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Women to Watch: Dr Sudha Rao

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“After years of hard work, to make a scientific discovery that has the potential to change people’s lives is what drives and excites me.”

You may not have heard of Dr Sudha Rao yet, but she and her team of young scientists and talented clinicians from the Canberra Hospital may one day save your life. Sudha is a research scientist working in the areas of genetics and cancer biology and is close to a breakthrough treatment to prevent breast cancer recurrence and tackle ovarian cancer.

“After years of hard work, to make a scientific discovery that has the potential to change people’s lives is what drives and excites me. It’s why I love what I do,” Sudha says, always quick to share her successes with her team of scientists.

Born in India, Sudha lived in Melbourne and Italy before moving to the UK when she was nine. She completed her education in London, and moved to Canberra fifteen years ago to take up a position at ANU.

“This is something I pictured as a child. I always wanted to help people. I wanted to be a doctor.” And while there are few women in positions like hers, she delights in the challenge of raising a young family while working in her dream career.

“The hope that I will be able to say to people that there will be a cure – your mum or your grandma will live – is what ultimately drives me and makes me able to do the long hours,” Sudha says, excited to know that, after twenty years of hard work, she and her team are “on the verge of tackling something that will make a huge difference to women’s lives in the next few years”.

Asked how she balances being a mum of two with such demanding work, Sudha is self-deprecating: “If I didn’t have an incredibly supportive husband who believes in me more than I believe in myself many times, I couldn’t have done it. There are very few women in work of the kind I do. There are people like myself who, without realising it, are role models saying we can achieve it.”

Sudha’s own role models are her parents. Her father always instilled in her (and her sister) the ideal of following your heart. “We have to do what we’re passionate about. You have to believe in yourself. It’s the sort of philosophy that I’m trying to instil in my children,” she says.

Of Canberra, Sudha says she loves that it’s a city that’s more like a country town. She contrasts it with London, where she spent two hours travelling to work, and where there was a lot of pollution. “To bring children here and be able to have a very busy and active life, and to pick them up and be on your bike riding – and the ability to be able to be outdoors in a city. In what other capital city in the world can you do that? I hope it never changes!”

And while we might expect someone with Sudha’s passion and drive to want to keep working forever, she says people are often surprised to learn that by the time she’s fifty-five, she’d like to retire and live on a farm, riding horses.

After her contribution to science, and to Canberra, we think she’ll have earned it!

Discover the rest of our 15 Women to Watch in 2015 here.

Read about Nellie PeoplesMeegan FitzharrisZoya PatelBelinda Neame, Tegan McAuleyLouisa de SmetHeidi StratfordDr Sudha RaoCarla & Emma PapasTara CheyneSally MoylanKylie TraversKaleidJulie OkelyMichelle Melbourne and Joanna Allebone.

Home page image by Lori Cicchini of Loriana Fotografia . Make up by Ali Price Makeup. Hair by Angela Pavlovic of Kosa Studio. Clothing from Canberra Centre.

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