Meet our graduate researchers - Catriona Nguyen-Robertson
Research title: The molecular and cellular basis of antigen recognition by CD1a-restricted T cells
Started PhD studies in 2016
What and where did you study before your PhD?
I completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne, with a concurrent Diploma in Languages (because I cannot simply focus on one thing). During my undergraduate degree, I was fortunate to undertake a short stint in a research lab and became hooked. I then completed an Honours research year with the Godfrey Lab and launched fairly quickly into a PhD. I did spend a month travelling and a few months as a research assistant beforehand, but I couldn't wait to get going!
I would recommend taking time off to map out what's ahead for you if you are not 100% sure. It can also help to do a little bit of work as a research assistant before starting a PhD to build on your skills - although, being a PhD student, you don't need to know everything before starting out...or when you finish.
What made you decide to undertake a PhD at the Doherty Institute?
I previously worked in an immunology lab with Western Health and my supervisor at the time spoke very highly of the Godfrey Laboratory. When I mentioned that I wanted to do Honours at the University of Melbourne, they told me that it would be a great fit for me and I would learn a lot in that lab - and they were right. I thoroughly enjoyed my Honours year, felt very supported by my two supervisors, liked the culture of the Doherty Institute, and importantly, got along with other members of the lab. I simply could not imagine myself NOT going into that same lab every day. So I decided to sign myself up for another 4 (...or 6) years.
What are your plans post-PhD?
Even though I have submitted my PhD thesis, I am still trying to figure that out. And that's ok. I think.
I love research and the element of discovery - you are the first person in the world to know the answer to a question in research! I also love teaching and communicating science to a wide audience. My loose plans are to continue doing both!
How would you describe your ‘’PhD journey’’?
Challenging, but rewarding and fun. Yes, there are ups and downs, but at the end of the day you come out the other end with a lot of different skills. I've learned technical skills, skills for scientific curiosity and inquiry, science communication, and a whole lot of resilience. I was very fortunate (or unfortunate) to develop a skin allergy to sunscreen during my studies. I suspected that the very immune cells I was researching may be involved, and I had a lot of support from my supervisors to chase this. It became my own project: not something that I selected from a potential PhD project handbook, but something that I pitched and took ownership of, which was very exciting.
What advice do you have for someone who is considering a PhD?
If you enjoy research, find a project that you are interested in and want to pursue a career in which a PhD would be helpful (and that's not limited to academia!), go for it! While you are a PhD student, it's a good time to meet lots of people in science and dabble in different things (curricular or extra-curricular).
Make sure you pick a supervisor and lab that suits YOU and your style of working. Having good rapport with your supervisors, colleagues and peers is so important. Projects are much more flexible than people, so while you do want to pick something that you are interested enough in to dedicate several years of your life to it, it is more important that you know who you are signing up to spend those years with. And just enjoy it!