Dr Katie Owens, NYSF 2004 Alumna — A Global Career

Dr Katie Owens attended the NYSF in 2004 and has gone on to have a career in Pharmaceutical research that has taken her around the world.

“Attending the NYSF in Canberra was an incredible experience that I will never forget. I was so inspired by the scientists, Rotarians and other students that were involved in the programme. The NYSF truly motivated me to pursue a career in research. I was also fortunate enough go on the Russian Scientific Study Tour hosted by the All-Russian Youth Aerospace Society as part of the international program, and returned to the NYSF in 2005 as a student staff member.

I count myself very fortunate to work in a dynamic research field with an excellent team of scientists and health professionals. Attending the NYSF played a signficant part in motivating me to pursue an exciting career in science research.

“After finishing high school in Maroochydore, Queensland, I enrolled as a Health Sciences first year student at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. At the end of the year I was accepted into the School of Pharmacy. While studying a Bachelor of Pharmacy, I became interested in research and was able to undertake two summer research studentships during my degree. I thoroughly enjoyed studying at Otago. In my opinion the student lifestyle in Dunedin is second to none. After graduating in 2008, I completed the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand EVOLVE Internship Programme in a community pharmacy in Dunedin.

“In 2010, I received a School of Pharmacy Departmental Award Postgraduate Scholarship at the University of Otago. My PhD project was in the area of clinical pharmacology in patient populations. I also worked part-time as a community pharmacist and undergraduate tutor. I presented my PhD research at several conferences during my PhD (in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Italy).

“After submitting my thesis in 2013, I moved to Paris, France to start a postdoc in the Division of Clinical Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacometrics at the Institut de Recherches Internationales Servier. My project involved developing pharmacometric models of drug response in lymphoma patients, which further developed my skill set and gave me valuable experience in the pharmaceutical industry. On a personal note, it allowed my husband and I to live in Paris, learn French and travel.

The DIDB Program Team at the ISSX Conference, Orlando — Florida (Katie left)

“Since 2015, I have been working as a Research Scientist at the Drug Interaction Database (DIDB) Programme in the Department of Pharmaceutics at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA. The DIDB is an online knowledgebase that is currently used by a large number of pharmaceutical companies, regulatory agencies, contract research organizations and academic institutions worldwide. My role is to manually curate pre‑clinical and clinical drug interaction studies from scientific publications and documentation from the US Food and Drug Administration.

“I count myself very fortunate to work in a dynamic research field with an excellent team of scientists and health professionals. Attending the NYSF played a signficant part in motivating me to pursue an exciting career in science research.”

NYSF 2017 Session A: Human Centred Computing

Nikola Poli (left) and Declan Rixon (right) in the lab

In Session A, NYSF 2017 participants ventured over to the Research School of Computer Science at ANU for a workshop and presentation on Human Centred Computing.

Human Centred Computing (HCC) is based around optimizing computing for people. It is concerned with the function of the computer just as much as it is concerned with ergonomics and the understanding of humans.

After a short introduction to the basics of HCC, students were free to roam around and the lab and look at some of the devices that the PhD students there had been working on.

Human Centered Computing

They had some pretty cool stuff on display, one being an eye tracking exercise through which you can navigate a computer by eye movements alone.

This technology could have an application for people who are unable to use their hands to navigate, but can also be used to learn what kind of information attracts attention on screen, and what doesn’t.

The eye gazing data can also be combined with measurements of heart rate and endodermal activity, then analysed using deep learning or neural network technology to paint a picture of how the content on the screen is making the user feel.

Eye gazing technology

This is the project of PhD student Chris from the Research School of Computer Science at ANU, who had a bit to say about career paths and life in computer science and software engineering:

“Everybody uses technology. Our graduates go off everywhere to big banks, startups and so on. There are always new ways to apply the way of thinking, and there are a wide range of things that IT can apply to.”

“My work is to research into how people use websites, read emails and so on, but the way you configure it could make it good for many things such as self-driving cars or finding a cancer tumour. The basis is the same – neural networks are able to iterate and learn by themselves.”

