Beryl Nashar Young Researcher Award

About this award

The Beryl Nashar Young Researcher Award recognises the emerging research accomplishments of early and mid-career alumni researchers.

Past recipient achievements include impactful research across health, medicine, sport science, and the environment.

Nominees must meet the following selection criteria

  • Hold a minimum undergraduate Bachelor degree from the University of Newcastle
  • Be aged 35 years or younger at the time of nomination
  • Demonstrate outstanding achievement and/or contribution to any field of research

Professor Beryl Nashar AO OBE

Professor Beryl Nashar was a pioneer of women in STEMM. Born in Maryville in 1923, the eldest of four children, Beryl was an outstanding school student. She completed her Leaving Certificate at Newcastle Girls High School, topping the state in biology, and went on to become the first in her family to go to university. She completed her honours science degree at the University of Sydney, winning the university medal and receiving a research scholarship.

After one day in a teaching role at Hunter Girls School, Beryl was offered a position at the University of Tasmania - which she accepted.

Beryl Nashar sitting for photo 

Beryl went on to achieve more firsts: she was the first woman to be awarded a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to attend Cambridge University, the first woman to earn a PhD in geology from an Australian university and, then, became the first female Dean at an Australian university – here at the University of Newcastle.

Beryl published four books and 30 research papers. She was on the board of directors for the Royal Newcastle Hospital for 16 years, as well as the Faculty of Medicine and the Greater Newcastle Building Society. She was actively involved with the Federation of Business and Professional Women, holding the role of international president in 1974.

Dr Li Kheng Chai

2021 Beryl Nashar Young Researcher Award

Doctor of Philosophy 2020, Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics 2013
Research Fellow, Health and Wellbeing Queensland

Dr Li Kheng Chai is a pioneer in the prevention and management of obesity in children and an active proponent for health equity for all Australians. A dietitian and advocate for children’s health and nutrition, Li’s research focuses on using innovative technology to develop, deliver and evaluate nutrition and lifestyle interventions to improve children’s health and diet quality.

“I believe nutrition starts from a young age, when children begin their adventures in learning about food,” said Li. “I'm a strong advocate for children’s health, nutrition, and wellbeing. I believe good nutrition is essential for every child, so our future leaders can grow to become the best they can be.”

Through her PhD, Li Kheng has explored the use of telehealth and text messaging in addressing child nutrition and weight management intervention. By collaborating with academics and clinicians, her research developed a scalable approach to the issue of obesity, with the potential to enhance cost-effectiveness and reach of services, enabling more equitable access to public health systems.

Obesity is an increasingly prevalent issue affecting the health of Australians, comprising a significant portion of the national burden of disease. Li Kheng has dedicated her work to combating this by helping all Australians to achieve the best nutrition they can, starting with our kids.

Her current research focuses on obesity prevention through system changes associated with nutrition and physical activity. “To improve population health and wellbeing we need systems to change through a whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach, and people have to be at the centre of everything that we do,” Li Kheng said.

“I'm currently working at Health and Wellbeing Queensland, Queensland’s first dedicated prevention agency, where I integrate research with practice and work at the coalface alongside health professionals, communities and policymakers. My current work focuses on health promotion across a broad spectrum, including healthy initiatives in primary schools, addressing food security in First Nations communities, and an online play-based learning program for families.”

2021 Alumni Excellence Awards

Li Kheng has been recognised nationally and internationally through her collaboration with Leeds Beckett University to adopt her Telehealth program in the United Kingdom, an editorial appointment with European Journal of Clinical Nutrition and joint publications with international experts from Australia, United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Hong Kong, and World Obesity Federation.

Her many awards include Best Oral Presentation at the 2020 Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society International Conference, Queensland Children’s Hospital Precinct Early Career Researcher of the Year 2019, Queensland Health Practitioner Research Grant the same year (to trial a clinical pediatric nutrition care model) and the 2016 Dietitians Australia Emerging Researcher Award.

Li Kheng describes her time as a student at the University of Newcastle as a “very precious moment of my life, not only because the education that I received is top quality but also lifelong friendships that I've made. As an alumna, the professional networks, opportunities, and connections that have been formed have helped strengthen my career through ongoing collaboration, which still happens today.

“I hope that my research can contribute to a change in policy and practices to positively influence population health and well-being. I also hope to see that one day everyone will be able to access health care no matter where they live, study or work, and that health equity is at the centre of the population.”

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.