Ilaria Pagani

Ilaria Pagani | Research Fellow | South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute | Adelaide | South Australia

“… do not give up when times are hard but have your career goals always visible in front of you. You need a strategic plan for your career. Be ambitious, confident and trust in yourself, but with the ability to listen to your more experienced colleagues”

Dr Ilaria Pagani is a Beat Cancer Project Mid-Career Research Fellow working on chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). She moved to Australia from Italy in 2014 for working at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute of Adelaide.

Ilaria obtained her PhD in 2012 and is a specialist in Medical Genetics (2016). She is a passionate science communicator concerned with giving back to the next generation of scientists and sharing the significance of her findings with the general public.

Her work as biomedical scientist has helped shed new light on the biology of CML. She discovered for the first time that it is possible to safely cease therapy in selected patients, without the risk of relapse. This important discovery contributed to the development of guidelines for the worldwide management of CML patients, improving the quality of life for them and their families. For this project she has been awarded the international John Goldman Research Award in 2019.

Ilaria does not only save lives in a laboratory, she is a Surf Live Saver with her local surf lifesaving club. In 2014 she left Italy with literally the bag on her back, little money and little English. She took the opportunity to work in Adelaide at the invitation of her new mentors/bosses. After beginning as a visiting Post-doc she was offered her first contract. Six years later she is still here working towards her career and life goals. She is now permanent resident, with established friendship circles, and a Surf Life Saver! She brought with her a passion for science, sport and photography  and made herself a new home, which now includes her fiancé and pet cat Senna.

What is the most important advice you have ever been given? 

A few years ago, an ex-colleague gave me the most important piece of advice regarding my career and life: “Do not compare yourself to others, do not look at what other people are doing”. To live a happy life and be successful in academia it is important to focus on yourself, and to ignore the “why have you not achieved this yet” and “when will you settle down with kids” stereotypes of academia and society. This piece of advice has helped me to stay focused and work towards my goals, both personal and professional.

How do you cope with loss or rejection in your career (e.g. rejected papers, nonfunded grants, loss of personnel, loss of employment)?

Rejection, though tough, is part of a scientific career, same as in life. I look at rejection as something of a positive, a steppingstone towards success. I use rejection as a learning experience, to learn how can I do it better next time. “If you fall of, you need to stand up, and do it again, and again until you reach your goal”. If we fail an experiment for example, we need try to understand why it failed, learn and try again. The same applies to grants and fellowship applications. Only with experience we can achieve success.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to women just starting their careers in STEMM?

Prizes, papers, grants, they will arrive with time and experience. My advice is do not give up when times are hard but have your career goals always visible in front of you. You need a strategic plan for your career. Be ambitious, confident and trust in yourself, but with the ability to listen to your more experienced colleagues. These colleagues will share valuable career advice with you if you are willing to listen and learn.

Are you a science communicator? Why and how do you communicate?

Science communication is extremely important to me, and my level of commitment is very high. A result not well communicated could be misinterpreted, leading to misplaced hope. Correct and strong communication will increase the awareness of society to the “problem” we are facing, which, if considered relevant, could build support and funding. I share my passion for science on the social media. I collaborate with both local radio and newspapers. I organise public outreach events, and events broadcasted online, with the aim to create a strong network between Italian and Australian Governments, researchers and the community.

What are your favourite pasttimes or hobbies?

I do not save lives only in a laboratory, I am an Australian Surf Live Saver and a surf boat rower. Since 1999 as a river rower I participated in both national and international competitions, including 3 World-Rowing Masters Regattas. My more than 20 years of rowing experience taught me teamwork, resilience, commitment and sacrifice, but also rewarded me with the opportunity to make strong friendships.

In addition to rowing, I am always excited to trek into nature combining it with my passion for photography. It provides a break from work and recharges my batteries. 

LinkedIn: Ilaria Pagani

Article originally published in Women in STEMM Australia