Talented Student Program
Bachelor of Science (Molecular Biology and Genetics) (Honours)
Involved in the Talented Student Program since first year
"Honours work is a balance between freedom and expectations. Your supervisor expects something from you but you have the freedom to choose how to get there. It's hard work, but it's satisfying because you're given the freedom to solve problems your own way.”
Aaron is a current Honours student in the School of Molecular Bioscience under the supervision of Associate Professor Kevin Downard. He is currently investigating the evolution of pandemic strains of influenza.
What got you interested in studying influenza?
Mostly the Bioinformatics aspect. The School of Molecular Bioscience gave me the opportunity to combine my interest in Biology with programming. That kind of combination is seldom found anywhere else in the University. I'm currently working on an application in order to interpret the Mass Spectrometry data - try to identify where the proteins of a virus come from. This sort of data allows us to understand the type of disease and provides insights as to how to stop it.
This research is related to my work with Proteomics and protein expression. At the moment I'm working with a simple 8-gene virus. The spectrum is still a bit difficult to interpret, especially if you digest the whole virus. The results can be quick and messy, so you need programs to pick it apart and tell you what the data means. I also do a bit of wet lab work on the side as well, so I get a nice mix of the two disciplines.
How do you think the TSP program compares to the other courses that you're going?
In the TSP program you get real hands-on experience, which flows back to your other Undergraduate subjects because you've usually already covered some of the topics being taught in the TSP program; it's like Academic acceleration.
What did you do your work project on?
I studied the expression of CTBP1 target genes in C. elegans with Dr Hannah Nicholas. We looked at how proteins in the worm control gene expression. I relied a great deal on work with microarrays done by a previous Honours student. I tested each potentially up or down-regulated gene in the microarray. This was really useful because in the Undergraduate labs we were doing real-time PCR. The work I did in the TSP really complemented what I did in the other courses.
What were some of the hihglights of/interesting things you learnt from your TSP project?
I made worms glow! I put a fluorescent protein in them that marks the location of expression of a particular protein.
What are you finding to be the highlights of the Honours work that you're doing?
I guess the highlight for me is the kind of success that can be achieved in research. Often things don't progress as you would like in your research. So when you get that breakthrough it feels really great. This is quite different from programming which is more of an iterative process.
I had success recently with the Mass Spectrometer. We decided to try a different enzyme to digest the virus and it appears to have worked. Always with a new enzyme you're not quite sure what will happen. But in this case the gamble padi off so it was a great feeling.
Is the work you're doing in Honours what you expected it would be?
Honours work is a balance between freedom and expectations. Your supervisor expects something from you but you have the freedom to choose how you get there.
It's hard work but it's satisfying because you're given the freedom to solve problems your own way. it requires a high degree of self-motivation but the reward you get at the end is worth it.
What would you say is your favourite thing about studying science?
Making a difference, doing something that can actually be useful and affect other people's lives in a positive way.
What would you recommend for/advice would you give to students who are keen to do a science undergraduate degree in SMB?
Work hard and really be proactive in making opportunities for yourself. The offers that I received to get work experience in the research labs weren't just handed to me. I had to go out and look for them. I volunteered in the Nicholas lab in my first year summer break, went to ANU on a Summer Scholarship for my second year break, and then went to RNS hospital over the break last year. The experiences I have had over the breaks have furthered my learning more than I can say.
You won multiple prizes recently. Tell us about them.
At the School of Molecular Bioscience Annual Awards Ceremony, I was awarded with the 2010 Roslyn Flora Goulston Prize for Biochemistry, which is awarded for the greatest proficiency in Senior Biochemistry. I also received an award for Genetics, and I made the Faculty of Science Dean's List of Excellence, awarded for high marks.
Do you think there's any particular aspect about studying in SMB that stands out from other Departments?
Things are run tightly in SMB, and the lectures are a lot more professionally presented.
What are your ambitions for the future?
Hopefully to complete a PhD. I'm looking to apply to Cambridge. But studying at ANU is another option that I'm pursuing.