postdoctoral researcher on a grant. The group she was associated with had a close connection with UniSA, and so when the grant at The University of Adelaide finished she took a role at UniSA for 20 hours a week to write up, and support others to write up, papers. She progressed through the ranks at UniSA and became Deputy Director of the Centre of Sleep Research.
After 12 years, she moved to CQU, and since joining was promoted to Professor, and then Deputy Dean of Research in Health, Medical and Applied Sciences.
Sally has found one of her greatest challenges to be staying true to her own values, especially within a male dominated area full of expectations. Her area of research is very competitive, which can mean that people with certain characteristics can be the ones that get ahead (despite the quality of their research). Although Sally is a competitive person, she does not compete against others, but rather takes on her own challenges.
Like many, Sally has experienced imposter syndrome, but she's able to put that in perspective, accepting that many people feel the same. She also understands that scientists are trained to critique everything and actively find flaws, and so she acknowledges that criticisms are not necessarily personal. Sally has mentored a range of academics in various capacities, both formally and informally. She can offer the perspective of a researcher with a 20-year career on mostly soft-funding, which she has managed to make work through networks and engagements inside and outside of academia. As a mentor, she takes the approach of giving as much as she can honestly, in a manner that helps her mentee to explore their own direction.