Director's Highlights

Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research (CBMHR)

March 2019

Dear Researchers and Colleagues,


As Directors of the Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research (CBMHR), Brian Kelly and I would like to welcome members, current and new, to the start of another academic year and also like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank everyone for making this PRC such a vibrant and collegial group. Special mention also goes to our Early- and Mid-Career Researchers (ECRs and MCRs) who have contributed to our collective success by helping to organise many of the well-attended events the Centre has co-ordinated over the last year.

This letter is really an update to inform our members of the Centre’s recent and future activities. As many of you will be aware, CBMHR (like all University PRCs) enters its penultimate year of funding. Whether or not this PRC continues in its current form after 2020 is beyond our control, but there is no doubting the success of our inclusive, collaborative, and cross-disciplinary culture that has developed over the years. Indeed, the latest University review of CBMHR held in October of last year not only praised our activities but also stated that, “…it is evident the PRC is performing well and conducting excellent research”.

There are many reasons for our excellent performance, but without doubt our co-operative culture is a major contributor to CBMHR’s success. We are the largest UoN PRC with the most members (over 180 registered full members, affiliates, and student members) and although we do not have a lot of funds to distribute, it has resulted in some notable achievements. For example, CBHMR’s Mental Health Hub was instrumental in bringing together closer ties between the University and Everymind (formerly, Hunter Institute of Mental Health). Also, the continued success of the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health in obtaining State and Federal Funding shows that off-campus CBMHR members are helping to deliver on our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in the areas of research funding output, student supervision, cross-disciplinary collaborations, and community engagement. In addition, all our Hubs including Psychological Processes and Preclinical Neurobiology Research have had great success in attracting young talented post-doctoral and DECRA fellows to this University, which not only enhance our PRC but the University as well.

Changing funding landscape

Our PRC structure and willingness to collaborate beyond our immediate areas of expertise has also prepared us for the recent significant changes that have occurred at both the national and local levels. National changes include the way NHMRC will allocate funding this year; away from Project and Program grants to Investigator and Ideas driven grants. Although the consequences of these NHMRC changes and those to ARC funding are still unclear, there is no doubt that federal funding of universities is now strongly linked to ‘industry engagement’. Indeed, 50% of university research allocation is dependent on an institution’s capacity to engage with industry. At the local level, recent changes in senior management at both the University and Hunter Medical Research Institute will also impact the way PRCs operate. HMRI is currently undergoing a wholesale review of its activities and, as mentioned above, the future of PRCs as University supported entities has yet to be determined.

So what do all these changes mean for the CBMHR?

CBMHR’s structure and culture provides an ideal platform to take advantage of almost any changes that lie before us. For example, this PRC has well established links with industry. Those in the Mental Health Hub have an excellent track record going back many years of working with health services and government, and with local industries such as primary industries and manufacturing. Psychological Processes Hub have links to defence and aviation industry and Preclinical Neurobiology, a basic science oriented group, is now working closely with researchers within the local health district and with UoN teams in Engineering and Physics that have established links with medical device start-ups and health-service industries.

Since our unique PRC spans the research landscape from ‘basic’ (or ‘advanced’, if you prefer) and clinical sciences through to implementation and patient care, this PRC and its members with their broad expertise are ‘pre-adapted’ to life in in this new environment. In short, the strength of this PRC is in its natural diversity and the willingness of individuals to co-operate beyond traditional disciplines. There is no doubt that, as well-established PRC, we can and will build on our significant successes. This will ensure stronger ties between our membership and our external partners with resulting collaborations benefitting us all.

Despite the challenges that lie ahead, the way forward for this PRC is clear. As has always been the case, the major emphasis for CBMHR has been and continues to be the support we provide our younger researchers. Now more than ever, they need the help and guidance from established researchers as they navigate through a very uncertain future of research in Australia. Our ECR Committee is a reflection of this support where members of the ECR Committee attend monthly Executive meetings and contribute significantly to long range planning of CBMHR activities. Current members of the ECR Committee include: Drs Agatha Conrad (Mental Health), Elise Kalokerinos (Psychological Processes), Guy Hawkins (Psychological Processes), Sharon Hollins (Preclinical Neurobiology), and Simon Fisher (Preclinical Neurobiology).

Our Structure

The eight-member CBMHR Executive comprises one Co-Director (Clinical Sciences) – (Brian Kelly) and one Director (Basic Science) - (Alan Brichta) and six Deputy Directors, who are also Leaders of three CBMHR Hubs. As part of the PRC governance, each year we conduct open elections for Deputy Director positions.

For 2019 the three CBMHR Hubs and their Leaders are:

  1. Mental Health – Professor Sally Chan and Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin
  2. Psychological Processes – Professor Scott Brown and Dr Emily Freeman
  3. Preclinical Neurobiology – Associate Professors Doug Smith, Estelle Sontag and Brett Graham (Brett takes Doug’s position while he is away on sabbatical)

We congratulate both Emily and Estelle on their election and also hearty congratulations to Sally Chan on her promotion to Pro Vice-Chancellor of the Singapore Campus. We urge and encourage regular contact and engagement with Hub Leaders or any members of the Executive. If you have any thoughts or questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

It should be mentioned that to allow for continuity, the positions of the Directors were originally designated to last for the 5-year term of the current PRC. Nevertheless, it was also agreed that the Directors will undergo change before the end of this current term to allow for a seamless transition into the future. Brian and I will inform the membership shortly of succession plans.

In closing we thank you for selecting CBMHR as your preferred PRC, and we look forward to continuing our work with you and your research group throughout the rest of the CBMHR term.

Best wishes.

  • Alan Brichta
    Director (Basic Science)
  • Brian Kelly
    Co-Director (Clinical Science)

Previous Highlights

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