Meet your researchers

Meet your researchers

By Dr Caleb Wegener

Dr Caleb Wegener has a PhD in footwear biomechanics and is a registered podiatrist. He is currently employed at Uvex Safety as Head of Product Management and has an honorary research appointment at the Faculty of Health Science at the University of Sydney.

Dr Fiona Hawke

Dr Fiona Hawke is a lecturer in podiatry at the University of Newcastle, with a PhD in medicine from the University of Sydney. She is currently working two days per week to raise a family. Trained as a podiatrist at the University of Western Sydney, Fiona graduated 13 years ago.

Dr Fiona Hawke talks with Dr Caleb Wegener, Head of Product Management Footwear at UVEX Safety Australia and New Zealand.

Dr Caleb Wegener lifts the lid on his current area of research – how safety footwear design features can affect workers’ walking economy and biomechanical gait adaptations.

What are you working on at the moment?

My current area of research investigates how safety footwear design features can affect workers’ walking economy and biomechanical gait adaptations.


Where do you do your research?

I have an honorary appointment in the Faculty of Health Sciences, at the University of Sydney. The Faculty of Health Sciences campus has just relocated to the main campus and I’m looking forward to getting data collected in the all new purpose-built building and laboratories.  I am also currently employed at UVEX Safety as Head of Product Management, Footwear.


How could your research change clinical practice?

Safety footwear is the only footwear that patients can be legally required to wear, since it falls under the SafeWork Acts. For these patients, they spend the majority of their time in this footwear which can easily exceed 50 hours a week. Our research looks to better harmonise safety footwear design with workers’ foot function to improve workers’ quality of life and foot health. Recommending footwear is a key role of clinical practice and recommending the right footwear for workers to wear can have a significant impact on patient outcomes.


What first got you interested in research?

I have always had an interest in footwear. When I was a pre-schooler I would walk around and check people’s footwear to see how good their ‘traction’ was.  Recently my mum had been de-cluttering my childhood home and she handed me my creative writing book from primary school and said, ‘You might like this’. It had two stories of shoes in it, one was on a running shoe and the other was about a soccer boot. I have always been interested in ‘why’ in most areas of my life. So, when I decided to change from studying engineering to podiatry (to be able to apply what I was learning in atmospheric and water dynamics to the body) it made sense to answer questions in an area that I had been passionate about for such a long period of time. Since then I have always had some research going on even when I was working clinically or now when I am working in the industry. 


How have things changed since then?

My research career is not that long, so things have not changed that much since I first started doing research. My research has always been related to footwear, but the patient cohort and methodologies have varied significantly in order to answer the specific research question. The research hardware that we use to quantify the effects of footwear on the body has not changed that much either, but they have all become a lot more user-friendly over time.

I would like to see closer links between clinicians, clinical researchers, and fundamental research. I would also like to see better linkage between industry and university research.

What else would you like to see change?

I would like to see closer links between clinicians, clinical researchers, and fundamental research. I would also like to see better linkage between industry and university research.


Do you have a research mentor?

Professor Joshua Burns has been a mentor of mine throughout my career. Josh is now the Head of School and Dean at the Sydney School of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney, and we still stay in touch. He supervised my honours research and also co-supervised my PhD. Despite his heavy workload he always had time to discuss the big and little issues that are inevitably experienced during the research process.


Two areas of advice that really stuck with me is that the research has to pass the ‘so what’ test, and that methodology is king. The research needs to answer a meaningful question and the methodology has to be watertight to be confident in the results. These learnings are things that I have carried into other areas of my life, which on the surface would not have anything to do with scientific research.     


What are the best parts of being a researcher?

That moment when you first run the statistics and find out the answer to the research question. That moment is the culmination of all the work that has gone before it and you finally get the answer to the question that you have been looking so intensely at.  The unfortunate bit is that there is still a lot of work to be done from there to finish the research and disseminate the results.


What are the most challenging parts of being a researcher?

Time. Research is now only a part of what I do and it is a related side project to my job that pays the mortgage. Actually, even when research was my main priority, time was always the greatest pressure. Clinical research is a labour-intensive process and resources typically restrict research output the most. 


 What advice would you give a clinical podiatrist wanting to get involved in research?

If you have a clinical question that you have not been able to find an answer to, I encourage you to reach out to a researcher in the area. Getting involved in research might seem daunting but it is often not as complicated as many people think. Lots of clinical questions can be answered with simple research methods. An experienced researcher can help guide you through the process and the reward in finally answering that question that has been bugging you for all that time is very rewarding.


What keeps you going outside of podiatry?

I have a wife and two kids that are aged seven and ten, and they keep me on my toes. We enjoy a lot of outdoor activities together as a family including skiing in the winter, mountain biking and bushwalking. I still like to get out for a run every day to clear my head and stay reasonably fit. It is the time that I do most of my thinking for the day.


If you weren't a podiatrist researcher, what would you be?

Good question. I studied environmental engineering before changing to podiatry so maybe something in that area.


Where do you think your research interests will lead you next?

My current area of interest is about reducing pain rates in workers and I have enough unanswered questions in this area to keep my mind active for the foreseeable future.