October 20, 2023

Get To Know: Justine Ellis

Justine Ellis, our new Research Operations Manager, is busy building towers – figuratively, at least. Justine says, “Many of the building blocks are already here, so my role is to work collaboratively to turn those blocks into towers!”

Click on image below to learn more

Q:  Justine, could I start with your coffee order?

A: A chai latte, please!

Q: Tell us about your role in the Research Office?

A: Overall, my role is to work with the Research Executive Committee and Director of Research to ensure research at Northern Health grows and prospers for the benefit of patients living in the north, and beyond. To make that happen, we need a happy, high-functioning Research Office (now the Research Development and Governance Unit), with streamlined research approval processes that tick all the boxes from a regulatory perspective. We also need to focus on developing researcher capability through support and training opportunities and work every day to further embed a culture of research into our organisation. It’s so important!

Q: Tell us about your journey to get here?

A: I ‘grew up’ as an academic researcher, leading a research program into better understanding juvenile arthritis. During that time, I had an opportunity to work on side projects aiming to enable research for others by identifying and removing barriers related to biobanking, and really loved it. So, I took a chance and jumped out of academia and headed down the research management path, stopping along the way to work for the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre Alliance (VCCC), in program management. Now that I’m here at Northern Health, I feel like that chance I took was the right thing to do.

Q: Any lessons learnt that will be useful to your role here?

A: Researchers tend to spend a lot of time on tasks that might not be considered as doing the actual research. While many of these tasks are really important and a valuable part of the research project lifecycle (applying for funding, gaining ethics and governance approvals, etc), the more streamlined we can make these tasks, the more time researchers will have to discover new things. This is the philosophy I bring with me as we work to re-focus the work of our Research Development and Governance Unit.

Q:  Your first impressions of Northern Health?

A: Super-friendly! Everyone has been so welcoming, and it is a joy to interact with more and more of the staff here to understand their roles and contributions to Northern Health, and how the Research Development and Governance Unit can support their work.

Q: What are some of the challenges you foresee?

A: The people living in the north deserve to have better access to clinical trials at their local hospital. There is so much research that should be undertaken around care for culturally diverse populations that Northern Health is perfectly positioned to lead. We need to ‘think research’ in our day-to-day activities and grow research capacity and capability amongst our teams. A whole of organisation shift in thinking is a challenge, but there are clear benefits to making it happen – an easy sell in my opinion!

Q: What are the opportunities you see?

A: Quite simply, the more high-quality research we undertake, the more we can improve clinical care and outcomes for our patients.

Q: How do you unwind from work?

A: Hard to do when there is so much exciting stuff going on at work! I’m very family oriented, and love spending time with my two kids, aged 22 and 19, as well as my extended family who all live in Kilmore, where I grew up. I find short trips away in various parts of Victoria very refreshing, and I am a regular Airbnb user. I’m also a dog lover, and there’s always lots of activity focussed around our 18-month-old Border Collie cross.

Q: Tell us something about you that will surprise our readers?

A: On a Melbourne Cup Day in the mid-90’s I was head-down, finishing off a research thesis. A family member bought me a Melbourne Cup trifecta ‘mystery bet’ ticket where the numbers of three horses were randomly generated. I barely paid attention to the race but at some point, I happened to notice that the three numbers on my ticket were the same three numbers of the horses that placed first, second and third in the race. The winnings helped me along the road to a deposit for my first home – a pretty big deal for a broke research student! I have been forever grateful.

Q: Tell us of your involvement in Research Week?

A: Planning for Research Week was well underway when I joined Northern Health in mid-July. Since then, I have been behind the scenes with the team coordinating the planning. The working group, led by Prof Shekhar Kumta, has been working very hard, and the program is looking great! Attendees will get to hear from some outstanding researchers, and to share their own work. There will also be an opportunity for us to introduce the newly rebranded Research Development and Governance Unit, and the growing support that we offer. Looking into the future, I think Research Week year on year will be a great way for our organisation to see and acknowledge growth in research over time.