MLC School Alumni in Science

MLC School has a long and distinguished tradition in science education. Our first science lab was built in 1924 and chemistry and physics were promptly added to the curriculum – making MLC School the first school in the State to present girls for the Leaving Certificate in Physics.

One of our Old Girls, Dr Patricia Piesse (Birch, 1946) reports that even in as late as 1946, our students were often the only girls commencing science and medicine degrees with a high school physics education. 

Dr Freida Ruth Heighway (1925) 

Freida Ruth Heighway was the was the first Australian woman to receive an M.D. degree and the first woman admitted to the Royal College of Gynaecologists – later becoming a fellow of the College. She became a fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists whilst working in the UK. 

Upon returning to Australia, Freida Heighway set up general practices in Sydney and later Adelaide – the only female gynaecologist doing so at the time. 

Tall, gracious and commanding, Freida was dedicated to her patients and allowed neither personal activities nor personal illness to divert her attention from them. A prize given by the University of Adelaide commemorates her.  

Dr Patricia Piesse (Birch, 1946)

After graduating from the University of Sydney, Dr Patricia Piesse spent time at Sydney Hospital and Renwick Hospital in Summer Hill. While living in London, she ran the outpatients department at South London Hospital, Clapham Common. 

After the birth of her children, Patricia toured schools and taught about Personal Development in the Girls’ Independent Schools (including MLC) and about smoking and health in the Independent Schools, Catholic and State Schools. For the last 25 years of her career, Patricia was a councillor in private practice. She retired in 2006. 

In retirement, Patricia has continued her interest in education – she has taught reading to children and adults with reading difficulties and is now teaching English Conversation to foreign students.

Reflecting on MLC School, Patricia states that she is thankful for her time here; that it was a very rewarding period of her life. She says that MLC School was uncommon, even among independent schools, by insisting that the girls should have tertiary education at the highest level possible. And MLC School taught physics; Patricia was the only girl in first year medicine who had studied physics at school.

Dr Patricia Thomson (Hextall, 1949)

When Patricia Hextall graduated from the University of Sydney with first class honours and the University Medal in Organic Chemistry, she was described by her professor as the most brilliant woman in organic chemistry for a generation. 

After being awarded a scholarship, Patricia undertook a PhD in organic chemistry at Cambridge University. She then went on to work at Manchester University with her physicist husband. After the birth of her children, she changed paths and was involved in writing some of the early computer programs in the late 1950s and 1960s. Patricia then went on to set up and run the computer department in the Faculty of Economics at Manchester University in the 1960s. Patricia has since retired and has moved back to Australia with her children and grandchildren.

Dr Susan Beal AM (Ross, 1951)

Paediatric specialist, Dr Susan Beal, is a pioneer in the investigation into the circumstances surrounding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). She is credited with being the first person anywhere to argue publicly against babies sleeping on their stomachs, and in the countries that have heeded her advice, including Australia, the UK and NZ, there has been a dramatic decrease in deaths with the incidence of SIDS halving. 

Dr Genevieve Cummins (1959)

Well regarded paediatric surgeon and author, Dr Genevieve Cummins graduated top female in her class when studying medicine in the mid 1960s and despite topping the Australasian Primary Fellowship for Surgery, she was told by one of Sydney’s leading hospitals that they did not wish to employ her as she was a woman. She was told that the hospital didn’t want female surgeons because … they didn’t think they could do it.

Undaunted, Genevieve persevered and in December 2012, after 40 years at The Children’s Hospital, Westmead, she semi-retired. 

Genevieve is a woman of many interests and great energy. She has written three books on antiques: Chatelaines: Utility to Glorious Extravagance, Antique Boxes: Inside and Out and How the Watch was Worn: A Fashion for 500 Years, all which have been published by the Antique Collector’s Club in Suffolk, England. These successful, lavishly produced books have all been extremely well received. She also has a well-renowned and eclectic garden which has been open to the public in the past.

Dr Liz Dennis (1960)

Eminent plant molecular biologist and PhD graduate from the University of Sydney, Liz was the inaugural winner of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in 2000. She is the Chief Research Scientist at CSIRO’s Division of Plant Industry and is a leading researcher in gene expression, molecular bases of plant development, plant gene regulation and mapping plant genomes. Her present work is aimed at understanding the mechanism of hybrid vigour.

Liz recalls that MLC School was for its time, unusually supportive of women:  

… the School’s philosophy was that you shouldn’t not do anything because you’re a woman, and so it provided courses for us like physics honours and chemistry honours, which were unusual then. As a young girl I was always keen on chemistry. Reading stories of Madame Curie, I decided I wanted to be like her. I think she was the only heroic figure I had in my early childhood. Then at MLC School we had a very good chemistry teacher (Dr Alice Whitley) who gave us a real interest in chemistry. 