There are always new ways to apply the way of thinking, and there are a wide range of things that IT can apply to.

Another cool device they had was the Myo PowerPoint arm band, which when strapped to your forearm can monitor the electrical activity of your nerves and allow you to navigate a slideshow using hand gestures.

Double tap your thumb and index finger to go to the next slide, flick your wrist to go back, clench your fist and turn to zoom it. A built in gyroscope even allows you to use your fingertip as a laser pointer!

A very stoked Tom Wright (NYSF student) learning to navigate a PowerPoint presentation with hand gestures

The students left the lab today feeling pretty blown away I think. Myself included. The work that they’re doing here is super cutting edge and exciting, and I can’t wait for the day that I can write these articles with my eyeballs.

By Jackson Nexhip, NYSF 2017 Session A Communications Intern and NYSF 2013 Alumnus

Sense of community through the NYSF

I attended the NYSF in 2009 (Einstein), before completing a Bachelor of Global and Ocean Sciences (Hons.) at the Australian National University (ANU) – where I’ve since been working on my PhD at the Research School of Earth Sciences, which I hope to finish towards the end of next year.

SHRIMP Lab, Research School of Earth Sciences, ANU

SHRIMP Lab, Research School of Earth Sciences, ANU

The NYSF certainly opened my eyes to what was actually possible for those of us who wanted to pursue STEM careers. However, for me the most valuable aspects of NYSF were the emergent phenomena – those which simply arise once you assemble 140-odd budding science enthusiasts under the same roof and take them to the frontiers of modern research. A sense of community arose from mutual curiosity and sincere excitement towards understanding how the world works (and a healthy dose of chanting). Of the many things NYSF offered, this was the most encouraging. Indeed, my interactions with the scientific community at ANU and across the world remain the most enjoyable aspect of my research today.

For me the most valuable aspects of NYSF were the emergent phenomena – those which simply arise once you assemble 140-odd budding science enthusiasts under the same roof and take them to the frontiers of modern research.

For my PhD, I’m currently attempting to constrain some of the geochemical systematics of seafloor hydration and subduction dehydration processes within oceanic crust. On a broad scale, these processes enable the generation of arc magmas within subduction zones, which are key to the formation and growth of the modern continental crust.

As part of this, I’m involved in an International Ocean Discovery Program expedition (Expedition 357: Atlantis Massif Serpentinization and Life), which recovered samples from near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge using seafloor drilling. Through this expedition I’ve already had opportunities to travel to Germany, Switzerland, France and Texas and to discuss my research with leading researchers across the world. My continuing work on rock samples recovered from the seafloor aims to constrain the evolution of alteration and hydration processes as the rocks are brought to the seafloor with increasing crustal extension. To do this, I’m using a novel combination of in-situ oxygen isotope (using SHRIMP), trace element, noble gas and halogen measurements.

Onshore science party for IODP Expedition 357 (I’m second from the top-right). The science party for the expedition is led by Co-Chief Scientists Prof. Gretchen Früh-Green (ETH Zürich, Switzerland) and Dr. Beth Orcutt (Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Maine, USA), and is distinctly multinational and multidisciplinary. Notably, the expedition is the first to have a female-dominated science party and one of the first to have two female Co-Chiefs. The 31 scientists conducting research as part of the expedition are from 13 different countries and include PhD students, post-doctoral fellows and tenured professors. Photo credit: V. Diekamp, MARUM

Onshore science party for IODP Expedition 357 (I’m second from the top-right). The science party for the expedition is led by Co-Chief Scientists Prof. Gretchen Früh-Green (ETH Zürich, Switzerland) and Dr. Beth Orcutt (Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Maine, USA), and is distinctly multinational and multidisciplinary. Notably, the expedition is the first to have a female-dominated science party and one of the first to have two female Co-Chiefs. The 31 scientists conducting research as part of the expedition are from 13 different countries and include PhD students, post-doctoral fellows and tenured professors. Photo credit: V. Diekamp, MARUM

