I’ve always been a fan of science, although when I was younger it didn’t really matter what the topic was so long as I could really immerse myself in it. Teachers have always had a big impact on my learning experiences and it was my teacher in Years 11-12 who got me hooked on chemistry. She was just so enthusiastic and really engaged with us all! Her analogy for electrochemistry, a pool with a conveyer belt at the edge where “as a person gets in the pool they put their swimming costume on the belt and then someone else takes it at the other end of the pool on their way out”, has strangely enough stayed with me (I’m smiling even now at the memory).
Aside from teachers and the topic itself, I really did (and still do) enjoy the practical side of science. The fact that in most cases you can learn something new and then prove or demonstrate it to yourself just makes it more real and hence relevant somehow! So it came as no surprise to my friends and family when I ended up in a laboratory doing research for my PhD.
In third year we did practicals in all three major branches of chemistry and the area that hit a chord with me was organic. Although some of my friends lament the fact that all the compounds you make in organic chemistry are white, unless you’ve done something wrong, I love the fact that it’s not unlike cooking (only you definitely wouldn’t want to lick the bowl…or beaker). I’ve always been inspired by research that has a relevant end goal, and my PhD centres around trying to find new drug leads against some of the most deadly organisms in the world today. In particular I am making compounds to try to combat Tuberculosis and African Sleeping Sickness. The hope that our research could eventually help millions of people is highly motivating. The bigger picture is what keeps you going.
One of the greatest parts of my PhD has been the collaborations and conferences. We work with biologists over in Auckland, New Zealand and I have had the opportunity to go and learn some enzymatic assays, keeping my other love, Biology (yes I know, shocking), alive. I’ve also been able to attend conferences within Australia and overseas in awesome countries like Belgium, Greece and England. Seeing the work that others are doing in and out of your field is really amazing and reminds you of all the things in chemistry that have yet to be solved or synthesised.
Apart from the research it’s been really great to be able to try to impart the enthusiasm for chemistry I got from my teachers by being a Teaching Fellow during my PhD. I tutor first year students and help stop them from drowning in all the new information they suddenly find themselves bombarded with. It’s great when you explain something to them in a different way and then *click*, you literally see the light bulb appear above their heads. It can be very rewarding and also gives you a break from the lab when things aren’t going to plan.
I’m almost at the end of my PhD now, the light at the end of the tunnel has been sighted and I am looking forward to heading off for a post-doctoral position overseas, continuing my chemistry learning experience.