Meet Professor Sandra Cooper

Professor Sandra Cooper is a neuroscientist, and the Scientific Director of Kids Neuroscience Centre. She leads a team of researchers who focus on gene discovery and genomics and the Disease Mechanisms and Therapies group focused on elucidating the mechanism of disease with a view to developing evidence-based therapies. She is currently building a national collaborative infrastructure to bring RNA Diagnostics into clinical practice. Cooper is linking the translational researchers, diagnostic genomic pathology and clinical genetics – in order to devise an evidence-based national strategy.

A life-threatening illness a number of years ago brought Cooper the challenge of a lifetime and with it, great clarity about what motivates her in her job and life. Despite reaching the near-top of one field, she re-evaluated. In 2018, she decided to strategically change fields which was enabled by the job security of her NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship. She had five years of her fellowship to make it happen. She’s three years down and has two to go.

“You have to keep pushing boundaries, take calculated risks, step boldly outside your comfort zone and work to your signature strengths”.

Cooper is passionate about empowering and supporting other women, as well as those with disabilities, or special abilities. She works do to this by embracing diversity in all its forms, “It makes you a better researcher, a better leader and a better person” says Cooper.

When asked what advice she has for other women wanting to further themselves and their research Cooper says, “Back yourself. The limits of what you are capable of are set by you.

"Strategise your career the way you strategise your research."

In keeping with the IWD2021 #choosetochallenge theme, Cooper believes the most important thing to challenge is “your own self-belief, and true belief in what your excellent (and diverse) team is capable of – when you pool brainpowers and work to each other’s strengths”.

Cooper hopes to instil in others the value of diversity, “As a leader, you need people in your team who aren’t like you, and who feel the environment is safe enough to robustly disagree with you. A team of diverse thinkers and doers enhances your capacity to innovate out-of-the-box solutions. This is exactly why you need a diverse team”.

When looking to role models and sources of inspiration Cooper believes there is something to learn from everyone. “Science is a very humbling career. Despite the best laid plans, our learning trajectory is forged on repeated failure.

"The best idea can come from anyone at any career stage. You just need to be listening.”

Read more about some of the other inspiring women across our Network in celebration of International Women’s Day.