How did you join CBNS?
I was already a PhD student in Professor Palli Thordarson’s research group at UNSW when the CBNS was formed, so naturally, I was embedded in the centre once it was up and running.
How would you describe your projects at CBNS?
In my PhD, I was interested in understanding structure-property relationships of small peptides which could self-assemble to form hydrogels. My projects at the CBNS were broken up into many small projects to address various aspects of my thesis question. The projects were challenging, however, gave me exposure to a large suite of techniques and skills.
How did you find working at CBNS and in your research group?
Working within the CBNS was an excellent experience. There were frequent training seminars and workshops which encouraged personal development and a lot of support for Early Career Researchers. The Annual Research Workshops were a really great way to brainstorm ideas, hear about ongoing research at CBNS and meet other people within the Centre.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Thordarson group. Professor Thordarson is a great mentor and has a wealth of knowledge. Within his research group, you are encouraged to explore your own ideas and tackle challenging projects which helps to develop independence as a researcher.
Do you remember the best or worst day of your PhD student’s years or your postdoc?
The best day of my PhD was being accepted to my first international conference in Italy. I was incredibly excited to a) present and talk about my research to an international audience b) visit Europe for the first time. This was a Gordon Research Conference in Self-Assembly and Supramolecular Chemistry and was an absolutely fantastic week of science, networking and socialisation. I also met my current postdoc supervisor (Professor Molly Stevens) for the first time at this conference.
My worst day was in the chemistry lab. I was working with a highly fluorescent dye known as perylenes for a collaborator. This particular purification step required a 3-4 day recrystallisation which had to be repeated twice to purify the compounds (separating regioisomers). I was about to filter the beautiful perylene crystals which had formed after the second recrystallisation. I put the flask down in the fume hood and heard a crack… When I lifted the flask the bottom of the Erlenmeyer flask completely separated from the top and painted my fumehood a bright orange colour. I was about to recover most of the compound but then had to completely repeat the purification process.
Any advice for other PhD students?
When you decide on your PhD project, make your best effort to tailor the project towards your research interests. You will find it much easier to do the research if you are personally motivated to pursue your own ideas. It is an incredibly satisfying achievement to watch a project go from rough ideas on pen and paper to a publication or application.
Completing a PhD might seem like a long time at the start but time flies! Try to get an idea as early as possible as to what kind of careers paths you would be interested in after PhD. Use your PhD as an opportunity to gain as many relevant skills and techniques for the next step of your career.