STEMM Profile: Samira Aili | PhD Student | School of Life Sciences | University of Technology Sydney | Sydney | NSW
Thesis topic: Identification and characterisation of novel insecticides and antibiotics from ant venoms
“I chose science as I’ve always wanted to be in a profession that help people in some way”
At the end of my Bachelor of Medical Science at the University of Technology Sydney, I decided to do an Honours year to obtain some research and time management skills. At the end of my Honours, I realised I loved my research topic and my lab group, which is why I have continued to a PhD.
I’m currently in the second year of my PhD and my research revolves around identifying novel insecticides or antibiotics using ant venom. These venoms have a huge potential as they are used by ants for defence and predation. Therefore they harbour compounds in their venoms which allow them to perform these functions. This is a really important area of research especially due to the huge antibiotic and insecticide resistance we currently faced.
One of my favourite things about doing a PhD is the opportunities it has given me to travel. I’ve been to several conferences locally and internationally where I have been awarded poster and presentation awards. Conferences have allowed me to meet people from all over the world which in turn has opened up so many doors for me in terms of job opportunities and collaborations. For example, presenting my work at Oxford University in the UK resulted in me, meeting a current collaborator who I visited in Singapore and am working with now.
When I am not in the lab, I love travelling and boxing.
What is it you love about science?
My favourite thing about science is the fact that it satisfies my endless curiosity. I was always the kid who asked too many questions.
What has been the highlight of your studies so far?
During my PhD I was selected to attend a course known as Biomedical Innovation and Entrepreneurship which was held in Taiwan, based on the Stanford University SPARK program. It is about learning how to find innovative, efficient and cost-effective approaches to drug discovery and development. This course is an international initiative and is run in a different country every year. We had participants from universities in Australia, Taiwan, Stanford and Tokyo. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life; however, it was a very rewarding experience after my group won the competition as well as the funding to further our idea.
What attracted you to your chosen field of study?
I chose science as I’ve always wanted to be in a profession that help people in some way. My current work is helping find new insecticides and antibiotics which is really important with the increasing resistance problem to both. We also have an increasing world population that needs to be fed, but crops are being affected by insects, so hopefully my research will contribute to the global community.
Do you have any mentors in your field? Have they given you a special piece of advice or guidance you’d like to share?
My mentor is my supervisor, Professor Graham Nicholson. He has helped me immensely in my work and is always there for me despite his busy schedule. He’s also super organised which was one of the reasons I decided to work with him as this has helped me work in such a way.
What has surprised you about yourself during the course of your studies?
I have surprised myself with my ability to multitask and maintain a balance between university, work and life. I teach and demonstrate to undergraduate science students, involve with outreach to high school students, work at a local pharmacy on weekends and also at the same time pursue my PhD.
I also love boxing which is why I aim to do it for at least four times a week. I love my busy schedule and can’t have long periods of time without having anything to do, which is probably stemmed from my childhood where I didn’t get any school holidays as I attended two schooling systems – the Australian and Algerian at the same time up until year 10.
[Image attributions: Emma Dawson]