MENTEE – Claretta D Souza

Claretta D Souza, PhD student and IMNIS mentee in the MedTech-Pharma Pilot 2016 – La Trobe University (VIC) [Image: Dr Fung Lay, La Trobe Institute for Molecular Sciences]

“It [IMNIS] fills a gap in the training that postgraduate students receive in Australia; insight into translational science. Even if someone is not sure about working in industry, they would still gain a lot in terms of transferable skills and knowledge that would benefit them, regardless of what they choose to do with their post graduate degrees in the future”

I have been carrying out my PhD research at the Department of Biochemistry and Genetics, La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) from 2012. My research was in the area of neurodegenerative diseases, specifically, Multiple Sclerosis. This is a disease that affects more than 2.5 million people around the world and severely compromises their quality of life. As the cause for MS is unknown, there is no prevention or cure for the disease. While there are several drugs that alleviate symptoms, and modify disease course, the search is on for a drug or therapeutic agent that can halt disease progress. Working with an animal model, my aim was to identify unique molecules on the surface of the blood vessels of the brain in search of new drug targets. I am currently in the process of writing up my thesis for submission in June 2017. I hope to find employment in the development of medical or therapeutic technologies that will positively impact the lives of people who suffer from chronic conditions.

Why did you participate in the IMNIS program?

I participated in the IMNIS program because I was curious about the science industry in Australia. As a PhD student, I had plenty of exposure to science in academia but felt that it was not entirely the right fit for me. However, I did not know enough about the industry options for science graduates to make the transition confidently. IMNIS was specifically targeted to the postgraduates who were interested in the scientific industry and seemed like the perfect opportunity to me.

What was the most important aspect of this professional relationship for you?

I was fortunate to be mentored by professional who has had an impressive career in the pharmaceutical industry both overseas and in Australia and is now the CEO of the medical technology and pharmaceutical sector industrial growth centre, MTPConnect. The most important aspect of our relationship was the insight into the workings of industry that I gained from her. She helped me improve my networking skills, adapt my CV to industry requirements and introduced me to a lot of people within the science technology sector in Australia during AusBiotech 2016. Through my mentor I was able to understand the true scope of the industry, the prospects within it, and where I might fit in.

How often did you meet with your mentor and did you prepare for these meetings? What was the best piece of advice you received?

I met my mentor about 4-5 times during the year when I was in the IMNIS program. However, we also kept in touch via email. My relationship with my mentor has endured past the IMNIS program and I am now working part-time for her at MTPConnect. I prepared for my meetings with her by making a list of topics I wanted to discuss, so that I could make the most of my time with her. The best advice I received from her was to not dwell on lost opportunities but to move on quickly to the next viable idea.

Would you recommend participating in the IMNIS program to your peers?

Yes, I would highly recommend the IMNIS program. It fills a gap in the training that postgraduate students receive in Australia; insight into translational science. Even if someone is not sure about working in industry, they would still gain a lot in terms of transferable skills and knowledge that would benefit them, regardless of what they choose to do with their post graduate degrees in the future.

What was the most rewarding aspect of the IMNIS program for you?

The IMNIS program changed my career trajectory and made me aware of how I could use my particular skill set along with my scientific training to aspire to a career in the scientific industry instead of academia. It opened up a whole new world to me that I knew existed but did not know how to enter. I feel a lot more confident about my ability to thrive in the biotechnology sector and look forward to starting my career in it.

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