Diana: PhD leads to much more

I finished my PhD at UQ in 2006. The object of my study was what I love the most, plants. Specifically, using molecular genetic approaches I indentified genes responsible for a unique and ingenious symbiosis between a model plant (Lotus japonicus) and a soil bacteria that allows the plant to utilize air nitrogen.

One great aspect of my study was that I actually developed the tools to do genetics in a model organism. This is way better than having them ready-made, because it enhanced my learning of the scientific process so much more. The other fantastic aspect was the variety and the different levels I was operating on: inserting pieces of DNA into the genome (to trap native promoters), fishing them out (to get to the neighboring genes), creating reporter gene fusions, monitoring the cellular events of the communication between the plant and the bacteria, creating mutants (and finding names for them! See ABACUS- the nodule counter) and so on.

The lab itself was brand new and spacious (the only new work bench I have had since), extremely well resourced and very international. High excitement and hard work fueled my PhD throughout, which was made possible by the most supportive environment I have ever come to know. I was also fortunate to meet people that epitomized “scientist”, “educator” and “friend” for me.

After my PhD, I felt that the learning experience itself is more important than any specific topic, and so I moved to a field new to me, epigenetics (deals with heritable information that is not encoded in the primary DNA sequence). I have since done one postdoc with CSIRO and I am doing a second one in Japan, working on epigenetic machinery in plants and discovering new components and mechanisms that are universal to all organisms. For my current studies it is very helpful to have a plant development background and be able to relate complex transcriptional programs to plasticity and response to environment.

To sum up, I have now done research on three continents, into different subjects that I could freely choose and there is always more to come. A scientific undertaking may as well be your dream trampoline, too.

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