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Emerita Professor Vera Morgan

Emerita Professor Vera Morgan

School of Population Health and Global Health

"Embrace change if it thrusts itself upon you. You may be surprised what opens up for you."

Professor Vera Morgan is Head, Neuropsychiatric Epidemiology Research Unit in the UWA School of Population and Global Health and Adjunct Professor, Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania. She is a psychiatric epidemiologist with a special interest in schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Her cross-disciplinary approach to the study of psychotic illness melds psychiatric, genetic, physical health, sociological and criminological perspectives on cause and course of illness, to help unravel the complex nature of these disorders and improve outcomes for affected people.

Most interesting aspect of my career

In the mid-1990s, most of us had a very negative perspective on outcome in psychotic illness. That has changed remarkably. It has been so encouraging for me as a researcher, let alone for people with lived experience of mental illness, to move away from a sense of hopelessness about their outcomes towards embracing personal recovery.

Most important experiences at UWA

I was most fortunate to have Professor Assen Jablensky as a mentor. I had just arrived in WA and, with great faith, he employed me in 1995 to work in the area of risk factor psychiatric epidemiology, when I knew nothing about psychiatry or psychology or epidemiology. He taught me so much and gave me courage to do things I would not have done otherwise. My team is amazing! Excellence in research reflects the excellence of the team contributing to it, and I have been incredibly blessed in my colleagues, most of whom, like me, have had unusual career trajectories and challenging obstacles to overcome.

Where did you think you would end up when you began your career?

I started my career studying literature, Old and Middle English, and linguistics, then teaching English as a second language in SA, and ended my career in WA conducting research in psychiatric epidemiology, specialising in psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Who would have thought, when I started at UWA in 1995 on soft research money and a short-term contract, that I would continue, still on soft money, for the next 27 years?

What do you consider to be your most significant achievements?

In 2003, I was the first Western Australian to be elected President of the Australasian Society for Psychiatric Research, the second female president, the second person not to be a psychiatrist, and the first non-professorial president. In 2010, I led the second National survey of psychotic disorders – the Study of High Impact Psychosis (SHIP), contracted to the Australian Government Department of Health. The data collection was ground-breaking and resulted in over 100 peer-reviewed papers – with more still being published!

Where to from here?

Anna Waterreus will become Head of Unit in 2022 and she will do a fabulous job. I plan to stay in regular touch with her and the rest of the team, working on papers. Together, we will also lobby the Commonwealth for funding for a much needed third National psychosis survey. I do hope to have more time for family, as well as photography and gardening, and maybe I will take up watercolours. And travel again!

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