Balancing Life as a Young Mother and a Biomedical Researcher

Meet Michaela Yuen

Female scholars pointed out family and domestic responsibilities as major sources of work-life conflict. Women in their early and mid-career levels are more likely to perceive work-life balance as a struggle between family and work commitments. In this article, Dr Michaela Yuen, a UNSW Women and Maths Champion, shares her career journey as an early career researcher and maintaining a commitment to her family.

Michaela “Michi” Yuen is an Early Career Researcher (ECR) in the School of Biotechnology & Biomolecular Sciences at UNSW. Michi is a biomedical researcher passionate about understanding genetic neuromuscular disorders, particularly disorders affecting the muscle contractile apparatus. Michi has always been fascinated by the biomechanics and biophysics of skeletal muscles and how the structure of muscle tissue relates to its function in health and disease. The fact that her work has a real-world impact has been an especially important driving force and a constant motivator: Michi’s work on inherited neuromuscular disorders informs the clinical care of affected individuals by providing a genetic diagnosis and contributing to understanding the molecular mechanism of disease. Her work constitutes the critical first step in preparation for the development of targeted therapies, which are currently completely lacking.

Michi’s Journey towards Being a Biomedical Researcher

Michi obtained her undergraduate degree in biomedicine and biotechnology at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria. She first travelled to Australia as part of a summer studentship at the Institute for Neuroscience and Muscle Research, Kids Research, and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead with Prof. Kathryn North, an accomplished clinician-researcher in the neuromuscular field. She had a wonderful experience during the summer program and thus decided to return to complete a second research project as part of her Biomedicine and Biotechnology master’s degree and eventually enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Sydney within the same group.

After she completed her PhD, she received a prestigious CJ Martin National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) early career research fellowship. This fellowship provided salary support for four years of post-doctoral training, two years overseas at the Department of Physiology, University Medical Centers (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), followed by two years at the Kids Neuroscience Center, Children’s Hospital at Westmead, with her current mentor, Prof. Sandra Cooper. This ECR fellowship allowed Michi to study the genetic basis and molecular mechanisms of disease in a variety of skeletal muscular disorders. Her work involved biomechanical assessments of muscle contractile function, the analysis of patients’ DNA, RNA, and muscle samples, as well as establishing and assessing cell culture models of neuromuscular disease.

Building a Strong Collaborative Environment as a Researcher

Michi pointed out that, for her, one of the best parts of working on rare muscle disorders is that researchers in this field support a positive, friendly, and collaborative environment where the well-being of the patient is front and centre. Through her PhD and Postdoctoral work, Michi has formed strong connections with several leaders in her field. These professional relationships provide an avenue of support for Michi to build her confidence as an early career researcher. They offer a greater and more impactful reach of her work to the research community and the general public. A strong collaborative environment is critical for overcoming the big challenges that researchers, such as Michi, face when studying rare genetic conditions.

A glimpse of Michi’s work

Since every patient is unique, every genetic muscle disorder is also incredibly unique. The work Michi does is targeted towards each patient, and most laboratory tests she performs are specific to the variant found in the patient’s genome. However, while each genetic condition is extremely rare, collectively, rare genetic disorders affect 1 in 50 individuals worldwide, meaning the work of Michi and her colleagues and collaborators is incredibly important. Since Michi studies genetic disorders caused by variants in many different genes, her research is very diverse, making her a bit of a “Jack of all trades, master of none”. While this is demanding, Michi enjoys this complex and dynamic research area, which allows her to dive into various methodologies and technologies.

The ultimate goal of Michi’s research is to diagnose, understand, and eventually develop a therapy specifically designed for each patient. Despite the challenging nature of working the extra mile for individual cases, she finds excitement in knowing that genetic therapies are becoming more available each day. She hopes that one day people working in this area will get better and faster at it and make a real difference in helping debilitated people participate easily in life—either to breathe, swallow, or stand.

Challenges as an Early Career Researcher

Being an ECR is tough. ECRs often have to juggle multiple projects, teaching, and other commitments. As a researcher, Michi is currently working on five different projects focusing on different genetic variants in individuals with neuromuscular conditions. Michi is working across several institutions, including UNSW, the Children’s Medical Research Institute, and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Her self-management strategy to handle the often overwhelming amount of work is to not always pick the ‘easy task’ but to focus on the task with the most impact, even if it is challenging. She uses this strategy not only to prioritize the research projects she is working on but also in other areas with conflicting priorities, such as undergraduate teaching and mentoring research students.

Managing Work-Life Balance

Outside of academic life, Michi is a mother of two. She starts her day by cooking breakfast, making lunch boxes, preparing her sons for school and doing school drop-offs. Having a supportive husband makes the juggle between home and work much easier, but it nonetheless feels impossible sometimes.

Michi enjoys being surrounded by nature.

