“[My Mentor] has such a positive and proactive view and I’m finding myself applying a lot of what we talk about into my daily research and general life”

Dhanushika (Danni) Ratnayake moved to Adelaide from Sri Lanka in 2011 to study a Bachelors of biochemistry and pharmacology at the University of Adelaide. During her undergraduate degree, she worked at the University’s Zebrafish Facility where she became intrigued by the remarkable regenerative capacity of zebrafish. This interest motivated her to move to the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) in Melbourne to undertake doctoral research in the laboratory of Professor Peter Currie, focusing on muscle regeneration using zebrafish as a model organism.

Danni’s research relies on advanced in vivo microscopy and bioinformatics. She established national and international collaborations to access high-end imaging and single cell sequencing technologies. In addition she’s extremely passionate about translating solutions generated at the bench to the patient bedside. To this end she has been involved with a healthcare start-up and pitched at various start-up events, successfully raising a small amount of funding.

Danni is a Mentee in the inaugural CCRM Australia-IMNIS International Mentoring Program in Regenerative Medicine in Melbourne, Victoria. The International Regen Med pilot involves industry leaders from the US and the UK, and includes a Travel Award for mentees to attend an international conference, do a company site visit and meet their mentor. Five outstanding PhD students from QLD, VIC and SA are participating.

Why are you participating in the IMNIS program?

From the start of my PhD I was interested in seeking out alternative career options from the traditional academic tract. In my second year I volunteered at AusBiotech and was lucky to be able to meet and speak to may individuals that had vast, varied and complex career trajectories stemming from a STEM PhD. I saw IMNIS as another such invaluable networking opportunity that will allow me to be exposed to an industry environment that is missing in a traditional Biology based PhD training. 

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

I think having a open, comfortable, mutually respectful relationship with my mentor was very important to me. IMNIS did such a fantastic job at matching me with my superstar mentor Sara Mary Hall . Sara has such a positive and proactive view and I’m finding myself applying a lot of what we talk about into my daily research and general life. She’s been a tremendous sounding board and at the end of our conversations I always feel invigorated, excited and more assured about myself and my capabilities.

What do you hope your industry mentor can help you achieve and what is the best piece of advice you have received so far? 

I had a lot of questions regarding if my skills would be valuable in industry, when would be a good time to transition as well as more naive questions along the lines of if an industry position could still satisfy my scientific curiosity. I was hoping my mentor could shed some light on these facts and provide me with clarity of what industry is looking for and more specifics about certain industry positions. 

The best piece of advice that I’ve received that resonated with me and I keep reminding myself is ” focus on the goal”. We get so lost in the process, or get dragged down with minor distraction that we sometimes loose sight of the end goal. So when you feel like you’re drifting, focus on the goal. 

What are some of the key qualities you seek in a mentor? 

  • A good listener 
  • Ability to provide a reality check (if and when needed) 
  • Provide valuable insights fuelled by experience 

What are the top 3 key things you hope to learn through the IMNIS program? 

  • Tips on planning out a strategic career direction 
  • More specifics on certain industry positions as well as skills valued by industry 
  • Further skill sets I should acquire to successfully transition into an industry position that a PhD doesn’t traditionally teach you 

What has been the most rewarding aspect of the IMNIS program for you so far?

Getting introduced to my mentor Sara. I think that simply knowing a fantastic female role model like Sara who’s achieved so much makes me think that some of the goals I want to achieve are possible.

LinkedIn: Dhanushika (Danni) Ratnayake

Twitter: @DanniNDR