Dr Emily Pilkington
Give a brief overview of who you are and what you are studying at the Alliance?
My name is Dr. Emily Pilkington and I'm a biologist by training (BSc Microbiology and Genetics, Monash University, 2014) turned nanomaterials scientist by trade, currently investigating nanomaterials at the interface of immunology as a postdoctoral researcher at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, Australia.
What was your involvement with the Alliance?
I came to the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences after a cold email seeking work as a research assistant, fresh off of my Honours year, where I had my first experience in working with nanoparticles (making virus-like particles and exploring their capacity as drug delivery vehicles) -- not necessarily intending to progress to a PhD, more keeping my options open. But the Monash Warwick Alliance PhD did catch my eye. I liked the idea of getting to travel and do research abroad, and in doing so be able to push my personal and professional development further than the average PhD program would allow.
What did you learn from this experience?
I signed on for a joint appointment PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences / Chemistry with a project investigating pathological amyloid aggregation and how it may be mitigated using nanomaterials, and a supervisory team consisting of a physicist and two polymer chemists (a far cry from where I started in my undergrad!). I designed my research work in a six month 'rotation' between Australia and the UK over two years, allowing me to take advantage of the resources and facilities between the labs in both countries (and, importantly, guarantee me two years of summer). The collaborative work I did through the Alliance resulted in a high impact paper (which made national news in Australia) and a number of co-authorships, overall netting me over a dozen papers by the culmination of my PhD. I was also able to attend conferences across Europe and Australia, greatly enriching my professional network and generally resulting in seeing a lot of cool sights (the Arctic Circle definitely a highlight).
What are your future plans?
As for the future, I'm continuing to build my career as a nanomaterials researcher, having previously applied for fellowships both here in Australia and in Europe (thanks to my Warwick connections), but am first looking forwards to finally being able to attend my graduation ceremony (delayed significantly by a certain pandemic) for the Monash side of my PhD next year!
What advice would you offer other students thinking about getting involved with the Alliance?
The program is not without its challenges, however, and I would advise students who are interested in applying for a Monash-Warwick PhD to consider how well they might fare being so far from home (18 hours by plane!), and whether they're quick enough on their feet to push through the jetlag, adapt, effectively communicate and take advantage of a new working environment. A Monash Warwick PhD can be very productive, but only if you're up to the challenge!