Edith Chow

Edith Chow

Alumni career story

Senior Research Scientist at CSIRO

BSc (Hons) ‘02/PhD ‘06 (Chemistry) – UNSW Science

Edith Chow uncovered a fascination for chemistry while studying a Bachelor of Science (Honours) at UNSW. She credits her lecturers with instilling her passion which led her to earning a PhD in the field. 

Now a Senior Research Scientist with the CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, Edith is part of a team working on a rapid test for COVID-19. Her advice to future science students is to keep an open mind about where you want to end up and follow your curiosity. 

We spoke to Edith about her two UNSW Science degrees and her work as a Senior Research Scientist. 

What do you enjoy most about your career in science? 

I enjoy the process of discovery and the satisfaction that comes along with it. My research at the CSIRO helps tackle industrial and societal challenges, especially in the current COVID-19 pandemic. It’s exciting and challenging to be working on a rapid diagnostic test for SARS-CoV-2 with industry partners and colleagues. I love the high risk, high reward nature of my work. 

Why did you choose to study a Science degree at UNSW? 

I visited UNSW when my sister began studying there and I was immediately drawn to the modern, vibrant campus. I was keen to follow my sister’s footsteps at a world-renowned university with a strong reputation in science. There was a diverse range of science programs with the flexibility to tailor your course to your interests. 

What’s the most valuable thing you took away from your time at UNSW? 

My time at UNSW enriched my mind and broadened my horizons. I learned to follow my curiosity and trust it will lead me somewhere. UNSW offers lots of study options through elective and general education courses. It wasn’t until second-year analytical chemistry that I discovered what I was truly interested in. My time at UNSW showed me it’s OK to change your mind or not have made up your mind. Just dive in, explore and discover. 

How has the hands-on experience you received at UNSW helped in your current role? 

My best learning came from hands-on experiences where I put into practice what I’d learned in the classroom. The laboratory practical classes allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of scientific concepts, critical thinking and data analysis skills. 

I undertook summer vacation placements in a UNSW research group and at the CSIRO where I further developed my research and communication skills. I was able to learn the importance of effective teamwork and time management. For me, the ability to create trust, possess shared values, set clear goals and juggle conflicting demands are key to leading a successful and rewarding career. 

How has your degree shaped your career? 

My undergraduate and postgraduate degrees have equipped me with broad scientific skills and a strong appreciation of all aspects of science. Most research is highly interdisciplinary, so I continually learned and adapted while bringing in skills from first year physics or second year biochemistry. Having a chemistry background, I began my career at CSIRO developing chemical sensing technologies. Now I don’t just see myself as a chemist, I’m also a nanotechnologist and materials scientist. My crucial ability to communicate with others across disciplines came from my broad scientific training at university.

How do you get the most out of a science degree at UNSW? 

Avoid having a rigid mindset of the type of scientist you’d like to become. Explore your passions and skills! Give yourself lots of options and don’t be afraid to take on a course or extra-curricular activity that may be a little different or outside your comfort zone. Also reach out and find a mentor early on. UNSW Science offers a peer mentoring program that can support you in the transition to university life.