STEMM Profile: Rubaiyea Farrukee | Roche Postdoctoral Fellow | University of Melbourne | Melbourne | VIC

“In academia the ‘publish or perish’ mentality means that any career break can lead to a gap in publishing, which ends up having long term detrimental effect on a women’s ‘track record’. Personally, this challenge is deterring me from having children of my own as I am wary of the impact on my career”

I am currently at Roche Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Melbourne. I arrived in Australia in 2009 to pursue my undergraduate in Biotechnology with Monash University and proceeded to do my Honours at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza. Following my studies, I worked for two years in as a Formulation Chemist within the personal care industry. This was a very interesting period in my career as I had the opportunity to gain industry experience in science, learn about the product development and gain valuable skills in project management. In 2016, I started my PhD with Melbourne University, in collaboration with the WHO lab I did my Honours in.

My PhD project explored the multi-faceted aspects of antiviral resistance in influenza, including studying how resistance arises, how it affects the fitness of influenza viruses and what kind of risk there is of resistance becoming widespread. While doing my PhD, I continued to work casually as a formulation chemist to expand my exposure to different aspects of science. During my PhD I was fortunate to receive multiple scholarships, including the Major Bartlett Scholarship for Travel, The Millis Jackson Research Scholarship and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Travel fellowship. These awards made it possible for me to present my research in multiple national and international conference. Another highlight during my PhD was my participation in the Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS) with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, during which period I gained many insights into the industry prospects available to students post-PhD and developed long lasting relationships with my mentor and other IMNIS participants.

I am very excited to have recently joined the Roche Postdoctoral fellowship programme, which is a perfect opportunity to work within the interface of academia and the pharmaceutical industry. In my current role we are exploring novel therapeutic options for respiratory viruses.

What inspired you to do science? Have you always liked STEMM?

I have always loved STEMM. I enjoyed science in school and really enjoy the process of experimenting and learning new things. There are definitely ups and downs, but nothing compares to the excitement of discovering something novel or interesting. I feel privileged to be at the forefront of knowledge creation with so many intelligent and passionate individuals.

What do you think is the most important character trait in a successful STEMM professional?

Perseverance is vital in STEMM as an academic researcher. Failure and rejection are part of life when in academia, be it failed experiments, paper rejections or grant rejections. Uncertainty is also normal, as an academic life is tied to funding success. In my experience, I find that scientists that have the resilience and perseverance to keep moving forward despite these drawbacks, end up achieving most success.

What is the biggest challenge to women pursuing a career in the STEMM sector?

Lack of appropriate childcare is the single biggest challenge to women in STEMM. In academia the ‘publish or perish’ mentality means that any career break can lead to a gap in publishing, which ends up having long term detrimental effect on a women’s ‘track record’. Personally, this challenge is deterring me from having children of my own as I am wary of the impact on my career.

You have worked in both industry and academia, what skills could be applied to the roles you had in each sector?

The ability to communicate complicated ideas effectively is a skill that is relevant in almost any role related to science. It is also vital to describe scientific concepts respectfully to non-scientists, as nothing puts people off more than ‘being talked down to’.

How do you cope with loss or rejection in your career?

It is important to nurture your mental health as it helps us come up with coping mechanism for dealing with loss or rejection. I am a strong advocate of practicing meditation, and yoga, both of which can help in developing mindfulness. Mindfulness can help with putting losses/rejection within the context of a bigger picture and help with stress.

LinkedIn: Rubaiyea Farrukee


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