Autism Researcher at the Telethon Kids Institute
At the age of 12, Gail Alvares found her calling. It was a story about a therapist using play-based therapy to help a child discover his sense of self that resonated with Gail. From that moment on, she was determined to work in developmental psychology.
Completing university in Sydney, it was in Gail’s honours year that she discovered a love for research. For her PhD, she focused on clinical conditions with social difficulties (social anxiety disorder, autism, schizophrenia), and worked as a research assistant, running a clinical trial of a new drug for children with autism. While she understood autism from a clinical perspective, Gail hadn’t experienced working with kids before, and described the experience as a “real turning point”.
Towards the end of her PhD, Gail applied for a postdoctoral position at the Telethon Kids Institute and says she has not once regretted the decision to move from Sydney. She is now in the Autism Research Team at the Telethon Kids Institute and an adjunct research fellow at The University of Western Australia (UWA). Her work investigates the underlying causes and mechanisms that lead to a diagnosis of autism, explores ways to identify autism as early as possible and asks how we can provide new and innovative therapy options to give children the best chance of living their lives to their full potential.
Working at the Telethon Kids Institute and with other researchers at UWA has cemented Gail’s commitment to improving health outcomes for children. She is inspired every day by the work of researchers committed to improving the lives of children with autism and their families, from conducting basic discovery research, to testing interventions and making government policy changes.
“I always think no idea is too big or too impossible; in fact, the opposite is often true. We are too limited by our own self-doubt to truly pursue the biggest and most impossible dreams. At our institute we are often challenged in our research team to think about the big discoveries that could change a child’s life. Importantly, none of these dreams are ever done in isolation. We often come up with the biggest and most innovative ideas when we least expect it, and always with our friends, colleagues or our amazing kids.”
Gail’s lesson for others is to not pick a career because it is sensible or the ‘right choice’, but pursue the path that feeds your soul, makes you happy when you think about your work and makes you excited to tell strangers what you do.
“I constantly remind myself how fortunate I am to work in WA. The sense of community and research culture is unique here. None of the research I do could be done in the same way anywhere else.”
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