​Professor Jenefer (Jennie) Blackwell (Miles)

1965 Collegian

Jenefer: front

The death of my father, whom I adored but never got to know adult-to-adult, was the biggest motivating force for me to succeed in my career.

He died just three months after I joined MLC as a boarder in 1961. He was ahead of his time in believing that I should have the same educational and career opportunities as my four older brothers.

My mother worked hard to find the funds (we were literally poor as church mice - my father was a Methodist minister) to keep all of us in private school after he died.

I carried out my first research project with the Biology mistress, Verna Rowbotham. We visited Shenton Park Lake every weekend for a year and recorded bird numbers which I analysed and wrote up as a project for the 1965 UWA Science Talent Quest. I was runner-up.

Verna was my inspiration to undertake a research career in the Biological Sciences, which started out with an ambition in Conservation Biology but wassuperseded by a research career in Biomedical Sciences and Tropical Medicine once I headed off to the UK in 1974.

I spent 17 years at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a further 17 years at the University of Cambridge. In Cambridge, I raised funds to build, and was founding director of, the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research.

I have 250 scientific publications and was awarded the Chris Wright Medal (1994), the Leverhulme Medal (2000) and elected as a Fellow of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences for my contribution to Tropical Medicine.

In 2007 I returned to WA to establish a new Division of Genetics and Health at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research. New projects initiated since arriving in Perth include family-based studies of ear infections and metabolic diseases in a WA Aboriginal community.

I'm a very self-motivated person with lots of drive. My advice to others is to work hard, stay focussed and do something you enjoy. Keep a good balance between work and home life. Don't be afraid to tackle new challenges wherever they may take you.

On MLC:Fond memories include playing and singing in the annual Heather Lamont Festival, singing in the school choir and taking a leading role in the school operetta. This was in the early days for the development of these kinds of activities at MLC - before we had orchestras, etc. I'm astonished at the continuing high level of achievement of the girls currently at MLC.