2021-22 Australian Science Policy Fellow: Heidi
Dr Heidi Walkden has more than six years’ experience in community pharmacy and neuroscience research. Her research has identified a new path by which bacteria can quickly move from the nasal cavity to the brain. In recognition of her research, she was named in the prestigious Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 list in the category of Healthcare and Science. Alongside her research, Heidi is also an award-winning presenter and science communicator.
Heidi is looking forward to combining her diverse experiences ranging from the laboratory to the community. She is excited by the opportunity to develop evidence-based policies and working with multiple stakeholders to solve complex problems.
What were you researching before you started as a Science Policy Fellow?
I investigated how pathogens can invade the brain and contribute to the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. I discovered a new path by which bacteria can quickly move from the nasal cavity to the brain and spinal cord, all within 24 hours. I also showed that an injury to the inside of the nasal cavity, which can be caused by cold viruses or ‘nose bleeds’, increases bacterial invasion of the brain via the nose-to-brain pathway.
How has your research background helped you contribute to policy development?
My research background has prepared me well to contribute to policy development; in particular, the ability to understand complex data and to communicate clearly. As a policy officer, I can combine my diverse skills and experiences to help develop a range of policies and work collaboratively with key stakeholders.
How has the program changed your career aspirations?
Bridging research and evidence-based policy development is very important. Through policy development, I can be involved in creating a positive impact for people in ways not possible from the laboratory. Policy workers need to have a wide range of skills and it is exciting to combine my experiences from working in community pharmacy to the laboratory.
What is your favourite part about working in a policy role in the Australian Public Service?
I am excited by the opportunity to develop evidence-based policies and working with multiple stakeholders to solve complex problems. Each day is different, and I enjoy the intricacy and range of projects that we are working on. It is rewarding to know that this work can create a positive impact for the Australian community.