In what has been undoubtedly one of her busiest years to date, Professor Catherine Bennett, past student of Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak, took a moment to reflect on her time as a Loreto student and share her experience of the global pandemic – a period she describes as both fascinating and terrifying.
Epidemiology was in its infancy when Professor Bennett left Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak in 1978. It was a career that Catherine arrived at through embracing a broad range of interests ranging from science and maths to art, French, and volleyball. A talented leader, the experiences Catherine gained in her roles as sports captain and councillor in her final year at Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak helped her progress rapidly in her career.
‘I quickly moved into quite senior and autonomous roles, including being appointed the State physical anthropologist before I turned 25, so leadership and communication skills were important, even grooming and deportment!’ says Professor Bennett.
An interest in medicine and a propensity for maths and statistics made epidemiology an attractive endeavour for Professor Bennett.
‘Epidemiology builds evidence that guides medical practice. It describes the distribution of disease in the community and risk factors too, so is critical in the design and evaluation of public health interventions, including outbreak response which became my specialty.’
Profiling the COVID-19 virus was critical in the early days. The virus quickly showed features studied as ‘worst-case’ for human pathogens in Epidemiology training programs: high fatality rates, asymptomatic cases unknowingly spreading the virus, and variable incubation periods, making it difficult to predict when someone is infectious.
‘The way the world has worked together has been truly extraordinary. Scientists and clinicians are sharing what they know so quickly, with scientific journals publishing covid-related articles online immediately and for free.’
Although there has been division about how we should respond and significant concern about lockdown costs, Australia has proven to be one of the stand-out countries with the majority of people doing what they must for the greater good.
When asked what message she would relay to current Loreto Students, Professor Bennett says, ‘My epidemiology career path really did not exist when I was trying to imagine my future while still at school. So don’t feel constrained by the career options you see now, and if you follow your heart and your academic strengths, you will be ready for new possibilities that are still beyond the horizon.’