Graduate profile - Nestor Solis
Molecular Biology and Genetics Graduate
Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Molecular Biology and Genetics
Nestor is currently in his fourth year of his Doctor of Philosophy in Science (PhD) at the School of Molecular Bioscience under the supervision of Associate Professor Stuart Cordwell. In his third year of candidature, Nestor has already become a very successful researcher, having recently won the Faculty of Science Postgraduate Research Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement for his work in developing new techniques in proteomic research.
Advice from someone who's been there: "Someone with a WAM of 75 might be a better researcher than someone with a WAM of 95. It's about being able to think on your feet. It's about making good decisions. It's all about independence. It's much more important to be consistent and to be capable of hard work."
Tell us about your research.
Right now I am working on microbial proteomics; focusing on the surface of Staphylococcus aureus (Golden Staph). We've been developing technologies for identifying surface exposed proteins. Surface exposed proteins are important in virulence, immunity, pathogenesis and vaccine development. The difficulty is that they are of very low abundance compared to other classes of proteins and so are much more different to analyse.
What was it about your research that led you to win the Faculty Postgraduate Research Prize?
The award required the publication of a paper after the first 6 months of starting the PhD. I met this criterion by being the first author on a paper that outlined novel experimental control strategies for surface proteomics. The project itself was my initiative and largely directed by myself with great support from my supervisor Associate Professor Cordwell.
The technique that we have been using is called cell shaving. It consists of digesting the surfaces of a number of cells without breaking the cells themselves, and then analysing the supernatants. The novel idea that I came up with was to include a control. Instead of using the cells with the protease, we kept them in the same buffer. When digested we could use them as a background of cell lysis which allowed us to distinguish more clearly what are true surface proteins and which were not. It's fantastic to be given the freedom necessary as a researcher to undertake this kind of cutting edge research.
What got you into science?
It's quite interesting; I've always enjoyed science since high school. I wasn't horrible at arts, but I was much better science. So I knew I wanted to do science because it's what I enjoyed.
I enjoy challenges - I enjoy solving problems. I like to have a job that always makes me think, always makes me read and keep me up to date with what is going on in the field. I didn't want an office job - I wanted to be in the Lab. I like doing experiments. I like finding out what's new. That's why I wanted to become a scientist. Really, I just like challenging myself more than anything. If some beneficial research comes from that then all the better.
Tell us how your undergraduate study at the School of Molecular Bioscience contributed to your passion in science?
I did the Bachelor of Science (Molecular Biology and Genetics) degree. I didn't know what was to come of it when I started. I just knew that I enjoyed it. In second and third year I realized I was more of a biological person and wasn't really into chemistry. By the time I reached third year I had a fairly good view of where I wanted to go. I knew I wanted to do Honours. The undergraduate program really helped with that by exposing us to possible research areas. They always promote Honours from second year onward and expose you to new avenues of research that people in the School are doing.
In third year when I did the proteomics course, I realized that research was what I really wanted to do. That subject in particular really built the basis of my knowledge and equipped me to do Honours. Proteomics is such an applied field in my view. I could see a problem and how to solve it. I realized that proteomics was a new field, with new techniques and huge potential.
Is your life as a research scientists as you expected?
I think so. I enjoy it most of the time. Not the days when it does not work! It's a lot of hard work and some days are more successful than others. Overall it is very rewarding and is exactly what I hoped for.
Is there something you're finding exciting about your research at the moment?
We've currently taken the cell shaving technique that we developed a step forward which is quite exciting. We've developed a model where we take the golden staph cells and then treat some of them with antibiotics so they become resistant. Then we compare the differences on the surfaces of the two groups.
What advice would you give to students thinking of pursuing a career in science?
The first bit of advice that I have is that throughout your undergrad career you should study hard and get the marks required for getting into Honours. This is the first step toward becoming a scientific researcher.
But it's important to be aware that marks are not everything. Someone with a WAM of 75 might be a better researcher than someone with a WAM of 95. It's about being able to think on your feet. It's about making good decisions. It's all about independence. It's much more important to be consistent and to be capable of hard work.
Is there a particular aspect of the experience offered by the School of Molecular Bioscience that stands out from other course?
I think that what stands out the most is that this School really shows a strong desire for students to learn. They strive from first year to teach the students how to do molecular biology and the techniques involved in laboratory work. The dedicated teaching staff - in particular Dale Hancock and Jill Johnston - provide incredible support to any student wanting to do well in their undergraduate career.
The other thing that gives the School of Molecular Bioscience a strong advantage is that the labs are really well designed and directly relevant to the things that you learn. Many of the things you would do in other labs would have little correlation with what you would do in the lecture series. This connection between the practical and the theoretical really made it much easier to work through and understand the material.