Each person can take a very different path as a postgraduate chemistry student. Read about some of the experiences and highlights of our PhD students as they grow into fully-fledged researchers.
Fulbright Scholar in Analytical Chemistry, 3rd Year Scientia Ph.D.
As a lifelong musician with a keen interest in applied science, I completed a Dual Honours degree in Music and Chemistry, a rare combination which luckily UNSW had on offer. Having seen the impact of my chemistry Honours project (where my method could separate chiral molecules on a millisecond timescale), I decided to pursue a PhD in the same field under A/Prof. Alex Donald.
Now as a PhD student, one of the things that I love about my project is how the outcomes will have a real and meaningful impact to society. In essence, my research involves identifying the chemical ‘smell’ of people and being able to diagnose diseases such as Parkinson’s through innovations in chemical instrumentation. My passion for real-world chemistry applications has also led to my enthusiasm for research translation where we take successes in the lab and bring them to market. UNSW Chemistry has also led a strong and sustaining Outreach program, which I’ve been fortunate to be a part of, where the joys of chemistry learning is showcased to the next generation of scientists.
Having spent over 8 years at UNSW Chemistry, you can never stand still. Every day is a different day as you gain a diverse set of skills ranging from critical thinking and creativity to leadership and entrepreneurship.
Ph.D. in organometallic chemistry, 2nd year
Why did you choose to study chemistry at UNSW?
I was fortunate enough to participate in an exchange program at UNSW during my undergraduate chemistry degree. During this year I became enamoured with research and the research environment at UNSW. From the second that I arrived home I made it my mission to get back to UNSW.
What do you most enjoy about your current research in chemistry at UNSW?
My project is focused on the interrogation of intermediates in C H bond activation of simple alkanes by transition metal complexes. For me, this project has been the perfect blend of synthesis, analysis and theory and it has given me the opportunity to advance the skills that I already had and allowed me to learn so many more. The aspect that I am most grateful for and the aspect that I enjoy the most about the School of Chemistry at UNSW is the sense of community. Every member of our school welcoming and excited about learning and this cultivates an extremely supportive and productive work environment.
How do you expect your time at UNSW Chemistry will help you in your career?
People at UNSW have an innate desire to help others. My time at UNSW has provided me with a growing network of people who are happy to offer advice or make connections that help to achieve your career goal.
Anything else interesting related to UNSW Chemistry you would like to share?
The people in the School of Chemistry at UNSW have been instrumental in my growth as a researcher and have been an important part of my personal development process. The School of Chemistry fosters free thinking and rewards those who ask for help and I am excited about the time that I have remaining at UNSW.
MSc (Res) in Chemistry, 2nd year
I started my journey in the School of Chemistry at UNSW with undergraduate studies. During that time, I got to know the research groups and academics and found a strong sense of community. When doing my Honours in the Kable Group, I fell in love with the atmospheric chemistry research I was working on and decided to do a Masters in the same group. In my Master's project, I study the photolysis of acetone to improve atmospheric models. In practice, this means I shoot lasers at gas-phase acetone and monitor the products formed through FTIR spectroscopy or molecular beam experiments. As acetone is the simplest ketone, an in-depth understanding of its photochemistry allows us to draw conclusions for larger, more complex ketones. During my project, I have faced obstacles, but I overcame them with my supervisor and colleagues' support. My time at UNSW has helped me grow into an independent researcher and prepared me for my future research projects.
I chose to study chemistry at UNSW for many reasons. Specifically, UNSW allowed me to undertake my PhD at the National Measurement Institute (NMI) where most of my experiments were conducted. It was expected that by doing PhD through industry, general admin/ progress would have been difficult. However, my experience was very different where I was fully supported during my PhD journey at NMI with no difficulties throughout the candidature.
My research focuses on developing methods to detect perfluorinated carbon compounds which are extremely toxic and widespread environmental contaminants. I have developed various extraction methods to improve the current analysis methods which are used in the commercial analytical laboratories. What is more exciting is that I can directly compare my methods with the conventional methods as NMI is a NATA accredited analytical laboratory that provides commercial measurements to many industries.
In future, I would like to work in the environmental protection agency or in the forensics laboratories. I believe that experiences at UNSW and NMI will help me achieve my goal with the correct skill sets that I have gained in both academia and industry.
