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.

Celia Vandestadt, former UROP student: “My UROP placement changed my whole scientific trajectory”

Celia did her year-long UROP placement in 2013 and it changed her scientific life. It gave her the hands-on experience she never got during her undergraduate coursework and prepared her for a PhD, which she is currently about to finish at Monash University’s Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI). In this interview, Celia explores what were the drivers, highlights and turns of her UROP experience.

Why did you apply for UROP?

When I came across UROP I was immediately drawn to the idea of it. I felt like it was important to gain a real-life experience into what being an academic would be like, because during my undergrad I only got some insights into it. But UROP was something different: it allowed me to embed myself in the lab and work on a real-world project.

Also, as an undergrad student, I was very pressed for time. I was dedicated full time to my studies, but I had to earn a living too. UROP was a unique opportunity to fulfil both needs, while also gaining an amazing lab experience.

Would you say UROP was valuable to you?

Yes! I did UROP in my last year of undergrad, so at that time it was extremely valuable for me to go through a real application process: writing my CV, preparing for the genuine interview process, and finally getting experience in a lab.

The UROP Conference was also very valuable, I still remember it! It was my first experience presenting my scientific research. It was a bit daunting, getting up there and talking for 5 minutes about my results in front of a crowd, but it was very rewarding. I attended the presentation skills workshop offered before the Conference, and that really helped me. I still use some of those tips when I write presentations today.

My UROP experience, with a genuine project and real-world work,
gave me the confidence to seriously pursue science.

How much has UROP influenced your scientific career?

My UROP placement changed my whole scientific trajectory, because I fell in love with research. Working on a real project sparked my curiosity, which led me to continue with that project through honours and, eventually, gave me the confidence to say “yeah, I can pursue this crazy thing called a PhD”. Because, to be honest, at the end of my undergrad I wasn’t sure whether I should pursue academia or find a job. My UROP experience, with a genuine project and real-world work, gave me the confidence to seriously pursue science.

How was the relationship with your UROP supervisor?

My supervisor had more of a guiding role and our relationship was rather informal. He gave me freedom to explore but also provided guidance when I needed it. He wanted me to go and get my hands dirty and find solutions to problems by myself, and then go back to him to discuss my results. Thanks to that freedom, I got to see how much fun wet lab work could be!

Would you recommend UROP to new students? What tips would you give them?

Absolutely. It’s a smart move for students because they will gain an incredibly valuable experience. In my case, UROP allowed me to really understand the techniques in the lab, which helped me to do well on my Honours and afterwards to succeed in getting a PhD scholarship.

My tips would be, firstly, to throw yourself at it, take it with both hands and try to get yourself immersed in the lab as much as possible. Secondly, to learn from people working around you, even if it’s just shadowing. Be curious about your research organisation and try to engage with peers. And finally, remember that you are not expected to know everything! So, don’t be afraid to ask questions or get things wrong, and make sure you speak up if you don’t understand something or if you need further clarification.

Would you like to become a supervisor?

Definitely! The questions and the energy that new students bring are so welcome in the lab. That energy feeds into what we are doing on a daily basis and makes the lab more fun. It’s a very positive symbiotic relationship between the the lab and the students, we all benefit from UROP!


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

New MedTech Skills Development Program Opens!

Are you a mid-career scientist, academic, or entrepreneur within the medical technology sector keen to develop practical skills in relation to the commercialisation of medical technology including devices & diagnostics?

The new BridgeTech Program, with its training focus on the scientific, legal, financial, clinical, regulatory and reimbursement disciplines that contribute to research translation might be for you!

For more details, see the BridgeTech Program flyer.

Inspiring Research Career Paths in Industry, Hospitals & Academia

Congratulations to our 2017 Round 2 cohort of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).

BioMedVic warmly thank our colleagues who volunteered their time to participate on interviewing panels and commend every student who applied to this competitive employment scheme.

We continue to be delighted by the breadth of research organisations that chose to employ a talented undergraduate student through the UROP scheme. In this round, the UROP@BioMedVic office matched the best and brightest with industry, hospital, MRI and academic research teams – reflecting Victoria’s vibrant and diverse health and medical research community.

The students will carry out research projects for six to 18 months, for at least 8 hours a week, alongside their undergraduate coursework. We look forward to hearing about their progress at the UROP Conference Day next year.

We wish all UROPs the best of luck!

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

CSL’s Principal Sponsorship of UROP to Continue

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Last Thursday, Melbourne Town Hall’s Portico Room lit up with passion for science as BioMedVic held the annual Welcome Forum for the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). We were thrilled to have UROP students and supervisors share their research experiences and to hear from Dr Andrew Nash, CSL’s Senior Vice President, Research, that CSL will continue as Principal Sponsor of UROP for 2017-2019. Continue reading

Luke Thorburn | UROP@CSIRO

Not Just a “Phase” – UROP Designs Better Way to Visualise Chemical Space

We recently checked in at the CSIRO Parkville Science Club to hear what UROP scholar Luke Thorburn has been up to. Turns out, he’s been busy!

Luke has just finished a Bachelor of Science at Melbourne Uni, majoring in Statistics & Stochastic Processes. As a UROP scholar at CSIRO, he has developed a new visualisation platform for chemical space that will help crystallographers design optimisation screens for protein crystallisation. Continue reading

STEMM Central Bootcamp Kicks Off

sblogoThe energy in the room was electric with many collaborations sparked at the launch of the STEMM Central Bootcamp for Research Commercialisation on 23rd September. As participants heard presentations and got stuck into activities, they received an inspiring lesson on what research translation and commercialisation entails and the core capabilities required to enable successful outcomes. Continue reading

Christina Gangemi | UROP@ARMI

A budding researcher is bringing the secrets of stem cells into sharp focus.

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“It’s a continual process of uncovering the unknown,” Christina said when asked about what draws her to science.

And intrigued by what makes adult stem cells tick, Christina’s curiosity found a home when she first joined the Hobbs lab at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) through a UROP placement in 2016.

Continue reading

BOOTCAMP FOR RESEARCH INNOVATION

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Victorian medical researchers are set to receive a leg-up on their path to clinical and commercial success.

Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx), in partnership with BioMedvic, will deliver the STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine) Bootcamp – a training program designed to help early career medical researchers translate their discoveries. The Honourary Philip Dalidakis, Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade, launched the program in June.

STEMM Bootcamp builds on the successful Molecules to Medicine (M2M) Program, curated by CTx, as an online and in-person skill development program. Participating researchers undertake short, intensive education modules and activities designed to build strength, competency and connections in research translation and commercialisation.

Following the launch, the program was kicked off with a co-design workshop, facilitated by PwC Indigenous Consulting. The workshop brought together key stakeholders from research and industry and crystallised key elements and the core skills required for research translation and commercialisation.

The overwhelming energy and success of the co-design workshop gave us a clear direction for the future of STEMM Bootcamp.

And if the program has piqued your interest, stay tuned – we will be recruiting for participants in August.

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UROP Scholars in Data Sequencing Publication

Biomedical Research Victoria is proud to announce that two of its Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) scholars have seen the fruits of UROP participation, in a new research paper published this month.

A new tool is available to researchers which can help speed up and improve their analysis of piles of next generation sequencing data. The UNDR ROVER technology has been published this month BMC Bioinformatics*. Continue reading