Bachelor of Science (Molecular Biology and Genetics) (Honours)
Currently in the first year of her PhD
"As an undergraduate, you’re not just getting information you could be getting in a textbook, but the latest information about the cutting edge research going on right here in the school. The people who are doing this research are the people you are learning from, so you know you are getting the very best education."
Giselle is a first year PhD student studying under Professor Anthony Weiss. She is an outstanding student who has won many awards and scholarships during the course of her undergraduate studies. We sat down with Giselle to find out what life as a student in the School of Molecular Bioscience is like.
Tell us about your PhD research in the School of Molecular Bioscience.
I am studying tropoelastin, which is the protein responsible for the elasticity of tissues such as skin and blood vessels. I am interested to see how mutant versions of it behave in a cellular environment. I am currently trying to get human eye cells, specifically retinal cells, to express tropoelastin. Mutant expressions of the elastin gene are involved in a number of debilitating neurological diseases such as Menkes and Williams syndrome, so I’m excited about contributing to our general understanding of this protein.
What is your career goal?
I enjoy solving puzzles and would definitely like to continue research work after completing my PhD. But I also have a passion for travel and experiencing new cultures, so I will try to obtain a post-doctoral fellowship overseas and take it from there. At the end of it all, I'd like to be able to look back and think I've contributed something to the scientific body of knowledge.
Why did you decide to study science and biochemistry?
I initially did not know much about molecular biology and biochemistry before I started my undergraduate degree. However, I knew that I loved the thrill of discovery that research offers, as well as the chance to help people as the health sciences do. I took biochemistry courses in my second year as part of my degree and enjoyed them immensely. Another factor was my honours supervisor, Prof Tony Weiss. He was really nice and encouraging and I found his research fascinating. He really inspired me to pursue research in this field.
Is your life as a research scientist what you expected?
Yes and no. Like most people, I thought of scientists as people in white coats, huddled in labs and playing with strange equipment – and in biochemistry that's pretty similar to what you do. What I didn’t realise was just how challenging and rewarding life as a researcher is. The most fulfilling part of scientific endeavour, I think, is having a question and finding your solution. It’s immensely rewarding. This is something you don't experience while sitting through undergraduate lectures.
Tell us about what you still find surprising and exciting about your research.
The thing with science is that everyday is filled with unexpected results. No matter how well you set up an experiment, you never know for sure what the outcome will be. That uncertainty is at the heart of empirical research and it’s what makes science so compelling and interesting. Even a negative result can be progress. You’ve still learnt something new when an experiment doesn’t go the way you hoped, so you never stop being surprised as a researcher.
Is there a particular aspect of the experience offered by the School of Molecular Bioscience that you think stands out from other courses?
I think the high quality of the teaching staff in the school is a real stand out. As an undergraduate, you’re not just getting information you could be getting in a textbook, but the latest information about the cutting edge research going on right here in the school. The people who are doing this research are the people you are learning from, so you know you are getting the very best education.
Another aspect I think is different from other professions is that by the time you finish your degree, you have real experience of what it is like to be a part of the scientific world. I think this is different from other disciplines such as economics and law where an undergraduate degree won’t equip you with that real world experience.
What advice would you give to students thinking of pursuing a career in science?
I think the most important thing is to have a passion for scientific endeavour. Sometimes the work can require dedication and long hours and without that passion it might be hard for some to keep going. The best way to develop that passion is to get an idea about some of the amazing things that scientists can achieve. You can learn about this by talking with lecturers and reading magazines like New Scientist. They showcase some of the most exciting discoveries in science in a way that is accessible and easy to understand.
Are there any extra-curricular activities with which you think students should get involved?
The science faculty has a great student community, with Sci-Soc putting on barbecues and other events. These provide a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and develop networks that will be a lifelong aid in your future career.