In addition to this, I’m working on relict oceanic rocks from Lago di Cignana (NW Italy), which have experienced the geological journey of a lifetime – from the Jurassic seafloor, through Alpine subduction (to ≈100km depth) before conveniently returning to the surface to be sampled by some keen geologists millions of years later. We’re using the relatively intact section of upper oceanic crust (consisting of altered seafloor sediments, altered basaltic rocks and underlying serpentinites) as a natural laboratory to investigate how, where and when hydrous fluids are ephemerally produced from metamorphic reactions as rocks are progressively subducted. By looking at chemical zonation of minerals growing as these fluids pass through, we can investigate changes in fluid composition (especially oxygen isotopes and trace metals) with successive pulses of fluids under different conditions. This gives us critical constraints on where fluids may have come from, which reactions might have generated them and the pathways they may have taken to get there – information we can put back into models and use to design new experiments to better understand how the system works.

Morgan (centre) at the NYSF 2017 launch event in October

Morgan (centre) at the NYSF 2017 launch event in October

Beyond the realms of the PhD, I’ll soon be chasing opportunities for post-doctoral research overseas. Ideally I’d like to continue research at the intersection between isotope geochemistry and oceanic geoscience, applying new techniques to better constrain fundamental processes to better understand how our planet works. There are many options for continuing research within academic, governmental and commercial spheres, and I look forward to exploring some new horizons in the years to come (while having a good deal of fun in the process).

Alex Schumann-Gillett, NYSF 2010 Alumna

Alex Schumann-Gillett attended NYSF in 2010.

“Growing up, I always had a keen interest in science and was extremely excited when I attended Session C of the NYSF 2010 in Canberra (I’m in the front row with the white t-shirt in the picture below). Attending NYSF really transformed my interest in science into a passion for it. After NYSF, I returned to my high school (Moreton Bay College in East Brisbane) so excited to start university that I wished I could fast forward through year 12 and start doing the science that NYSF had given me a taste of.

In 2011, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science at the University of Queensland (UQ), and chose to major in biophysics. After completing my BSc in mid-2015 I enrolled in Honours at UQ. My project was at the interface of computational chemistry and structural biology. I used computer simulations to characterise the interactions between a protein on the surface of pneumonia-causing bacteria and a protein on the surface of human throat cells. After completing my honours project in mid-2015, I moved to Canberra to work as a research assistant at the Australian National University (ANU)—where I had attended NYSF five years earlier!

alex-schumann-gillett-at-nysf-2010

NYSF 2010

In January this year, I commenced PhD studies in computational chemistry at ANU. In my PhD project, I am using computer simulations to explore the effect that different types of molecules, like fats and proteins, have on the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Coincidentally, the supercomputer used to run my honours and PhD simulations is one that I visited during NYSF.

What my NYSF experience taught me is to get amongst it, put myself out there and to not be scared to ask questions. 

I loved the experience that I had at the NYSF, which opened my eyes to what really doing science was like. Consequently, it was a major driver in the path I’ve taken. Now I get to do science every day, and I love it!

Alex Schumann-Gillett in her office at ANU

Alex Schumann-Gillett in her office at ANU

What my NYSF experience taught me is to get amongst it, put myself out there and to not be scared to ask questions. Because of that, I have been fortunate enough to receive several awards and scholarships for my work. These include a Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship to support my PhD work and the UQ Biochemistry Alumni Prize 3 2016. These are humbling accolades, but they show that if you back yourself and can articulate your belief in what you’re doing, others are more likely to back you too. So I encourage you to get amongst it, learn about the world you live in and enjoy exploring!

“It’s fantastic that a PhD in science will be recognised internationally…”

As Danika Hill headed off to the National Youth Science Forum in January 2004, she knew she loved science and was enjoying studying chemistry and physics at high school. “I was fascinated by medical research, but was unsure about selecting it as a career because I hadn’t studied biology at school.”

Danika Hill WEHI

Danika Hill at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI)

Attending lab visits during the NYSF to institutions such as the John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU solidified her decision to pursue a career in medical research. “Many Australian universities offered several types of science degrees such as Laboratory Medicine, Molecular Drug Design, Biomedical Science etc. but I wasn’t sure which one was for me. It was through attending NYSF that I was given the advice to choose a Bachelor of Science, and to try out many different science subjects that were on offer.”

