Asking the tough questions
According to Professor Liz Harry, you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable when you’re pursuing innovation.
“There's so much in science we don't know, so much about this world we don't know. Every time you examine anything in science you end up with more questions than answers, and that can be unsettling,” says Liz. “Innovation comes from being courageous and brave enough to want to ask challenging questions when there's pressure to be right and to produce a certain quantity of output.”
As Director of ithree — the UTS Institute of Infection, Immunology and Innovation — and Professor of Biology in the Faculty of Science, Liz is well-versed in asking the difficult questions and seeking out creative answers. Her research on bacterial cell division has had a considerable impact on our understanding of how bacterial cells multiply and contribute to infection, paving the way for new and more effective treatments.
“We’re working to understand how bacteria control their multiplication and how to stop them dividing and multiplying, which provides a research base for the design of new antibiotics,” she explains.
“We are also looking at non-antibiotic ways of reducing and treating infection using natural products like honey, which has multiple antibacterial components without the risk of antibiotic resistance. It is applied topically. Using approved medicinal honey on skin infections and wounds instead of topical antibiotics reduces the resistance burden for both topical antibiotic treatment as well as those delivered intravenously or systemically.”
Liz has a passion for authentic leadership, modelling equity and excellence within her teams and as a mentor to early career researchers. With a background in more conservative sandstone universities prior to joining UTS, Liz felt compelled initially to hide aspects of herself in these environments — both as a woman in science with leadership aspirations, and having a same-sex partner. “This was the only environment where I felt uncomfortable being open; my colleagues at university were the last to know.” She says that UTS strives to live and breathe the message of equity and diversity at all levels because there’s a belief that diversity and excellence go hand in hand. “And that’s absolutely the truth”
“You don't have to be very high up in the hierarchy at UTS for people to listen to you. There is less judgment about how old you are and what level of career you are at; University leaders listen to all good ideas no matter where they come from,” she says.
“Some of our leadership would have experienced equity and diversity issues themselves, and that’s really important. There is a genuine determination from our Vice-Chancellor and all our leaders, including myself, to have equal gender representation and a more diverse workforce, whether it be Indigenous people, those with disabilities, LGBTIQ or other groups.”
There is a genuine determination from our Vice-Chancellor and all our leaders, including myself, to have equal gender representation and a more diverse workforce, whether it be Indigenous people, those with disabilities, LGBTIQ or other groups.
This commitment at all levels to equity programs like Athena SWAN and to having a clear strategy for the university’s direction really sets UTS apart.
“UTS makes it very clear to every member of staff what that strategy is, making it easy to align everything we do towards that strategy,” she explains. “It is centred on a short, powerful statement that empowers people, and there’s a real dedication and belief in the leadership that we can achieve that.”
Photography: Encapture Photography