Matt Dixon, UROP supervisor: “Having a student in the lab makes you rediscover your passion for research”

Dr Matt Dixon is a Research Fellow at the Bio21 Institute of The University of Melbourne. He majored in Parasitology and Microbiology from the University of Queensland, and today he is an expert on malaria. In this interview with BioMedVic’s Engagement Manager Núria Saladié, Dr Dixon explores his new role as a UROP supervisor.

How did you get into research?

When I was studying my Bachelor of Science I was not sure about what I wanted to do next. I considered pursuing medicine, but then I got really interested in parasitology and microbiology thanks to some fantastic university professors. I was really drawn to these two areas of science, so I decided to do an Honours project on a medically-relevant parasite, malaria. I really enjoyed it and that was key for me to decide that I wanted to do a PhD rather than enrol in medicine. When I finished my PhD, I moved to Melbourne to continue my career as a post-doc, first at La Trobe University and now at The University of Melbourne.

Why did you decide to put in a project and become a UROP supervisor?

Supervising students is something that I really love doing. I have supervised many honours and PhD students through the years, and it has always been a very rewarding experience. I like the training aspect of helping someone grow as a scientist and become passionate about research.

I decided to put in a project for UROP because I like that BioMedVic puts candidates through a stringent application and selection process, which ensures that they have a genuine interest in pursuing science.

You were also involved in the selection process of some students.

Yes, I was part of the interviewing panels. It was great to see the quality of the students that had made it through to that stage of the process! Actually, I felt a bit for the them because it’s quite an intensive scrutiny, but they handle it very well and their level of preparedness is impressive.

It’s good to participate in the student selection process because you then understand the whole UROP program better. Being on the panel was no burden at all for me, I enjoyed it!

UROP students are the cream of the crop, the brightest students in Victoria,
so they can handle the work very well.

What do you think is the value of the UROP program?

From the student’s perspective, the value of UROP is to get an understanding of what research is all about and what it means to do real research. Even if in their undergrad they get practical classes, it is difficult to see the bigger picture and put all the experiments together to grasp how they can solve an issue. Working on a real project helps students realise how to bring individual experiments together to solve a larger, complex problem.

From the supervisors’ perspective, the value of UROP is the possibility of getting exceptionally talented and motivated students that are passionate about research. Having a student in the lab makes you rediscover your passion for research, and a fresh pair of eyes in the work space is always helpful to put things in perspective again. Enthusiastic students really help drive the research forward, and seeing them discover things for the first time and getting good results… that’s very rewarding.

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