- Student type: International
- Degree type: PhD
- Degree(s): Doctor of Philosophy
“My vision is to be a leading computational and systems biologist in personalised medicine, especially in cancer immunology. I am passionate about my career path because I know with my bioinformatics skills and biology knowledge, I will be able to save people who are suffering from cancer and build a healthier world”, says Dr Chen Li.
Chen has a background in computer science and technology which had informed the focus of his master’s studies. However, he was drawn to complete his PhD in bioinformatics and computational biology. Supervised by Associate Professor Ashley Buckle and Associate Professor Jiangning Song, his PhD focused on developing bioinformatic approaches and data resources for analysing protein structure, function and their associations with human diseases.
This is an interdisciplinary and ‘hypothesis-driven’ area that combines the skills and knowledge from both computer science and biology. “I realised that I needed to do something more practical, something more applicable to address real-world issues”, he says.
Changing his research focus was challenging for Chen, but this didn’t deter him. “Learning something new is always hard but it can also be fun and fulfilling. I believe that stepping out of your comfort zone is probably the fastest way to help you learn and grow”, he says.
As an international student from China, Chen had the added challenge of language. He is grateful for the support he received from the University, including through its English Connect program, which helped him to significantly improve his English in a relaxed and friendly environment. He advises other international students to practice their English whenever they can and to see the correction of mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve.
Chen benefited from having a strong and supportive relationship with his supervisors during his PhD and postdoctoral stages of his career. He discussed research ideas as well as career progression pathways. “I believe a harmonious relationship between you and your supervisor(s) is the key to a successful PhD life and future career development”, he says.
“My department provided a variety of research and social activities to make the research environment relaxing, friendly but focused,” he says. The scientific seminars and lectures offered were both inspiring and insightful. Chen also became involved in the PhD student committee and organised a number of social activities with other students, adding an enjoyable social element to his time at Monash.
After completing his PhD in 2016, Chen joined the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Monash University, as a joint research bioinformatician.
Since March 2018, he has been supported by an NHMRC CJ Martin Early Career Research Fellowship, which has provided him with the opportunity to work jointly in the Aebersold Lab at ETH Zurich and the Purcell Lab at Monash University. His current research focuses on integrating proteomics and immunopeptidomics to understand prostate cancer carcinogenesis, diagnosis and treatment.
“My Monash PhD degree and research track record helped me to secure my early career fellowship, which enables me to extend my research network and further train my research skillsets in Europe. This is crucial for a young researcher whose scientific career just took off”, he says.
Chen adds that “obtaining my PhD degree is significantly helping me to realise my scientific dream, which is to help people with health issues using my computer skills. To me, my PhD was not only a degree, but also, more importantly, it was a process of mental training and a challenge that made me step out of my comfort zone, improve and grow”.