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CHOOSEMATHS Grant recipient profile: Charmaine Enculescu

Charmaine Enculescu

The University of Queensland

Charmaine Enculescu is a PhD candidate in molecular biosciences and neuroscience at the University of Queensland. She has completed a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in biomedical science and chemistry at the University of Queensland in 2015. Charmaine began her PhD in 2016 after being awarded an Australian Postgraduate Award. Throughout her undergraduate research, she primarily characterised the kinetic activity of antibiotic-degrading metallo-β-lactamases. Her current research involves using high-throughput techniques, primarily proteomics to identify molecular pathways associated with Alcohol Use disorder.

Can you give me a quick overview of the type of mathematics you are studying and its potential impacts for the broader community

My project uses high-throughput techniques (proteomics, metabolomics and transcriptomics) to identify possible candidate genes associated with Alcohol-Use disorder in the human brain. We apply a number of statistical methods to analyse our data.

How important was receiving a CHOOSEMATHS grant in terms of your ability to attend and fully participate in the AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017 sessions throughout the week?

The Grant assisted me in the costs of flying to Melbourne which I would not have been able to afford otherwise.

How important are initiatives such as the CHOOSEMATHS Grants in terms of fostering the participation and achievement of women in mathematics, particularly in terms of access to networking opportunities and further training opportunities?

Women from an early age are taught to be nice, polite, and other facets of subserviency. I can never recall an instance where my decision to pursue a career in STEM was met with warm regard or encouragement. Having an event that highlights the achievements of women in mathematics was an incredibly enlightening experience. Networking with these intelligent women helped me feel reassured in the future I am navigating. They provided great insights and different avenues that could lead to success within STEM.

In what ways has the experience impacted your maths studies? Has it influenced the direction of your research?

The experience has impacted my PhD. I have since decided to refine and advance my knowledge in proteomics and the applications of statistics to the fields.

What was the most valuable part of AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017 for you in terms of furthering your career in mathematical sciences?

The most valuable part was networking with other young researchers. Most people do not understand the struggles of a PhD student. It was great to share the woes of research with like-minded people, in addition to learning what skills and techniques they are using for their projects.

A presentation on the AMSI Intern program was included as part of the Careers Session. One of the aims of the AMSI Intern program is to maximise employability and help prepare research graduates to drive industry/private sector research. Are you hoping to work with industry? How important is this experience for researchers? Particularly in terms of offering career flexibility for women?

I feel like an industry experience would be a wonderful experience for me. I am hoping to work in industry, so I can learn new skills and collaborate with more researchers.

The CHOOSEMATHS Grants are part of a broader program being delivered by AMSI Schools with support from BHP Billiton to turn the tide on Australia’s maths deficit and strengthen maths education and participation of women across the discipline. What do you see as the big challenges facing maths in Australia, particularly for women?

STEM is a tool. The possibilities are endless. Young women need to be made aware of this from an early age.

Shifting the mindset that mathematics is simply numbers and formulas, and instead has many powerful applications may help encourage more women. We however need a support network for young women starting from primary school. It needs to be embedded from an early age that women can succeed within STEM.

Did you always want to pursue a career in maths? Were you encouraged to study these subjects at school? Do any particular mentors come to mind? Any outstanding teachers?

I was fortunate enough to attend the Queensland Academy for Science, Mathematics and Technology. The school offers the IB program from grade 11-12 where grade 10 is used as a preparation period. The study techniques I learned from this school were invaluable. Learning, and critical thinking are very important skills that I believe most students after graduating high school are lacking. Unfortunately, this pre-disposed university students to failure, which deters them from pursuing a career in research.
I can say that all my teachers were outstanding at school. Most of them held a higher research degree and had such a passion for teaching and STEM. Were it not for this success driven school I most likely would not be pursuing a PhD.

Where do you see yourself in five or ten years time?

I have other interests outside of STEM however I would still like to put a PhD to use. Unfortunately, I have been disenchanted at pursing long-term career in academia. It’s just not for me.

I love socialising, and I love listening to what other people do. Patent law is something that would allow me to learn of, and to protect people’s research while staying updated within the field.