Dr Virginia Hood (1963)

On a whim in 1976, Virginia Hood set off for Burlington, Vermont and has lived there now for 37 years, working as an internist and nephrologist.

As a Professor of Medicine at the University of Vermont, she cares for patients with kidney diseases and teaches physiology, epidemiology and internal medicine to medical students, residents and community physicians. Among other things, she enjoys sailing, skiing, gardening and stories.

Virginia was the 2011–2012 President of the American College of Physicians, the largest medical specialty organisation in the USA. In 2012 she was made a Master of the College (MACP) … in recognition of stellar career accomplishments and service to the College.

Associate Professor Jane Latimer (Broderick, 1978) 

Jane Latimer is Associate Professor at the Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney and works as a Principal Research 

Fellow in the Musculoskeletal Division of The George Institute for Global Health. She holds an ARC Future Fellowship and currently works with Aboriginal leaders in the Fitzroy Valley to address the legacy of alcohol for children afflicted by foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Her work, supported by a group of exceptional Aboriginal women, resulted in the production of two films, one of which was launched by the Australian Government in 2009 at the United Nations.  

Dr Carolyn Broderick (1982) 

Carolyn Broderick is a staff specialist in paediatric sport and exercise medicine at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. She is a senior lecturer at The University of New South Wales, a member of the Australian Olympic Committee Medical Commission and was team physician for the Australian Olympic Team at the Olympic Games in Sydney 2000 and London 2012.  

Dr Yvonne Luxford PhD 

Yvonne Luxford is the CEO of Palliative Care Australia, an organisation committed to achieving accessible and culturally appropriate health care. Yvonne has particular interests in Indigenous health, chronic disease prevention, and equity of access to healthcare. 

In her role as Council Member of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, Yvonne advocates for improvements in health and healthcare through the development of evidence-based policy. 

Professor Ruth Corran, 1989 

Graduating with First Class Honours in Science, Ruth Corran achieved meritorious academic results and was awarded the University Medal in Mathematics. 

She subsequently won a scholarship to the University of Sydney, and was awarded a PhD in Pure Mathematics in 2000. In 2001 she was the recipient of an EPSRC grant and in 2002 was awarded a two-year European Union Marie Curie postdoctoral award with Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. In 2004, she took up a postdoctoral position at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne, and in 2005 joined The American University of Paris. 

Ruth is currently the Department Co-chair, Computer Science, Math and Science at The American University of Paris and has two young daughters. Her message to girls studying science is that you can achieve great things in science and have a rewarding family life! 

Dr Vivien Chen (1989) 

In 1989, Vivien received top honours in the NSW Higher School Certificate examinations. She continued her fine academic achievements by becoming the University Medallist after gaining First Class Honours in Medicine. After completing her medical studies, Vivien went on to complete a PhD. She is currently, Group Leader, Coagulation in Cancer at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre. 

Dr Tania Tsang PhD (1992) 

Tania was the winner of the 2002 Peter Doherty Post Doctoral Research Fellowship from the National Health and Medical Research Council for her work in embryology at the Children’s Medical Research Unit. The Fellowship, named after the inspirational Australian Immunologist and 1996 Nobel Laureate, provides the opportunity for outstanding young Australian scientists to undertake further training in Australia and supports this with four years of research funding. 

In praise of Tania and her colleague Dr Simon Kinder, Dr Patrick Tam said that they were worthy recipients of the Fellowships. ...They often worked as a pair, complementing each other’s expertise ...working together harmoniously and productively. They have indeed set an 

Dr Rebekah Ahmed (1998) 

Rebekah Ahmed is a consultant neurologist, she received first class honours in Medicine and a University Medal from the University of Adelaide. She completed her physician and neurology training at Royal Prince Alfred and Concord Hospitals. She was awarded the Australian and New Zealand Association of Neurology Fellowship to complete her neurology training at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square London and then completed a Clinical Research Fellowship at the prestigious Dementia Research Centre, University College London. She is currently completing her PhD at Neuroscience Research Australia focusing on the eating and metabolic abnormalities in Fronto-temporal dementia and motor neuron disease. 

Rebekah is also currently an Honorary Associate at the Brain & Mind Research Institute, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney. excellent example of how science may flourish through sharing and collaboration. 

Dr Lily Li Jing Ting PhD (2000) 

Research Associate in Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School. 

As we continue to be active and outward-looking in the tradition established by our science pioneers, MLC School remains committed to providing our girls with the highest quality science education.