Connected Conversations | Rachel Gibson

The University’s new School of Allied Health Science and Practice welcomed its very first student intake in February but Professor Rachel Gibson and her team have been working hard behind-the-scenes well before 2021.

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Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Rachel and I have the pleasure of being the inaugural Director of Allied Health in the new School of Allied Health Science and Practice. Along with staff within the school and across the faculty, we worked very hard throughout 2020 to be ready to welcome the University’s first physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech pathology students this year. I am also part of the Cancer Treatment Toxicities Group, working closely with Associate Professor Joanne Bowen and Dr Janet Coller. We investigate the mechanisms of toxicities occurring following different cancer therapies. We also test efficacy of new agents in the prevention and treatment of this toxicity. I live with my husband Glenn, our two teenage children (Oliver and Louise) and our two toy poodles (Buddy and Ruby) in the foothills of Adelaide. We are a very sporty family, and most weekends are spent at various combinations of cricket and netball. Buddy and Ruby love coming to outdoor cricket!

How did you get to where you are today?

I was initially working as a Cancer Council SA Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Royal Adelaide Hospital. A chance meeting saw me teach some Problem Based Learning classes for first and second-year medical students. I absolutely loved it and, from then on, I knew this was what I wanted to do; be an academic. It was a big transition from being a full-time researcher and was my defining career moment. I was appointed as lecturer in the Department of Anatomical Sciences. At the end of 2015, I took another big chance, taking a senior leadership role at another university. However, the challenge to start up allied health programs was very appealing and I returned to the University of Adelaide in 2019.

What do you love most about working at the University of Adelaide?

The amazing staff of the School of Allied Health Science and Practice. We work hard, laugh a lot, and eat a lot of chocolate! In fact, we have a chocolate bowl sitting in the school which everyone takes turns in filling up.  However, perhaps my favourite tradition has been the midweek memes we established during lockdown to keep our spirits up. 

What are you working on now?

My research over many years now has focused on supportive care in cancer and how we can reduce the toxic gastrointestinal side effects of cancer treatment. Unfortunately, I don’t get into the laboratory much anymore, but I still have the pleasure of supervising HDR students. I love being able to help contribute to the next generation of scientists coming through.  

What do you do in your spare time?

What spare time? But if I do get some down time, I love to curl up on the lounge with a good novel.

How do you relax or switch off? 

Sport! I love netball and in the last six months have played, coached and umpired. In addition, I spend most of my weekends watching my son play cricket and my daughter play netball. 

What are your hopes for 2021?

Being able to continue to travel freely to Victoria again to see family. We hadn’t seen them for over a year and Zoom is just not the same as a hug!

Name three things you won’t forget about the past year…

  • Constantly looking at myself on Zoom it is not natural to spend all day staring at a reflection of yourself on a computer
  • My two puppies barking at the most inopportune times during important Zoom meetings
  • The School of Allied Health Science and Practice presenting me with a Cheezel crown–in honour of me eating Cheezel rings from my fingers at a meeting! What was I thinking?
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