“It was through attending NYSF that I was given the advice to choose a Bachelor of Science, and to try out many different science subjects that were on offer.”

 

In 2005, Danika embarked on a Bachelor of Science through the University of Adelaide. She studied several different subjects from zoology, astronomy, and psychology to political science. However, she found a passion for Genetics and Immunology. In 2008, she went on to complete an Honours Degree in Immunology through the University of Adelaide, studying stem cell development.

“After 4 years of solid undergraduate study, I decided I needed a break before embarking on a PhD. I worked as a research scientist on Regulatory T cells, which are cells that prevent the immune system from causing damage to the body during infection. In 2010 I took a break from science to backpack around Latin America. It was during volunteer work in the Bolivian Rainforest that I met locals who had grown up with malaria. They told of how horrible it was to catch malaria over and over again when they were children. Intriguingly, as adults they were struck down with malaria less often and had developed resistance to the disease.”

On returning to Australia, Danika embarked on a PhD through the University of Melbourne to study malaria at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. “My research focuses on trying to understand what the immune system needs to do to defeat malaria. The malaria parasite is very complex and over time, it evolved to avoid detection in the immune system. This is why people living in areas with malaria can catch the parasite numerous times before their bodies are able to fight off the disease. If we can discover what the immune system needs to do to fight off malaria then this will help malaria vaccine development.” Danika travelled to malaria endemic areas of Papua New Guinea and Thailand to conduct research for her PhD.

A career in medical research is truly international. She travels internationally to present her work, and collaborate with scientists from around the world. “It’s fantastic that a PhD in science will be recognised internationally and enables me to seek out research overseas.” Danika will complete her PhD in 2015, and then continue her research into the immune system in Europe.

“The NYSF is crucial”

Steven Tingay grew up in country Victoria where there were not that many outlets for kids who were mad about science and astronomy from the age of six, even as he progressed through high school. He knew no-ne else as passionate about science as he.

He received his first book about the Universe from his uncle when he was five. A telescope was acquired soon after. “I still remember my first look at the moon through that telescope. My mum also told me that my great-grandmother used to walk me up and down the street at night as a baby, pointing out the constellations. I can’t verify that. Good story if true, however”.

Going to the NYSF in 1987, he was suddenly surrounded by others with the same passion. It made for lots of late nights during the two-week session.

“I remember a lot about the visits to science facilities – the highlight for me was going to Mt Stromlo Observatory. And I remember going to Honeysuckle Creek, where the young guy who gave us a tour opened up his telescope and started burning a hole in his dome via the reflection of the sun off his mirror”.

(Uni of) Melbourne was the natural choice

Steven was the first in his family to study at university. He chose the University of Melbourne for its reputation as one of the best physics departments in the country and it was close to home. “I wanted to do maths and physics as the precursor to a PhD in astrophysics,” says Steven. “So, Melbourne was the natural choice. I chose the Australian National University (ANU) for my PhD because astrophysics was what I wanted to do. Full stop. I did a summer vacation scholarship at Mt Stromlo at the end of second year and loved it. When I got PhD scholarship offers at Melbourne and ANU, I chose ANU. In general, I think it is best to change institutions between undergraduate and postgraduate, to gain some diversity, aside from any other considerations”.

Steven’s career highlights are many but he says the best and most recent is leading the development of a new $50m radio telescope, the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA). The MWA project is a consortium of 15 institutions from four countries (Australia, USA, New Zealand, India) and has taken many years to develop and build in remote Western Australia. The telescope has been operating for two years and has collected 3 petabytes of data.

Almost every week the MWA team is uncovering something new about our Universe. “Our ultimate goal is to look back 13 billion years to only 1 billion years after the Big Bang, to watch the first stars and galaxies form in the universe. Leading the MWA has been a highlight because going back six years this was a project in big trouble. I took over and applied my astrophysics and engineering knowledge, as well as personnel and project management skills, to lead the project to success”.

