Jett Osborne: “My UROP project has showed me how real science is”

Jett Osborne is a Biomed undergrad student at RMIT that applied for UROP in 2018. As he finalises his UROP project at The Bio21 Institute, we interview Jett and his supervisor, Dr Matt Dixon, to discover more about what made this placement so successful.

You were selected for UROP when you were in second year. How did you find the selection process and the interview panel?

Jett: The whole process seemed pretty daunting, but I have never been a nervous person in those kinds of situations. The interview was more like a conversation and I didn’t feel “attacked” by the questions. I actually enjoyed it!

Matt: When I was on the interview panel, I observed that the students that did best were the ones that treated the interview more like a conversation. I can see why some people might get nervous, but as a tip – if you think about the interview more as an informal chat about science and your interests it won’t be so daunting.

Once you were selected, you had to meet your prospective supervisor. How did you prepare before sitting down with Matt?

Jett: The truth is, I stayed awake until 3am on the night before to prepare for it! The meeting went well, and it was easy because Matt explained the project and what I would be doing really well.

Matt:  I could tell you had prepared for the meeting because you had intelligent questions to ask about the project and the research area.

What is the topic of your UROP project?

Jett: My UROP project looks at how the sexual stages of the Malaria parasite change shape and why this is important for the transmission of the parasite by mosquitos. There are 5 sexual stages of development, and my project was to investigate which proteins shape the parasite in the different stages of development. If these proteins are targetable, then maybe we can block them and potentially stop the transmission of the disease.

Matt: We have been working on these stages of the parasite for quite a long time now. The lab has been trying to understand how the banana shape of sexual stages of the malaria parasite supports the survival inside the human host and helps the transmission by the mosquito.

Jett: It’s a very good project, it makes you ask a lot of questions and is very hypothesis-driven. I really like that, as a lab, we are working on the same overarching questions but approaching them from different angles.

Following on from that, how has your lab experience been?

Jett: It’s been really cool. We are all working on different proteins and structures involved in the shape formation of the Malaria parasite, with our work coming together to answer the main research question of why shape is important from malaria transmission. I feel very lucky to have been placed here! Our lab is very social, and people are very supportive. It has been a great learning experience.

Matt: I want the UROP scholars in my lab to work on projects that will lead them to publications, and for them to feel that they have a large role in driving the projects themselves too. Jett fitted in really well from the beginning.

And now that you are about to finish your project, how has it met your expectations?

Jett: The coolest expectation met has been getting to see every step of the research process. My UROP project has showed me how real science is. Now that I have seen how it works and that I have monitored all the steps in our project, I feel I can understand the timings and the whole rhythm of the research project better.

In our lab, everyone is so dedicated and driven
that I felt very stimulated to try harder

What was the biggest thing you learnt from your UROP placement?

Jett: I have learnt about patience, but most of all, I have learnt about work ethic. In our lab, everyone is so dedicated and driven that I felt very stimulated to try harder. And this feeling has affected everything that I do these days. That is my favourite take-away!

Matt: There is a big shift in UROP from your typical marks-driven outcomes that the students are used to from their undergraduate studies, towards being part of a team, which motivates each other and works together to answer big questions. The UROP program gives you a nice taste of what science is like.

Matt, from your point of view, what is an attribute that Jett has that has made this project successful?

Matt: Jett is very enthusiastic, which has been great for the lab. Having a genuine interest in what you do filters into how hard you work on the project, how many extra background readings you do, and how well you interact with others in the lab. In general, the best set of attributes you can have is coming in with eyes open, willing to try different things and to work hard.

Jett: Working in Matt’s lab has also been a humbling experience. I have been working with people with knowledge that goes well beyond mine, so I had to push myself to keep on growing and learning.

Having a genuine interest in what you do filters
into how hard you work on the project

If you could talk to students thinking about UROP, what piece of advice would you give them?

Jett: If you haven’t applied for UROP yet, first consider if research might be for you. Be proactive, talk to your lecturers and professors, find a field that’s of interest. And if you have already been selected for UROP, prepare for your project, read your supervisor’s papers and get to know what they do specifically in their field. And as Matt said before, remember to go in with fresh eyes!

And what are your next steps from here?

Jett: I’m moving to Hong Kong as part of the New Colombo Plan, which is a very competitive scholarship from the Australian government. First, I’ll finish my undergrad studies at the end of December, and after that, I will do a 6-month internship with a Biotech company.

Matt: This is a great opportunity for Jett. He will now be able to see the industry side of research, and when he comes back, he will be able to choose what he prefers.

Jett: I’m very lucky!

Dr Matt Dixon (left) and Jett Osborne (right) at The Bio21 lab.

Read more about the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) here.