Supporting prevention’s future leaders

In many respects, Australia is leading the world in the prevention of chronic disease. As a country we are fortunate to have an incredible prevention workforce, including researchers and policy and program decision makers who dedicate their careers to understanding and addressing the complex systems and interacting risk factors that give rise to poor health, reduced quality of life and premature death.

In addition to the many projects supported by the Prevention Centre, there is much other really exciting, innovative work already underway among members of our network, such as several of our senior researchers launching their own Centres of Research Excellence in recent years. These include Louise Baur’s CRE in prevention of obesity in childhood, Anna Peeters’ in Food Retail Environments for Health and Luke Wolfenden’s in Implementation for Community Chronic Disease Prevention.

Yet chronic disease remains an urgent and growing problem, and as our environments change the prevention community is facing new challenges. It’s as important as ever to consider how we are going to tackle the challenges that we face now, and that will continue to emerge in coming years. It is also essential that we continue to build and evolve the capacity of prevention research, policy and practice to meet these challenges.  We will need a new generation of leaders to inspire, inform and drive action in the years ahead.

This is where the Prevention Centre can play an important role. Among our prevention community of more than 200 investigators, partners and funders, we already include some of Australia’s most influential leaders in prevention research and policy. We have an opportunity to support our younger colleagues, foster their development, and create new leadership opportunities through our national networks.

Several of our mid-career researchers are already leading some of the Prevention Centre’s projects. We will endeavour to support them in attracting their own additional grant funding and leading their own teams to develop and grow their programs of work. We can bring people together to work across disciplines and content areas, and make the case for prevention in a more united way. We also need to be thinking now about ways to encourage and support younger or early-career researchers to step forward and have their prevention voices heard.

We aim to continue to work on building capacity at every stage of our members’ research careers – from PhD students through to senior research fellows and associate professors. We are planning ways in which to better provide stronger and more diverse mentorship opportunities across projects and sectors, and to find ways in which the work of our emerging leaders can contribute to the Prevention Centre’s strategies for the future.

Over the past few years, we have supported four PhD projects, two of which were recently submitted, with the others close to completion. We have recently announced two new scholarships, and a further four PhDs are engaged through our various projects. There will be more PhD opportunities to follow.

For researchers who are further along in their careers, we are helping to open doors and build capacity by connecting people across our projects, across jurisdictions and across sectors.  Further planning and implementation for this capacity building will be done through regular Research Network meetings and in other learning and development events in the coming year.

Engaging with the Prevention Centre also provides new opportunities for many of our researchers to connect with government, and this is a two-way street. Researchers have much to learn from policy and practice. We endeavour to provide opportunities for policy makers to collaborate with researchers through co-production and to communicate the findings to their colleagues. We also provide resources and professional development opportunities for everyone on systems thinking and knowledge mobilisation.

All of this will take time and investment. But we believe the time to do this is now – to build a strong and vibrant community from which the leaders of the next generation will emerge.

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