In addition to work and family routines, Michi loves to stay active and be connected with nature. Her favourite sport is horseback riding. For Michi, horseback riding is not only a great way to stay fit, but it also allows her to decompress after a stressful day at work. Since horses are very sensitive creatures, working with them makes Michi aware of any imbalances in her emotional state, forcing her to reflect and overcome negative feelings. She also enjoys gardening and being surrounded by nature. Michi is very passionate about understanding how everything in the ecosystem is connected. She feels strongly about teaching the next generation to understand the value of the natural world, treat it with respect, and protect it.

Don’t Give Up!

As a young mother working in STEM, she shared how challenging it is to get back on track following maternity leave. Her biggest challenges were to regain momentum in her research and to cope with the disruptions inherent in caring for young children. Michi expressed that young women working in STEM can find invaluable support to overcome these challenges by working within a well-set-up supportive research group and taking advantage of strong mentors and role models, as well as support programs offered by research institutions and universities. She also encouraged all women in STEM to keep pursuing their passion and not give up.

Even if it’s sometimes a bit hard and there are a lot of roadblocks as a woman in science, if you’re sufficiently passionate about what you do, you’ll be able to overcome those. AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY, IT WILL BE WORTH IT!”

Get in touch with Michi through her social networks:
Twitter: @YuenMichaela
Instagram: @michi.yuen

Blog 2023: A Safe Space to Share!


Greetings to all readers of the UNSW Women in Maths and Science blog! As we venture into a new year and chapter for 2023 cohort-8 and 9, we are ready to introduce the current editorial team that will keep you updated with inspiring and refreshing stories within the community of UNSW; but first…. some interesting news!!

As reported by the STEM Equity Monitor, Women’s enrolment in STEM higher education has shown a positive trend during the past years, with a 24% increase from 2019-2020 compared to a 9% increase for men. This is a promising start considering how women who chose STEM as their field in higher education relied on their interest and confidence within the field. However, the confidence level of women in STEM decreases with time and only 29% of those who complete further studies are employed in STEM occupations, compared to 37% of men. How do we boost women’s confidence to remain in STEM?

 As your new blog editors, we aim to explore and address this question throughout our journey together, by witnessing and sharing inspirational stories of remarkable champions – women who believed in their passion and pursued their potential, ultimately becoming part of the UNSW Women in Maths and Science program. The program has been created with the scope of enhancing the confidence and leadership skills of the participants by attending a series of workshops and outreach activities with the overarching goal of creating a wider community and becoming advocates and role models for the next generation of women and girls in STEM. 

We are here to support and strengthen the community together. Even more, we’d like to support you to share insights related to your research or other interest area with a broader audience outside the community. It is a safe space to share! Now, it is time to introduce ourselves:

Rola Gbayo


Hello! I am Rola Gbayo, a Visiting Fellow in the School of Chemistry at UNSW.  My current research on the mechanism of organic reactions in ionic liquids involves kinetic analyses using NMR spectroscopy to monitor the progress of reactions, along with synthetic organic and analytical chemistry, and aims to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of organic processes employed in the chemical industry, using this knowledge to design solvents that can effectively control reaction outcomes such as increasing reaction yield and optimizing isolation.  

Asides from my present role as a researcher, I am a chemistry educator (University of Lagos, Nigeria) involved in higher education curriculum development and teaching a variety of chemistry courses. I am passionate about undergraduate education and serve as a mentor to students, helping them develop their research interests and achieve success in the field.  

Being an editor of this year’s program blog, though without a formal background in journalism, gives me a platform to highlight the experiences and achievements of women and girls in STEM (including myself), to provide role models and mentors for young women who are interested in pursuing careers in these fields. I believe that by showcasing the incredible work of female scientists, engineers, and technologists, we can inspire a new generation of STEM leaders and help to create a more inclusive and diverse STEM workforce that reflects the full range of human talent and potential. 

Outside work, I love being a wife and a mother, spending time with my family engaging in several fun activities such as seeing movies, cooking, serving Christ and shopping.  


Yongxin Lyu 


Hello! I am a PhD candidate in the School of Materials Science & Engineering. My passion lies in the fascinating world of perovskites – a material with extraordinary optoelectronic properties. Instead of making perovskites in the lab, I use computational tools to virtually design perovskite models and use supercomputers to measure them. By using computational-guided materials discovery, I aim to identify new perovskite compositions that can revolutionize solar cell technology. 

The freedom to explore new things is what I find most thrilling about science. I enjoy playing around with atoms and crystal structures and using supercomputers to carry out fascinating simulations. While I’m naturally a shy and quiet person, I’m making an effort to have my own voice and reach out to the world. As an editor of the program blog, I hope to gain experience in sharing my ideas with others, and I hope to start my own blog someday.  

When I’m not exploring the world of perovskites, I enjoy pursuing my hobbies. I am a music enthusiast and can play a little bit of piano, guitar, and jazz drums. I also enjoy staying active through yoga, Pilates, and squash. Recently, I’ve taken up surfing, which has been a fun and challenging new adventure. 