Also, unlike other research institutes, UNSW has various research facilities such as the Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility (BMSF) and Electron Microscopy Unit (EMU) to provide state of the art equipments which is available for the students when they are required. I was able to conduct lot of experiments through these facilities which would have been difficult if I undertook my PhD at other institutes.
Ph.D. in Electroanalytical Chemistry and Sensor Technology
I'm a Ph.D. candidate under supervision of Professor Justin Gooding and Professor Richard D. Tilley. I chose to study in the school of Chemistry because the research subjects suit my interests and of course Sydney is one of the best cities around the world for offering a high standard of living and studying. My PhD research is on innovative approaches to design and develop ultrasensitive, selective and rapid biosensors for applied medical research and development purposes.
We are doing research with a focus on cutting-edge biosensors technologies in Justin's group. During my PhD project, we have developed and validated biosensors for accurate detection of very low amounts of immunoinhibitory biomarkers directly in the whole blood sample. Our research suggests some promising potentials for introduction of the biosensors into oncology and cancer research treatments in future to guide for the best choices of therapies. I was very proud when part of our research was featured on UNSW Newsroom; New sensor could help guide cancer treatment options in patients.
What I really like about conducting this PhD is that research helps me nurture my potential and develop my professional and personal aspects. Also, doing a PhD in Chemistry at UNSW let me take advantage of various opportunities in the school such as the Women in Math and Science Champion Program.
It took me a lot of persistence and resilience during my PhD, however it has revealed multiple opportunities for my career pathway, whether that is in academia or industry, or securing other little wins. I graduated with a Bachelor degree in Engineering and a master in Nanoscience and Biotechnology, so even if you don't have a major or background in Chemistry it's still possible to do a PhD in one.
Ph.D. in Chemistry, 1st year
What attracted me the most to UNSW were the high-quality education, research excellence, top-tier laboratories, and international collaborations. UNSW is a founding member of the Group of Eight, a coalition of Australia’s leading research-intensive universities, and of the prestigious international network Universitas 21. The Smart Materials and Surface Research (SMS) Group at the School of Chemistry has a strong focus on the synthesis and characterisation of nanostructured materials with biomedical applications, which is the main area of my research interest. My research project is an excellent supplement to my previous studies on nanomaterials, and it revolves around the synthesis and processing of high-performance magnetic nanoparticles tailored for MPI application. Working on this project, not only involves me in state-of-the-art materials research but also gives me the chance to work with well-educated and highly motivated researchers. As a PhD student with materials engineering background, doing interdisciplinary research at UNSW Chemistry allows me to consider my future career more holistically and innovatively.
Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry, 2nd year
Ever since I was little, I've been fascinated by the why and how of things. Science has helped me investigate this in a rigorous, reliable and rational way from simple at home experiments as a child to my current PhD I particularly love chemistry because it explains how things react, why materials behave the way they do and has a huge impact on the health industry and biology. This passion to understand, as well as some great educators throughout my studies, has motivated me to pursue a career in chemistry - specifically where it intersects with medicine to further the development of pharmaceutical and health interventions.
One of my favourite aspects of my research is collecting and analysing the data. There is a lot of work that goes into setting up an experiment, such as challenging syntheses in medicinal chemistry, but validating your idea in a biological context is incredibly exciting. Getting to the point where I've made my peptide and now get to see how it interacts with the protein is my favourite. It's where you interpret and celebrate your brilliant work (if it's gone how you planned) or optimise/trouble shoot/try again if not. The best part of my research is this hypothesis testing and having the opportunity to tell others what the results were, adding to society's understanding of that particular area of science.
I am incredibly grateful for the educational and professional opportunities that my journey at UNSW has already afforded me, from working in related areas during my undergraduate to now applying my understanding to teaching undergraduate students in the Chemistry Teaching Fellowship. The day-to-day activities in my lab have allowed me to develop a lot of manual skills I did not previously have and has helped me learn to transition between areas - indispensable in the current landscape. The opportunity to manage my own project, working collaboratively with a trusting and knowledgeable supervisor, will be incredibly useful moving beyond academia as it builds so many excellent and translatable skills such as time management, optimisation protocols, communications, organisation as well as the chemistry-specific skills involved in my particular research.
Another area I am passionate about is the representation of, and conditions for, women and lower socioeconomic groups in STEM careers such as chemistry. Working with the Womens Champions in Maths and Science program as well as the Women in Research Network and departments for equity, diversity and inclusion at UNSW has been a great way to engage with these areas.