Kate Chen, IMNIS mentee in the 2017 MedTech-Pharma program in NSW (University of Sydney) 

“…it’s been a rewarding journey and my mentor has been extremely helpful in guiding me through the program.”

I am currently undertaking a PhD in Immunology at the faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney. I joined IMNIS 2017 MedTech-Pharma Program and under the mentorship of My Linh Kha, General Manager at Amgen Australia.

I have completed a Summer Research Scholarship and an Honours degree in immunology at the University of Sydney. My summer research was focused on the modification and validation of an immune monitoring tool for patients that received renal transplants in a clinical trial at Westmead Hospital. My Honours and current research is focused on using a genetically modified mouse strain to elucidate the function of an antigen on the surface of white blood cells by using a monoclonal antibody. It is important to understand the basic biology of the target antigen as well as how it controls and mounts an effect immune response against the invasion of pathogens or inflammation. The outcome of this project has profound implications including new biomarker discovery, drugs development and establishment of clinical pipeline in biopharma industry.

I have been awarded a scholarship for academic excellence from the University of Sydney with Australian Postgraduate Award for continuing my PhD candidature. Recently, a recipient of the Early Career Research Award and Research Travel Award by Concord Repatriation General Hospital, I was able to attend the annual meeting of American Association of Immunologists held in Austin, Texas (2018). Attending this conference was important to me, as it provided an excellent opportunity to highlight my work to an international audience, allowing feedback and chances to form new collaborations and drive future opportunities of this work. The IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program has played an important role in facilitating my development and professional skills in addition to supporting my greater training towards my PhD.

Why are you participating in the IMNIS program?

Before I joined the IMNIS program, I was perfectly happy doing my own experiments in the lab. I have never had a mentor before, and thus, I thought it might be beneficial to have an experienced and different perspective from an expert outside of my research field to help me with my professional development including my personal skills for eventually working in the biopharma industry. I believe that by participating the IMNIS program, I would have an opportunity to translate my knowledge of immunology into a tool that I can use to help patients with rare diseases and cancers.

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

My mentor was a great role model to me. She taught me what it’s like being a female leader in a top pharmaceutical company. I could not possibly imagine the work-load and stress she faces every day in her role. I felt very fortunate and lucky enough to have been matched with my mentor. By the end of IMNIS program, I learnt very much from her rich experience. So far, it’s been a rewarding journey and my mentor has been extremely helpful in guiding me through the program.

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

I would have regular meetings with my mentor at least once a month either on the phone or in person. During the meetings, my mentor would listen to my issues and offer practical solutions. She would also connect me with experts, who might be of benefit in my networking development, understanding the big picture of medical research and business aspects with regards to the biopharma industry. I still remembered clearly in our first meeting, she told me “think about your advantage and use it.” These words had a significant impact on me and completely changed the way I managed my work and people around me.

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

  • Effective communication: The IMNIS program provided a professional platform to help me to communicate my research ideas and make it accessible to people outside of my research field.
  • Networking: I hoped to learn the skills to build-up professional relationships with experts in the biopharma industry through the IMNIS program.
  • People management: I hoped by the end of the program, I would become more confidence with myself and improve my management skills with people working together as a team.

At the end of the program, I feel that I have more than achieved these three key things.

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

During the IMNIS program with my mentor, we built a mutual respect and understanding for each other even though we only saw each other once a month. it was my mentor’s “down to earth personality” and bold commitment to this mentorship that drove me to maintain this professional relationship with her. As a result, I learnt to look at the “big picture” of medical research, develop the skill set that is required to work with people and achieve common goals as a team.

Joining the IMNIS program was of significant benefit to me and I would strongly recommend it to all the 2nd year PhD students.

Thank you for this opportunity – it was both rewarding and enriching.