What was your undergraduate degree?
I did a Bachelor of Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotech.
When I graduated high school I was really intrigued by chemistry. I was interested in drug research and the pharmaceutical area as a whole. I loved the course.
What did you do when you graduated?
While I was studying I worked in undergrad research to get additional credits. I was working on a project that was about nanoparticles; and it actually opened a door to my Honours project, which then opened the door into my PhD. It’s like a domino effect…
I took a year and a half gap between Honours and PhD. In that time I moved to Sydney and applied for a few jobs. I was offered an intern research assistant position in the lab at UTS, and through that I was inspired – and able – to take on the PhD.
Why UTS, what attracted you to that course?
For some context, if you are interested in picking up a PhD project you have to approach lots of different people and ask them about their projects.
I knew that UTS were running a collaborative project that was focused around nanomaterials. I loved everything I heard about the project and I was really proactive in trying to get my foot in the door as a research assistant. That then opened the door to getting a scholarship into the program; which I received, and I embarked on this nanoparticle project with the supervisors that I have now.
Can you tell me a bit about your PhD project? Assume zero knowledge about nanomaterials.
Nanoparticles are inorganic compounds, they’re gold. In simple terms… we were looking at the uses for gold nanoparticles. The whole project was basically, how we can actually use something that is inorganic for medical applications.
We started off with a different project, but as with a lot of things in science, our early results had us moving in a totally different direction.
So, we started off by looking at gold nanoparticles and conjugating the particles with different surface markers to actually target and judge an asset, which is crucial for cancer and cancer growth.
But that actually didn’t go as well as we want it to so we ended up looking at the innate properties the gold nanoparticle and we actually treated a cell line in obese mice and normal mice with these particles. What we realised was that these particles actually reduced or protected the obese mice from developing inflammatory disease, like diabetes.
It prevents it from developing something called metabolic syndrome.
Wow, that’s incredible. So how do you use those findings in a real world context? Do this research play into pharmaceutical development?
You need to get further funding. The beauty of this nanoparticle and it’s action on the cells is basically that it has an anti-inflammatory or protective effect; but because the mechanism of action is not directly affecting a certain signalling pathway in the cells, the mechanism of action is complicated. There are a few hurdles you need to jump through to validate that your project deserves more funding.
What do you like about the program?
It’s funny, when I started I had no idea that doing a chemistry and pharmaceutical based undergrad degree could actually lead me into nanomaterials, or even the nanotechnology field. I feel like UTS has opened so many doors into nanomedicine for me. I have learnt so much about how nanoparticles can be used for medical applications. The experience, to be honest, blew my mind because while I had done an undergraduate… I have to admit that I learned all my basic lifetime cell culture, animal work and all the techniques relevant to nanomaterial application in the UTS course.
I also love the community. We are a very small division (life science) and all the supervisors and students are really close. We know each other, we attend each other’s seminars, we support each other’s projects…it’s so collaborate. For example, if you need to learn a technique you won’t actually need to go directly go to your supervisor, so many people are happy to help.
I was given the opportunity to teach undergraduate science classes too, and I loved it and really built a lot of career skills from the experience. You are presenting, engaging and teaching; it’s different to just learning something yourself. I loved that we as postgraduate students were able to give back, but also develop our own resumes through the university.
So what came next for you?
Well, I started looking around for postdoc positions but in that process got offered a job!
Where are you working?
I am working for a pharmaceutical company in a sales role. Basically, the company is a pharmaceutical distributor in Australia. We distribute medical research products and our clients are university researchers; your professors, your post docs etc. I got the job because I am obviously able to relate to what they’re doing and quickly understood their projects – whether is it a medical project or whether is it a more nanomaterial project or more chemistry project with a medical application.
To do well in this industry you need to have a really broad knowledge base, because one day you could be talking about a microbiology project with a client in the morning and then a nanoparticle project in the afternoon. I learnt this in my course – I definitely wouldn’t have been equip for the job without this qualification.
Do you have any advice for students interested in in pursuing a PhD?
Go with a project that serves your passion, really step back and question what you are passionate about.
Whether is it cancer, obesity – whether is it autoimmune disease or even an infectious disease like COVID-19; pick an area of passion and start approaching researchers or postdocs or principal investigators and start talking to them. Ask them what they’re doing and how their project has developed; be proactive in being involved. I would encourage students to do it because you will learn a lot from a PhD that you will not learn in the industry. You will be a stronger candidate for any role that you go for. Your research and PhD experience will really expand your opportunity.
My other advice is around network. I joined the Australian Society for Medical Research and became a really active member. For me, I don’t just have to rely on the qualification alone to open doors, because I have a network to support it with. If you can combine qualification with network, you are unstoppable.
A note from Sam: Do you have any questions about the course? We’d be happy to introduce you to someone from the UTS team who can chat to you about the logistics of a postgraduate course. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org xx