Dr Felicia Simone Paulraj

PhD graduate of 2016

When I was in school, I did not have a clue about what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I loved science and I had a passion for teaching. With those two pieces of information, I embarked on a journey of a formal education in the sciences and was always engaged in one form of teaching or another. I began tutoring when I was in secondary school, my first teaching job was at a local college and I was a practical demonstrator in university.

I completed my Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Genetics, Immunology & Microbiology) degree in the University of Adelaide, Australia and I wanted to continue my Honours research degree in an Australian-based campus. I knew that with Monash, I would be assured of a quality education. The range of research and scholarship opportunities provided by the School of Medicine, state of the art facilities and the experienced and supportive staff were driving factors for me to pursue my PhD in the Jeffrey School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

I had a vast learning experience at Monash University Malaysia. During my honours degree, I was trained in the maintenance, handling and injections of C57/BL6 mice housed in Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) conditions; specific mouse behaviour analysis systems and acquired experience in sampling, sectioning and processing of specific areas of rodent brain tissue. During my PhD, I was exposed to cancer cell culture maintenance, fluorescence cell microscopy, microarray, flow cytometry and sequencing platforms and was exposed to various bioinformatics softwares and data analysis. Overall I obtained sound practical, technical and statistical analysis skills, which can be applied in any related health science field.

Besides presenting my work in various local conferences, in the last year of my PhD, I was given the opportunity to present part of my research at an international Cold Spring Harbour conference in Shanghai, China focused on Precision Cancer Biology and Medicine. I was able to share with, learn from and gain feedback from experts in the field. During my time there, I was awed by the huge amount of scientific research that was being undertaken to develop personalised medicine and cancer therapies.

Conducting my research at Monash under the supervision of Associate Professor Dr Rakesh Naidu, gave me an appreciation of the importance of good science. Anyone can learn to handle scientific apparatus, but it is more important to be able to identify the problems that plague humanity, ask the right questions and acquire the ability to think critically and choose the right techniques / platforms to attempt to find solutions. Undertaking good science isn’t easy, but when done properly, can greatly impact the quality of human life.

Thankfully postgraduate life at Monash wasn’t all about my research (although at times it was consuming). I was a representative of the School of Medicine in the Monash University Postgraduate Association (MUPA) for two years and was part of School Research Committee Meetings. I was given the opportunity to represent my peers in student forums dedicated to support the welfare and needs of postgraduate students. I also participated in various MUPA-hosted social and networking events that included barbeques, Zumba and fitness programs, retreats (Colloquium) and seminars.

Looking back, the friendships and professional relationships that I formed during my postgraduate studies in Monash is what I cherish the most. Having to constantly juggle meeting deadlines, complete lab work and deal with various setbacks such as cell contamination or protocols that refused to work, became exhausting at many junctures. The fact that I had a dedicated supervisor (thank you AP Dr Rakesh!), supportive teaching and administrative staff and a good group of peers that I could rely on for support and motivation was a major contributing factor to my success in completing my PhD.

Throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate education, I’ve encountered scientists who brought difficult concepts and theories to life which motivated me to further investigate about how things worked. I have also sat in lectures with other brilliant scientists but struggled to understand the wealth of what was being taught due to ineffective delivery. Gradually I discovered that I wanted to make science accessible to enquiring minds. Young learners today have immediate access to a large volume of information which demands that teachers facilitate education that is meaningful, personalised and engaging. In short, I believe that teachers play unique roles in the initial spark of curiosity which sends students on their own journey of exploration.

After I completed my PhD, I was employed at HELP International School where I am currently teaching pre-university and secondary Biology. It is a positive environment where the students’ needs are always prioritised, educators motivate one another to develop professionally and technology is (and should be) kept relevant. I actively try to inculcate in my own students not only a love for science but also to inspire critical thinking skills. Teaching good science to individuals can and has to begin early on in life. My experience at Monash Malaysia placed me in a unique position to use the knowledge that I obtained in my research and academia to inspire and guide the students to ask important scientific questions and think critically about potential solutions to them. I am also in a mid-management level in a fulfilling role that involves taking care of student welfare and allows me to apply the pastoral experience that I obtained in my position as a MUPA student representative.

In closing, I can only echo the late Steve Jobs who once said that "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”