Passion for advancing research


Dr Joanna Diong discusses the impact the PRF has had on advancing research and, ultimately, patient care. She encourages others to join the Grants Review Committee. 

Dr Joanna Diong joined the Physiotherapy Research Foundation (PRF) Grants Review Committee (GRC) six years ago, keen to give back to the profession that helped establish her research career.

Now, after hundreds of hours reviewing and discussing applications, Joanna’s tenure on the GRC has come to a close.

Along with Dr Natalie Collins (chair, 2016–19), Associate Professor Catherine Granger and Dr Joanne Kemp, Joanna is stepping down from scientifically advising the PRF investment in research that helps direct future clinical practice.

With applications open for physiotherapists to join the GRC, the respected researcher is proud and honoured to have served the PRF, which has supported physiotherapy research and research-related initiatives since 1988.

Under the guidance of the GRC, the Foundation awards seeding grants and targeted grants to support innovative research to advance physiotherapy knowledge and practice.

Along with Joanna, fellow physiotherapists serving on the GRC work in leading research institutions across Australia.

As a past recipient of a PRF grant, she knows first-hand the effect it can have not only in advancing research, but also in encouraging young physiotherapists to pursue their career.  She doesn’t take lightly the impact she and others have had on advancing the profession.

‘I felt, and still do feel, this support for emerging research is especially important for early- and mid-career researchers. The funding landscape is very competitive and it can be difficult for young, bright researchers with good ideas to get a leg in the door when they have to compete against senior researchers with impressive track records.’

Seven years on, Joanna is senior lecturer at the School of Medical Sciences, The University of Sydney.

Her work focuses on understanding the mechanisms of impaired movement in neurological conditions, and good scientific practices.

She is passionate about research quality and transparency and has broad interests in evidence-based practice; and credits the PRF for its support in advancing her career, and its role in ensuring that people who seek treatment receive the best possible clinical care.

‘I wanted to contribute my skills and interests more broadly to the physiotherapy profession, and felt that serving on the PRF GRC was a good way to do that,’ Joanna says.

‘The PRF considers applications from all researchers, and GRC members are careful to consider applicants’ merits relative to opportunity and career stage. This can be a real boost to up-and-coming researchers. 

‘(And) the findings from research studies supported by the Foundation, whether they are from basic or clinical research, are meant to benefit physiotherapy clinicians, researchers, and ultimately the people we treat. So it is important that the PRF supports the best emerging and current research.’

Associate Professor Cathy Said, chair of the PRF GRC, says each retiring member ensured grant applications received a fair and equitable review, guaranteeing that funds entrusted to the PRF were spent wisely.

‘While it is sad to see current committee members leave, it provides an opportunity for new people to join. Some of the responsibilities of committee members include reviewing assigned grants, sourcing independent external reviewers for grants and participating in Grant Review Committee teleconferences.

'I’d like to thank Joanna, Natalie Collins, Catherine Granger and Joanne Kemp for their contribution as members of the GRC over the last six years, and in particular Natalie for her contribution as chair of the GRC for four years.

‘Natalie oversaw a number of changes to the grant review process, including the introduction of an expression of interest process, which has helped streamline the grant application process and minimise burden on the applicant and GRC members.‘

Reflecting on the achievements during her tenure, Joanna says it is time for her peers to help steer future research.

While she hopes incoming members get as much out of the role as she has, the responsibility does require hard work and commitment. 

‘But the long-term benefits to the physiotherapy profession, and to patients and those under our care will pay off.’

Cathy Said agrees, adding that involvement with the GRC also offers an opportunity to ‘increase understanding’ of the grant review process. 

‘Including some of the things grant reviewers look for, and learning from other more experienced researchers within the Committee. We wish our outgoing members all the best in their future endeavours.’

Joanna believes her contribution as scientific advisor was the ‘single greatest benefit of being part of the committee’.

‘I also appreciated the opportunities to review many high-quality grant applications, as well as the collegiality and shared discussions during panel meetings.

'It is an incredible opportunity to shape how the physiotherapy profession advances by influencing what research gets funded and why.’

Apart from these achievements, strengthening incentives for high-quality research through revising the PRF grant scoring criteria was a key highlight.

The revision, she says, brought the PRF into alignment with major funders such as the National Health and Medical Research Council, which had also moved to place more weight on research quality and transparency.

‘This allows applicants to write to those criteria, and GRC members to score applications against them. It is comparatively easy to award funding based on a history of grants, awards and publications, but these do not necessarily demonstrate the effort that researchers go through to ensure their research is rigorous, unbiased, and transparent.’

From her own experience of encouraging high-quality research and influencing the direction of the physiotherapy profession, Joanna encourages peers with an interest in contributing to physiotherapy to apply for a GRC position.

‘Serving on the PRF GRC is a great opportunity to help position the physiotherapy profession well for the future.

'Yes, it is a commitment and takes effort, but it is worth the returns. If you share this vision and are prepared to commit, please do apply.’ 

>> Want to follow Joanna Diong’s lead and advance research? The PRF is calling for nominations for four vacancies on the Grants Review Committee. Email Jenine Fleming, PRF Administration Officer, at for a nomination form or further details. Nominations close Thursday, 15 October 2020.


© Copyright 2018 by Australian Physiotherapy Association. All rights reserved.