Tag: January 2019 Newsletter

New Genomics Laboratory at St Vincent’s Institute with former UROP scholar at its lead

Former UROP scholar Dr Davis McCarthy has recently joined St Vincent’s Institute (SVI) as Head of the new Bioinformatics and Cellular Genomics Laboratory in a joint appointment with the University of Melbourne. A philanthropic donation made the lab possible, and now funding from the latest NHMRC Project Grant round secures its funding into the future.

As Head of the Bioinformatics and Cellular Genomics Laboratory, Davis McCarthy will establish his group focusing on genomics analysis and methods to interpret the data sets coming from gene sequencing technologies. His research will also explore how changes in DNA affect the gene expression in single cells. Moreover, Davis’ research group will collaborate with other SVI labs that need genomics analysis, thus strengthening SVI’s internal partnerships.

The new Bioinformatics and Cellular Genomics Laboratory was made possible thanks to a philanthropic donation from Mr Paul Holyoake, former SVI Board member, and his wife, Ms Marg Downey.

Davis’ NHMRC Project Grant is one of five awarded to SVI groups in the most recent NHMRC grant round. News of the funding was extremely well-received by Davis, who sees it as vital, enabling support and a fantastic opportunity to fast-track the lab set up to start working.

A researcher with an impeccable career

Davis McCarthy did his UROP placement in 2006 at WEHI. For Davis, his UROP experience “was more than a stepping-stone, it was my introduction to Bioinformatics and a real turning point in my career”. His placement allowed him to discover his interest in Bioinformatics with a genuine, cutting-edge research project. “Without UROP, who knows where I would be today”, says Davis.

After his UROP experience, Davis graduated with Honours from The University of Melbourne and then pursued a PhD at the University of Oxford. He then became a NHMRC CJ Martin post-doctoral fellow and worked at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI, Cambridge UK). Now he’s back in Australia, where he has already secured funding to continue his excellent research!

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.