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Pro Vice-Chancellor, research and development, Curtin University (was director of the Cancer, Palliative Care and Family Health Research team at Edith Cowan University at time of her award)



Christmas gift of a microscope to a curious nine-year-old girl turned out to be a wise investment that is still paying dividends on many levels for Professor Linda Kristjanson. Her inquiring mind and instinct for innovation have touched thousands of lives through her pioneering work in palliative care in Canada and here in Australia. In 2002, her contribution to that field as head of the Centre for Nursing Research at Perth's Edith Cowan University was recognised when she became the first academic to be named National Telstra Business Woman of the Year. While palliative care remains close to her heart, Linda's horizons have broadened considerably in her current role as Pro Vice-Chancellor of Research and Development at Curtin University, where she oversees the work of hundreds of scientists and 25 commercial spin-off companies, with projects ranging from clean coal to smart house technology. In 2007 alone, three Curtin projects were nominated for the West Australian Invention of the Year award. One is a "virtual observer" that uses CCTV cameras mounted on buses to act as silent security guards, keeping an eye on shops, banks and buildings along the bus route. Pattern recognition software detects any suspicious behaviour and automatically alerts the authorities, an innovation that could have other benefits closer to home. "It also has applications in creating a safe house, a smart house, so for the elderly the same sort of technology can be put into a house so that if a person's usual pattern of activity changes, for example, and they normally get up in the morning and put on the kettle, and that behaviour starts to change, the house can notify the person's daughter and say, `Your mother's pattern of behaviour has changed, she's not responding, what would you like us to do?' and the house can automatically phone the police if necessary." The Telstra award allowed Linda to become an ambassador for women in business and academe. "There are some people who think of science and researchers as being in white lab coats and being kind of irrelevant or in some ivory tower, and they don't know the extent to which science is engaged with industry. It's trying to problem solve for the challenges that we face now and in the future." Those challenges include climate change and water, and if Australia is to keep pace with emerging superpowers such as China and India, Linda says greater investment in science is essential to prevent a brain drain. "It is an international competition, so if we are not funding science well, then our scientists will be attracted to go overseas. Then we will be buying back the knowledge that they create, in terms of technology and innovation."


PROFESSOR LINDA KRISTJANSON A step in the right direction is a $25 million collaboration involving Curtin, Newcastle and China's Tsinghua universities, the CSIRO and the Chinese Academy of Science to develop clean-coal technology. "Coal is not going to go away. It's 70 per 1 Be able to identify and cent of what China uses for energy, and what China does affects seize opportunities what we do, and we breathe, and what we do, vice versa. It is 2 Have a strong ethical not about Perth, it is not about WA, it is not about Australia, it's code and stick to it about big questions that are facing this planet with accelerating urgency. If I can help be an ambassador for the work that these 3 Recognise and people are doing, if I can help create some research structures acknowledge the around the business of this science to try and accelerate some of contributions of others the outcomes, that will be a marvellous way to end my career." Linda has often been the only woman in the boardroom, but it took a trip to the ladies for it to dawn on her ... there was no queue. "I remember there was one joke when there were all these men sitting around a table and there was one woman, and they say, `That's an excellent suggestion, Ms Jones, perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.' So what you find is that there's this automatic belief that the men will have something worthwhile to say, whereas there's a credibility test that you have to pass, and I pay attention to this." She always sets time aside for her own health, and has an important piece of advice for other women in business: "While we might be achieving some of the things that traditionally men have achieved in business, you don't also want to get their heart attacks and high blood pressure, and all those sorts of things that go with living a very stressful life, and a sedentary life." Boardroom meetings are a world away from Linda's beginnings as a nurse in Canada in the early 1980s. Working in a cancer ward, she saw first-hand how medical treatments were failing the patients. "It was heart-wrenching to not be able to comfort your patient. You feel a lot of vicarious suffering yourself, because you can't help being in a caring profession and not feeling the pain of the other individuals, and witnessing the distress in the family when you can't make a difference." Linda started asking the hard questions others wouldn't and, when she didn't get the answers she needed, she conducted her own research. Within a few years her work was being published in international journals and translated into foreign languages. "I had to seek information, but I ended up inventing myself to be the expert in this area using trial and error and reading and then researching, because I thought we need answers to these questions. I became the advocate within my own institution, to educate the doctors and get them to start to learn how to do things." The first step was a simple one: to change from injected pethidine to oral morphine in severely emaciated patients, and it had immediate results. "We had pain control." For Linda, the final stage of our journey on this earth is an important, essential part of our lives that must be approached with dignity, support and openness, as opposed to denial. "People used to think of palliative care as the thing that happened in the last few days of life, and people were reluctant to move towards palliative care because they saw it as treatment failure. It goes back to

Leadership principles


our death-denying culture, and through the work of palliative The boardroom care leaders we've changed that view, I think." credibility test By following her curiosity and passion, Linda had carved out a new career path for herself. "This has been a remarkable pathway. 1 Do your homework It is not one that I totally choreographed. I have followed my 2 Speak respectfully, curiosity, and I think I had a trust in myself that the next step clearly and intelligently would be good. I guess it was because I really believe in my work, about the issues and I was able to choose work and to educate in work that I'm very passionate about, so the passion just drives you. You are not 3 Never personalise doing it because it's good for your career. It's because this is the business right thing to do, this is what I have to do ... Still to this day my 4 Show that you do have view is that if your patient is in pain, that's a crisis and nobody something to offer goes home until that patient's comfortable. You wouldn't leave 5 Reach out and try to them bleeding, so why would you leave them in pain." connect on a personal There is still much work to be done. Palliative care is the poor level cousin of the public health sector, attracting just five per cent of funding. Linda believes that with greater resources, euthanasia 6 Find common ground and its advocates would become irrelevant. "What disturbs me 7 Be yourself most is that there are people out there who are not finding their way to palliative care, and therefore they are receiving 8 Believe the best in suboptimal care and are in distress. They may think euthanasia people is the less evil option, but for someone like me, who has been 9 Start at 100 per cent and at the bedside of over 500 people who have died, I do not see a go from there compelling case for euthanasia because you know that with the skill you have you can comfort those individuals." For someone who has worked so close to death, Linda is full of life. In social situations, when she's not belting out karaoke tunes, she is accustomed to people having extreme reactions when they learn she works in palliative care: they either think she is some kind of saint or run a mile. Others have their own stories to share, and Linda is happy to listen. For her, palliative care isn't work, it's her life. Nor is it a one-way street. Those people Linda has cared for taught her much about life. "I think that you realise that dying people are living, and they need to live fully, and they are often living 100 per cent because every moment counts. So, for me, while the work is sad it can also be incredibly positive, because people are not sleepwalking through their life. We have the best laughs. We notice things that you might otherwise take for granted. "I think that the privilege for me in doing this work is I have been able to remember what's important in my life, and try not to make sloppy choices because you only have one go at this. It's about paying attention to the relationships you have along the way, and it's about trying to live your life in such a way that you are remembered for the way you treated people, not for what you accomplished."



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