University of Technology Sydney
Daniela is a second year PhD student in a bioinformatics research group. She obtained both her Bachelor of Science and Master in Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences at the University of Utrecht (UU), the Netherlands. Her laboratory work included two major internships. The first was in a fungal biotech laboratory at UU, where Daniela looked at genetic material exchange of Aspergillus niger and the secretion potential of A. niger mutants. She carried out her second internship in a neurobiology research group at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), USA, where she studied the effects of a mutagen protein which was transgenically inserted into the model animal Caenorhabditis elegans, to study the effects of the mutagen on DNA oxidation of neurons that control locomotion. Both interships included a fair amount of genetics and molecular biology techniques. For Daniela’s PhD she took genetics to a higher level, moving to Sydney in Aaron Darling lab, and working on a microbiome project. They aim at characterizing the functional and compositional gut microbiome of piglets, to understand if and at what extent probiotics can replace the currently prophylactically administered antibiotics to prevent disease outbreaks.
Can you give me a quick overview of the type of mathematics you are studying and its potential impacts for the broader community
I am learning to use the tools necessary to perform big data analysis. From a bioinformatics point of view, that includes coding, developing pipelines to analyse the massive amount of data generated by next-generation sequencing. From a mathematics point of view, I need to get a brush-up and more in depth training of statistics, a necessary tool to help interpret results. In my project, the output of the analysis tells you what the gut microbial community is composed of and its functional potential. This information can be used to better diagnose gut related diseases as well as guide the design of microbial cocktails to shift the microbial community from a diseased to a healthy state.
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?
Having finished my high-degree research (HDR) student budget for 2017, I wouldn’t have been able to attend AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017 without the grant.
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?
Networking in academia is often restricted to the faculty environment. As PhD students, we only get the chance to network at conferences, workshops and events such as AMSI BioInfoSummer. Data analysis of large datasets is relatively a new field that generated with the technology advancement brought by next-generation sequencing. Therefore, undergraduate or master courses that teach students to code are rare, if not inexistent, for most universities. CHOOSEMATHS helps students to network and provides training opportunities.
In what ways has the experience impacted your maths studies? Has it influenced the direction of your research?
No, it hasn’t changed the direction of my research. It gave me the awareness of the obstacles other students face when they try to run data analysis without a proper formal training. I shared my experiences with others and shared research ideas and available training resources.
What was the most valuable part of AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017 for you in terms of furthering your career in mathematical sciences?
The motivation received when hearing others’ experiences in the bioinformatics field, hearing about the possibilities of exploiting bioinformatics tools also outside of my research area.
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 think an industry experience is valuable to any academic. In my case, I would personally like to work in a probiotic designing and manufacturing company after my PhD. That would give me a more complete understanding of the rationale taken in designing probiotics, of the possible obstacles of manufacturing, promoting and bringing onto the market. I learned about the AMSI Intern program and I am thinking of exploiting this possibility to run a small internship in an industry towards the end of my PhD.
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?
I do not think women should experience any bigger challenges that men do. The only challenge I personally see, is the lack of training resources at universities available to Master and PhD students. Maths, statistics and Bioinformatics courses should be promoted and given to Master and PhD students, as these subjects are extremely valuable and necessary to science students in particular.
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 very much enjoyed maths in high school. Some high school teachers certainly had a positive impact on my later (science) career choices. Unfortunately I haven’t been exposed to much mathematics later during my Bachelor in Biological Sciences program, except for a few courses in which models where used (e.g.: metabolism, ecology), one statistics course, and one course in bioinformatics where we were taught how to navigate through publicly available online databases. I think mathematics and statistics courses should be made available to Master and PhD students. This would enhance the quality of their projects.
Where do you see yourself in five or ten years time?
Working in an institute/industry developing diagnostic tools for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) and developing therapeutics to shift IBD patients’ disease state towards a healthy state.
Any other feedback/comments you would like to provide on the CHOOSEMATHS grant or AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017?
Thank you for AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017! It was a great experience!