Google Scholar:

Giulia Silvani


I’m Giulia, an early career researcher in the School of Material Science and Engineering at UNSW.  
My research focus is on the development of engineered biological platform to mimic vascularized tumour tissue and study the role of dynamic biophysical cues in molecular mechanism driving tumour cell invasiveness and metastasis.

The scientific journey that I’ve undertook to be here today, in this exciting university and working environment, has been one of the best adventures of my life and I’m grateful to take part of the Women in Maths and Science Champions Program 2023 so that I can share my experience and encourage girls and young women to pursue a career in science. I believe that without the inputs of women scientists and the unique perspectives they bring, scientific innovation and development will remain limited, and so will be our ability to address important challenges for the future of humanity.

As one of the new blog editors, I aim to provide visibility to everyone passionate about science, to promote their work and inspire future generations of scientists.  

If I’m not in the lab, you can find me cooking, playing piano or planning my next trip around the world. Although I haven’t been everywhere, it’s definitely on my list!! 

Research gate : 

Anikó Tóth

Hi everyone! I’m Anikó Tóth, a postdoctoral fellow in the Centre for Ecosystem Science within the School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences. My research revolves around understanding how ecosystems function, what makes them unique, and the ways in which they respond to rapid change. This includes a variety of research activities, such as measuring community structure during times of rapid change and modelling the health trajectories of ecosystems under future climate scenarios. Though my present role is focused on research, I am passionate about mentoring young people. I was lucky enough to have incredible women role models on my journey as a scientist, and I owe it to them to pay it forward! I enjoy helping others find the wonder and empowerment that science has given me, and being an editor for the blog this year will be a perfect avenue to give voice to my experiences and those of others.  

Outside of work, I am mum to a beautiful one-year-old son. I love all forms of arts and crafts, particularly drawing and painting. I keep things interesting dabbling in all kinds of sports (sometimes with baby in tow!). Figure skating, ultimate frisbee, kite surfing, aerial silks, diving, and skiing are some of my all-time favourites. I am passionate about work but never forget to live a little too 😊 


Yessi Affriyenni


Hi, everyone! I am a PhD candidate from the School of Physics. I am working on Physics Education Research (PER) focusing to explore the implementation of Research-Based Instructional Strategies (RBIS) for second-year physics education. Instead of doing it in a classic way—comparing conventional and active learning methods—my focus is to explore students’ and lecturers’ perceptions towards the employed methods in the classroom. Unique interactions between these methods and other factors such as course characteristics and the changes throughout the years are also being explored. Hopefully, it can be useful to improve the quality of teaching specifically for Physics and STEM in general. 

Science is always an interesting field of study and I love helping people to find the enjoyment I feel. Being an academic in my home country for four years before deciding to continue my study towards PhD, made me realize how happy I am to help others find their happiness and passion in science. While many people think that science is more related to abstract tiny things, it is always fun to realize that science is everywhere and applicable in daily life. Thus, working towards reforming science education in my home country—Indonesia—is one of my life goals once I finish my PhD. 

In addition to working in science education, I love doing other activities too. Cherishing the process, I’ve been consistently knitting garments for around ten years now, mainly for my four-year-old son. I also enjoy playing badminton to release excess energy, especially when life gets hard, smashing negative thoughts. Hopefully, by being an editor I can unleash my hidden potential—hopefully in writing if I have—and share positive things with the readers. 

Research Gate: 

Vanessa Huron

Hi everyone, I’m Dr Vanessa Huron. I realised my passion for translating research findings into educational learning while I was completing my PhD in Microbiology through the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, a platform from which I got involved in teaching various courses across Science, Medicine, and Engineering  

This love has stayed with me seven years later and I am fortunate to be working in a mixed education and research role within the School of Aviation, Faculty of Science. My research focuses on human factors and safety, accessibility management, and educational design and delivery applied across several domains, including psychosocial hazards and work re-design, safety and risk management, and digital technologies. In my educational role, I am delivering key initiatives for the School of Aviation’s undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, work-integrated learning, and life-long learning portfolios.  

As a first-generation Australian woman hailing from South-West Sydney and the first to graduate from university in my family, I am passionate about supporting women and low SES communities to dream of and actualise a career in STEM. 

Outside of work, I am very active, practising yoga, Pilates, and barre. I also love to cook and bake and watch food documentaries in between for inspiration. I am also a reptile mum to a nine-year-old Central bearded dragon named Toothless, who loves to sleep and eat crickets, capsicum and raspberries. 


Stay tuned for our upcoming blog posts that will showcase the brilliance of our Women in Maths and Science Champions. We’ll be sharing their inspiring stories, fascinating discoveries, and keen insights.

Before we wrap up, we want to give a big shout-out to all the incredible women who have generously shared their experiences and thoughts with us. Your voices are the driving force behind the change we’re aiming for, and we truly appreciate your contributions.

Thank you for being part of this amazing community. Get ready to embark on this thrilling adventure with us!