Assistant Head of Faculty (Science)
M Teach (Secondary), B SC Hon (Biology)
Stacey Gwilym grew up in the picturesque English towns of Rutland, “England’s smallest and most beautiful county”. At school, Stacey most enjoyed studying Mathematics and Visual Arts, which remain her favourite subjects today. But above all, Stacey developed a deep passion for science, especially Biology. “Science has always felt like a team effort – I like how you can work together with other people on investigations and experiments,” she said.
After sitting through her dreaded Geography and History lessons, Stacey developed a unique perspective on her own learning. “I didn’t establish a relationship with those teachers and that created a disconnect from the beginning. If I picture those classrooms, I was filled with dread because I could see the time ahead of me. With hindsight, these subjects are fascinating, but I never felt connected to the teachers. This experience has informed the kind of educator I want to be,” she said. “I learned the great value of a teacher and how they can completely change your opinion on a subject.” Years later, and as an established teacher, Stacey says she still follows this mantra, “For me, connecting with my students is very important. I take care to get to know them as individuals and show them that I am interested in them and their learning.”
Prior to becoming a Science Teacher, Stacey forged a prominent career as an embryologist in fertility clinics. “After high school, I completed a biology degree with Honours. In the third year, I decided to do my Honours research with an embryologist. I still remember the moment when the Professor took me into his clinical laboratory and I saw my first embryo.” It was at that pivotal moment that Stacey’s career trajectory was clear to her. “I wanted to work in clinical science, specialising in In vitro fertilisation (IVF).”
Stacey launched into her career during an exciting time of development. “I was lucky to be there when new technologies were being developed, such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis. My first job was at Hammersmith Hospital, where I worked with the fabulous Lord Professor Robert Winston, who is a pioneer in the IVF world. He is a surgeon, a researcher and a thespian – you may have seen one of his TV series which includes ‘The Human Body,’ ‘Walking with Caveman’ and ‘Child of Our Time’,” she says.
For Stacey, working as an embryologist was a rewarding career with many avenues to explore. “I loved looking down at a microscope and seeing an embryo that would one day become a baby. The idea that the genetics of that human was predetermined and sitting there Infront of me just blew my mind. I was having fascinating conversations – both philosophically and scientifically – about infertility, genetic testing and technologies we could apply to help patients. This career was so much more than being a scientist in a lab. It was vital for me to be able to communicate clearly and empathetically with patients about their treatment and the science behind treatment decisions.”
Although extremely rewarding, Stacey also shares that a career in IVF had its challenges. “I have experienced some really challenging cases that were highly emotional, conversations about infertility can be heartbreaking. Those days could be heavy.”
After nearly five years of working at Hammersmith Hospital, Stacey and her husband caught the ‘travel bug.’ Stacey explains that “we were looking for a change of scenery and my husband’s work offered him a secondment in Melbourne. So, we packed our bags for a two-year adventure – that was 20 years ago now,” she laughs. Upon landing in Australia, Stacey began working for Melbourne IVF as a Clinical Embryologist, followed by Laboratory Supervisor. “I was managing the day-to-day operations of multiple labs with around 40 embryologists in my team and I learned a lot in my 11 years there.”
As time and her career progressed, Stacey came to a crossroads. “As I took on more leadership responsibilities, I was starting to feel like more of a manager than a scientist at the microscope.” This triggered Stacey to reevaluate her career. “I was torn between studying for a Ph.D. or making another big change. I was looking for a mountain and I realised that if I did a Ph.D. that mountain would bring me back to where I was already sitting in the clinical world. I was looking for a bigger shift.” After some careful consideration, Stacey realised that the part she loved most about her career in IVF was when she could teach a graduate new skills in her lab. “I loved going through the biology and technical skills with them, and teaching them the best practices. This led to me thinking about teaching biology in high schools and using my knowledge to inspire the next generation of scientists.”
While Stacey truly loved her role in clinical laboratories, she wanted to challenge herself to a new career – this led her to joining Mentone Grammar in 2016. “I first came to Mentone Grammar on a tour as a prospective parent, and it just had that busy and energetic feel. I was captivated by the atmosphere of students running around doing what they do best, whether it is academics, Learning Journeys, Sports or Performing Arts… it just feels electric. This school has a similar vibe to a public hospital. Everyone strives for a common goal, and there are multiple different departments working together to create a positive environment and a place of learning. I instantly felt at home and knew this is where I wanted to work.”
“I am proud of my transition into teaching,” Stacey shares. “It was difficult walking away from a role that I loved and had developed years of experience,” she reveals. “However, I was quickly able to utilise my experience in the field and loved how this role made me grow as a teacher, and a person, every single day. There is never a dull moment at Mentone Grammar, which is exactly what I was looking for. Every day there is something different. The students are a fabulous source of energy, and the teachers have such expertise, passion, and commitment to their work.”
When reflecting on International Women’s Day (8 March), Stacey explains “as a female Biologist in IVF, it was a natural fit. I was largely studying the science behind a women’s body, so this tended to draw more women into this career. My team was very focused on diversity and ensured that the best scientists – female and male – were employed to make a difference. Now as a teacher at Mentone Grammar, we also have a strong focus on inclusion, ensuring that every individual feels valued and heard.”
Her advice for female students looking to forge a career in science is simple: “Have the courage to follow your passions and reach your goals. Use the support around you at school, at home, from friends and fellow students to overcome challenges. Get to know yourself and your skills so that you can use these and be what you want to be!”