Christopher Denes, PhD student and IMNIS Mentee in the 2017 MedTech-Pharma program – The University of Sydney (NSW) [Image: Melad Farraha]

“Whether it be my mentor’s own pathway to success, or tips on what skills are great to develop early, the information they’re willing to pass on is invaluable”

I’m a microbiologist in my second year of a PhD (Medicine) at the University of Sydney. I’ve just recently started my mentorship as part of the inaugural New South Wales IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program.

Following an Honours project at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Westmead, New South Wales, I’ve taken on a research project looking at potential antiviral targets for herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1) infections. Extending my skills in molecular biology, I’m interrogating a list of potential protein-protein interactions involved in the life cycle of the virus. This project is in its preliminary stages so I’ve had the opportunity to take ownership of the work and have direct input on the project with my supervisor. I’ll be presenting at the Australasian Virology Society Scientific Meeting in Adelaide in December to share my work externally for the first time and meet expert virologists in the field. On top of my lab work, I’ve also been lucky enough to take on teaching roles, most notably as a lab demonstrator for a third-year virology unit at the university. Passing on my knowledge and skills to the upcoming Honours and PhD students is something I really enjoy doing.

I’ve recently participated in the University of Sydney’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition as well as local mini-conferences where I’ve learned the need to be able to translate basic science into content that is marketable to a non-science audience. Through this I’m developing an interest in science communication and really making science accessible to all. Other fields I’m keen to learn about include patent law and R&D.

Why are you participating in the IMNIS program? 

The opportunity to learn about industry so early in my PhD attracted me to the program. I have always thought I would move forward into a post-doctoral position and work my way up in academia to run my own laboratory and teach my own students. But that pathway was never influenced by an understanding of what careers are available in industry or the knowledge that you can still work ‘in science’ without being in the lab. I’m here to learn all I can about Australia’s growing biotechnology/medical/pharmaceutical industries and where my skillset and interests might take me if I decide I want a career in industry.

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

I am so appreciative of the time and energy our mentors give us in providing advice and information. I think it’s incredibly important to listen intently and ask a mixture of open- and close-ended questions. It’s up to me as the mentee to drive the relationship and learn as much as I can in this short time. Whether it be my mentor’s own pathway to success, or tips on what skills are great to develop early, the information they’re willing to pass on is invaluable.

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

I hope to develop a professional industry sector network with the support of my mentor to complement my growing network of researchers and academics. Meeting people who work in all aspects of industry will help me ascertain the specific areas I might enjoy working in. I’d also like to work with my mentor on developing a list of attributes to strive towards having, identifying those I have currently and those I need to work on.

Best advice so far: effective leadership is an incredibly attractive skill. I’ve learned that I should take as many opportunities as possible to develop and enrich my leadership abilities.

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

  • Coming from an academic research institute, I’m interested in learning as much as I can about the variety of careers options available in the industry sector – what opportunities are available to me that I’m not yet aware of? 
  • I hope to learn how to make the most out of networking opportunities to build my skills and professional relationships in developing a collaborative future.
  • Through discussion of my own strengths and weaknesses with my mentor, I want to learn how I can successfully market those strengths and improve upon my weaknesses to make myself as competitive as possible when entering the workforce following my PhD.

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

This is really the first time in my PhD that I’ve taken an offered opportunity and really run with it solo – this isn’t a requirement for my candidature, nor is anyone I know a part of this program. I’ve put myself out there to find out more about possible futures and that’s a big deal for me. Having met my mentor, I’m so excited for the knowledge and recommendations she can provide to me and am looking forward to that mentorship relationship developing further.