The MWA is the only precursor for the low frequency Square Kilometre Array and the first of three SKA precursors to be fully operational. “That turn around over the last five years has been cause for considerable satisfaction, watching a big international team now exploiting the facility for science (and getting my hands on a bit of data myself!).”

For Steven, the NYSF is not just important, it’s more like crucial. “Over my career, I keep coming back to the same set of considerations for success. Having smart people. Occupying a stimulating environment. Taking on big challenges. Physically bringing people together and developing networks.”

“NYSF was, and is still as far as I know, the only national activity doing this for people at a crucial point in forming their thoughts about careers. It was the first step for me in considering science as a human endeavour, rather than a collection of facts, theories, and measurements. This is a crucial realisation that scientists should have early in their careers”.

NYSF … was the first step for me in considering science as a human endeavour

The networking aspect was fantastic. “I’m in my forties now and old NYSF colleagues from 1987 Session B keep popping up in positions of importance and influence. We have quite a club going now.”

Steven also remembers meeting a young lady at the NYSF interested in molecular biology. “We ended up going to The University of Melbourne together. We were married in 1992, have been married for 22 years now, and have two sons. So, aside from the science impact of the NYSF, it has had a fundamental impact on my overall life!”

Professor Steven Tingay attended the NSYF in 1987 (Photo credit to James Campbell)

Professor Steven Tingay attended the NYSF in 1987 (Launch of the Murchison Widefield Array Telescope – Photo credit to James Campbell)

 

From the science forum to science policy

Dr Subho Banerjee attended the NYSF (then known as the National Science Summer School) in Canberra in 1987. Nowadays he is responsible for preparing science policy advice in the Commonwealth Government.

Subho had always had an interest in science through his high school days in Newcastle, including being a national finalist in the BHP Science Prize. So he was very excited to get the chance to attend the NYSF, and it didn’t disappoint.

“Attending the NYSF was an inspirational experience. The program gave us exposure to such a wide range of high-quality science research being done in Canberra, across universities and research agencies. I was blown away by the possibilities.”

“I remember particularly a fantastic talk given to us by a graduate student up at Mt Stromlo Observatory, at the ANU. He really captured how excited he was to be exploring the fundamental questions of the universe – and he made it fun as well.”

“But the best thing was definitely the chance to connect with students from all over Australia who were interested in the same stuff that I was. I made friendships there that I carry forward to today.”

Subho credits his NYSF experience as being crucial in encouraging him to study science at the ANU.   He went on to do a PhD in physics, using lasers to study the structure of the oxygen molecule.

After his PhD, Subho made the decision to move into public policy. He received a Rhodes scholarship to go to the University of Oxford, studying economics and social history, and then environmental policy.

“When I was doing my PhD, I got more and more interested in the interface between science and public policy – so many policy issues are framed by science, but relatively few people with a science background are involved in the policy deliberations.”

Subho joined the Australian Public Service on his return from Oxford. He has since worked across policy issues spanning economic, social and environmental policy, as well as on organisational reform of the public sector itself. In addition to public service roles, he has worked for a not-for-profit Indigenous policy think-tank, and a private sector management consulting firm.

… a grounding in science, such as that provided by the NYSF, is a fantastic foundation. It encourages rigour and clarity in thought

In his current role as a Deputy Secretary in the Department of Industry, Subho is responsible for preparing science policy advice to the Federal government. This spans whole of sector advice on issues such as science funding and infrastructure, as well as policy oversight of Questacon, the National Measurement Institute and the Australian Astronomical Observatory. Subho is also on the board of the international organisation responsible for delivering the Square Kilometre Array – the largest radio telescope in the world.

“I’m really enjoying having a science-based role again. I think a grounding in science, such as that provided by the NYSF, is a fantastic foundation. It encourages rigour and clarity in thought, which makes you better at what you do (whether science-based, or not). But it also encourages enthusiasm about ideas and about the world, which helps you to enjoy doing it.”

Subho Banerjee Siding Springs telescope

Subho Banerjee Siding Spring telescope