From pet shop owner to malaria researcher

Gillian Fisher had always dreamed of being a scientist so at age 40, she left her world as a pet shop owner and began life as a university student.

Now aged 47 and a nationally recognised researcher, the PhD student is celebrating receiving a $57,000 National Health and Medical Research Council(NHMRC)scholarship for her study on antimalarials.

The prestigious award will cover Gillian’s expenses for the remaining two and a half years of her PhD “The application of new chemistry approaches for antimalarial drug discovery,” which she is undertaking at Griffith’s Eskitis Institute in conjunction with the Queensland Institute of Medical Research.

A mother of two and a grandmother of three, Gillian said she believes it was a combination of her academic work and her track record as a mature student which prompted the NHMRC selection panel to give her the grant.

“I had already gained significant experience in the field of parasitology and malaria research with Eskitis and had also worked part time with Griffith’s National Adult Stem Centre as a research assistant to help fund my studies,” Gillian said.

“I think the NHMRC took into account my scientific work and life experience as a

mature age student as well as the fact that I had gone through motherhood from the age of 18 and ran a pet and aquatic business with my husband.

“I had always wanted to work in the world of scientific discovery but things had got

in the way.

“Eventually when I was 40 I took a tertiary access course with Griffith which then

led into a Bachelor of Forensic Science and an Honours program where I conducted stem cell research with Eskitis. That spiked my interest in malaria and the potential to discover new antimalarial drugs.

“I feel so excited to receive this funding now as it is a great reward for the hard

work I’ve put in and the turnaround I’ve achieved in just a few years.

“It’s also brilliant to now be associated with the NHMRC system so early on in my research career.

“I would like to thank my supervisors Dr Kathy Andrews and Associate Professor Sally-Ann Poulsen from Eskitis as well as Dr Glen Boyle from QIMR for their wonderful support of my work.”