Around the Precinct: Professor Sheena Reilly

News - 18 Feb 2021

Meet Professor Sheena Reilly, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Health) at Griffith University.

A leading children’s health researcher, Professor Reilly is among the most highly cited in her discipline and holds a PhD from the University of London. The Lumina team sat down with Professor Reilly to find out more about her career and her passion for bettering the health of children across Australia.

What sparked your interest/ passion in the speech and language development of children?

After receiving my PhD from the University of London, I worked as a postdoctoral researcher and clinician at the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital and the Institute of Child Health in London. The parents of many of the children I was working with would ask me questions about their children’s speech and language development. I became frustrated by how few well-designed studies had been conducted that were large enough to answer some of the questions parents constantly asked me.

When I returned to Australia, I devoted my research to understanding speech, language and literacy development in children – one of the most common childhood developmental impairments. I wanted to understand what went wrong for some children, why things went wrong and what could be done about these problems.

Over the years, I have led landmark research studies and established some of the largest language cohorts of children – collaborating with international child language experts in molecular genetics, neuroimaging, epidemiology, biostatistics and health economics.

Why did you decide to move to the Gold Coast and join Griffith University? What was the appeal in moving from Melbourne?

Apart from the glorious beaches, perfect weather and the wonderful walks in the hinterland, the Gold Coast is also home to world-class educational institutions and promising career opportunities – Griffith University ranks in the top two per cent of universities worldwide, with a five-star rating for educational experience.

I initially moved to Griffith University to take up the position of Director, Menzies Health Institute Queensland.

The Institute leads research across the lifecycle, develops and tests strategies to improve health and wellbeing and is home to exceptional biomedical, nursing, allied health, social and behavioural scientists, clinical researchers and research students.

How do you believe Griffith students and researchers will benefit from being located within the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct and surrounded by health and technology entrepreneurs, including a children’s health and education-focused centre of excellence?

The Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct is a true example of the power universities, governments, industry and health services have to unlock the potential of their collective know-how and vision. It will see the evolution of a complex and innovative ecosystem, where the co-location of all these partners will drive new knowledge and new ways of using that knowledge.

This will be an opportunity for Griffith students, researchers and staff to be involved in a thriving, innovative, connected and inclusive community, that will host some of Australia’s leading scientists, cutting-edge innovation, world-class research expertise, and clinical facilities. This will be unique to South-East Queensland.

For the child health and education sector we need to continue to provide strong and diverse training foundations and skills for this growing workforce. The opportunity that the Precinct offers, is to enable students, (i.e., the future workforce) to learn in partnership with service providers and to develop knowledge and skills around early childhood that are relevant to each health profession.

Are there any key childhood-focused areas that have increased in demand over the past few years?

Childhood speech and language impairment: One in 20 Australian children start school with a speech disorder, which increases the likelihood of poor reading ability, high rates of school non-completion, limited work opportunities and poorer psychosocial outcomes.

The early years: It is important that women receive support during pregnancy to give their children the very best start to life. The years from pre-natal to eight can profoundly define a child’s future, especially when it comes to success at school and making friends. Children who encounter extreme adversity in those early years are likely to suffer major impairments to their development.

Social functioning and peer relationships:  The interface of child and adolescent relationships with peers are important aspects of normal childhood development. Through these relationships, children and adolescents explore their self-identities and develop skills in forming and maintaining relationships.

Allied Health services: Allied Health professionals play a key role in shaping and delivering new and more effective models of health care and are central to meeting the future needs of the community concerning their health and welfare needs.