ABOVE: Dr Carmen Vargas (centre) surrounded by just some of the remarkable female researchers from our team.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2024, our centre takes immense pride in recognising the outstanding achievements of our women researchers.

Among these remarkable individuals is Carmen Vargas Ares, a dedicated and accomplished researcher who has recently completed her PhD journey with RE-FRESH – the Centre of Research Excellence in Food Retail Environments for Health. 

Originally hailing from Mexico, Carmen embarked on a transformative adventure to Australia in 2014, accompanied by her partner Luis Herrera. Their five-year plan to experience the vibrant life of Melbourne took an unexpected turn when Luis received sponsorship from his employer, granting them a four-year VISA. Seizing the opportunity, Carmen pursued a Master of Public Health and International Development while working full-time as a waitress. This step built upon the journey into public health she began in Mexico City, when her Bachelor of Dietetics and Nutrition degree unearthed a passion for social justice values within the field. The diverse work experiences that followed, ranging from collaborating with major food industry players to leading health campaigns, set the stage for her impactful research that followed. 

In May 2021, Carmen joined the Deakin University research team and directed her enthusiasm towards her RE-FRESH-funded PhD, focusing on co-creating interventions in food retail environments. Her vision for change emphasised inclusivity, with a belief that supermarkets can contribute to social responsibility, even without waiting for policy changes. 

Completing her PhD in June 2023 and graduating just last month (February 2024), Carmen reflected on the support she received from her RE-FRESH supervisors, including Prof. Steve Allender, A/Prof. Julie Brimblecombe, and Dr Jill Whelan. Dr. Whelan described Carmen’s resilience and enthusiasm as “infectious” and envisioned a future where Carmen continues to contribute to public health. 

Post-PhD, Carmen is not resting on her laurels. She is currently applying for grants to advance her research and is actively involved in various projects with her colleagues at RE-FRESH. Carmen is also co-chairing a Deakin University unit called Comparative Health Systems. As part of her ongoing efforts, Carmen has also been interviewing members of the Nourish Network; a Deakin University-based multi-sector collective working collaboratively to transform retail practices for the better health of people and planet. This initiative reflects her commitment to understanding stakeholders’ viewpoints and guiding Nourish Network’s offerings to support and grow its impact. 

In a recent Q&A piece, Carmen shared insights into her PhD journey, emphasising the importance of resilience, maintaining a big-picture focus, and the value of progress, regardless of the outcome. She also highlighted the significance of fostering relationships with knowledgeable individuals during the research process. 

Into the future, Carmen envisions herself contributing to meaningful changes in food systems, supporting civil society to advocate for improvements in public health over the next two decades. 

On this International Women’s Day, our centre proudly stands behind Carmen Vargas and other exceptional women researchers, counting them in and investing in their contributions to accelerate progress towards a gender-equal world. 


Publications from Carmen’s PhD, titled “The Theory and Practice of Co-creation to Develop Health-Enabling Initiatives: A Food Retail Perspective”

Carmen has also produced several videos to support her research:  



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