Connected Conversations | Caroline Miller

As the University prepares to return to campus, we met up with a few our staff and students to reflect on the past few months and hear about their hopes for the future. Check out our Connected Conversation with Professor Caroline Miller who has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 policy response.

Caroline Miller

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Hi! I am Professor Caroline Miller. I am the Director of the Health Policy Centre, based at SAHMRI. I am also an NHMRC Emerging Leader, in the School of Public Health, Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow and Beat Cancer Principal Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide. My research is focused on preventing the major causes of disease such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes through public health approaches. I have worked in tobacco control for many years, where I’m proud to say Australia is a world leader. I am also focused on curbing over consumption of ultra-processed food and drinks, including artificially sweetened drinks. As the COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia, my work pivoted to policy responses to COVID-19.  The centre has been leading rapid COVID-19 Evidence Synthesis to assist our Chief Public Health Officer and the COVID-19 taskforce in their policy decision making. We have generated Evidence Briefs across a range of topics including ‘Should schools be open?’, ‘How do we prevent spread in aged care facilities?’, and, ‘Is it safe to catch a plane?’ My home is in Parkside, with my architect husband John, our two girls, Abby and Grace and Mocha the cavoodle. 

The Return to Campus Roadmap is now in placeWhat are you most looking forward to about being back on campus?

I was one of the very few that remained in the SAHMRI office (with many, many square metres to myself) while the rest of the Health Policy Centre team worked from home. Everyone has done an incredible job adapting to working from home. Video conferencing has been such a great tool. It is amazing how much can be done online! When everyone returns to the office, I am most looking forward to being able to catch up with people in person. Zoom is great, but it isn’t quite the same and some things are lost in translation. I find it a bit strange the way you cannot meet anyone else’s eye over Zoom!

What aspects of teaching online do you enjoy the most? 

Being in a research only position, most of my contact with students is with my Higher Degree Research students, who have shown incredible resilience. I especially feel for international students who are away from family and friends. I think the return to campus will be wonderful for students to regain in-person connectedness with their peers and with staff. 

Is there anything from the past few months you would like to see implemented on a permanent basis?

As we prepare to return to campus, there are some things I think we could retain. Over the last few months, we have been forced to make better use of technology. Meetings via Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been a big step forward in terms of flexibility and ensuring attendance for staff, who may have missed out previously. Working from home can be very productive for focused tasks—and  I think there is an opportunity to implement partial working from home arrangements on an ongoing basis. 

What is the one thing you are most looking forward to doing or seeing when you are back on campus?

The thing I am most looking forward to is the University being able to welcome back all the students and particularly our international students. We know a lot more about COVID-19 than we did even a few months ago, and how to manage it. I am sure the trials that are underway are well-designed and will go very well, and I look forward to this being expanded to Adelaide campuses.

All things considered; what good things have you discovered or learned during this time? 

I’ve discovered how incredibly adaptable, flexible and resilient we can be to find new ways to do our research, our teaching and stay in touch with one another.

Name three things you won’t miss about this current moment in time.

Things I won’t miss include seeing the genuine hardship that people are facing economically as employers are forced to stand people down. I won’t miss the anxiety and uncertainty that COVID-19 has created. We are all acutely aware of what has been happening around the globe, and the alternate scenarios that could have happened had Australia not acted when it did. South Australia is one of the safest places in the world right now, and I’m very grateful for that.

And the three things you won’t forget…

My grandmother lived through the Great Depression and my mother grew up in a time of polio. Those events left indelible marks on their psyches. I wonder if decades from now, we will be a COVID-19 era generation who remembers to wash their hands, stand a little further away from people, and weirdly has trouble resisting the urge to grab a spare pack of toilet paper… just in case.

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