An inquisitive mind and sense of purpose
Chamindie Punyadeera was always going to be a scientist. As a child growing up in South Africa, her inquisitive mind led her to question everything she saw and heard.
“Even from childhood, I was always asking my mum, why is this happening?” she said.
“When my mother was diagnosed with type two diabetes, I wanted to know ‘what is this?’ and how could I help her?”
Decades later, Chamindie is a Professor at Griffith University, the head of the Saliva and Liquid Biopsy Translational Laboratory, and she is still asking the hard questions. Her tenacity has led her team to achieve a global research first – the early detection of human papillomavirus-driven throat cancer through salivary diagnostics and liquid biopsy.
Chamindie describes herself as “an inventor with great vision for developing the next generation of diagnostic solutions”. She is driven by a passion for science she says is a calling, not a career. But as a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) woman who migrated to Australia from South Africa, via the Netherlands, in 2008, she says it was incredibly tough to re-establish her career in a new country with no support network. The challenges of securing a permanent research job, and feeding her family, were at times almost overwhelming.
Chamindie says when she was introduced to the Women in Technology community, she attended every event and found a network of like-minded people who were personally and professionally supportive. It proved to be an inspiration for her career, as well as a journey to enable other CALD women.
As a long-standing WiT member, Chamindie championed WiT’s first professional development program, specifically designed for CALD women in STEM, to help grow and shape the careers of women who have faced similar challenges and give them opportunity to network and learn from one another.
I had some very tough early years so I wanted to pay it forward and give others the opportunity to get a better, smoother, ride,” she said.
The CALD Women in Technology program launched in 2022 was jointly developed with support from the Queensland Government to provide participants with awareness, development, training and networking opportunities to help them realise their full potential and open up opportunities for career progression and leadership.
Chamindie is optimistic about the future for CALD women in STEM.
“I tell everyone – my mantra is you take challenges, and you make them into opportunities. And if there are no challenges, it’s no fun!”