Student Profile - Alicia Chenoweth

Alicia presenting her poster at the 2016 CCS Postgraduate Symposium

Alicia Chenoweth is a PhD student in the Hogarth lab at the Burnet Institute where she is supervised by Professor Mark Hogarth and Dr Bruce Wines. Alicia studied her undergraduate degrees in her home city of Adelaide, combining a Bachelor of Biomedical Science with a Diploma in French, followed by Honours specialising in mast cells. While visiting a friend in Melbourne, Alicia found her current PhD project and decided to pursue it, on novel roles of Fc receptors in inflammation.

What is your research about?

I work in antibodies and Fc receptors, understanding how antibodies and Fc receptors interact. I'm also looking at non-human primate (NHP) models, in particular macaques. They are considered important models of human immunity and have been vital in preclinical testing for vaccines and therapeutics. Despite this, much less characterization of macaque Fc receptors has occurred compared to humans or mice. So we're working on that to refine preclinical testing and make it more analogous to humans.

Finally, I also look at human mast cells, looking at the Fc receptors on mast cells, hopefully to find therapeutics for allergy.

Are these areas that you’ve always been interested in?

I’ve always been really interested in allergy and autoimmunity, they were the diseases that piqued my interest at first. I did my honours back in Adelaide, I’m from there and I did it in mast cells, looking at human mast cells and allergy and it evolved from there. This project, working on Fc receptors, fit in with Fce recptors on mast cells and Fcy on so many other cells, so it’s evolved but I really love it.

You also have a Diploma in French, can you tell me about that?

I did French all through high school, I was always wanting Science as a career, I loved research, but I wanted to continue on with French because I enjoyed that as well and it would be something a bit different. So I did a Diploma of Languages and I actually got to spend six months in France studying science over there. I did all the biochemistry and genetics in French.

How was it studying science in French?

It was an experience! I loved it and thankfully the science wasn’t actually that difficult, everything’s very Latin based, so a lot of the words are really similar. I found that the French university system was very different from the Australian university system. They’re very tough - if 50% of the class passes a test then it’s considered easy. So it was quite daunting! The relationship between the student and the professor was also very formal in France.

I learnt so much over there and met some amazing people, and I got to use both of what I enjoyed - science and French. I found all the people to be lovely and I made some really good friends who I stay in touch with.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

That is such a tough question! I have so many favourite places!

Top three?

I love France. Paris is, for me, one of the greatest cities in the world. And the south, and the countryside! It’s just so beautiful! I just love it. I really enjoy London as well, I find London as a city strangely appealing. As soon as I went there and visited I felt at home immediately. I love Canada, It’s a gorgeous country with some amazing scenery. The little towns are gorgeous.

I feel bad about leaving out so many other places! My mum’s a travel agent, so I’ve grown up with the travel bug!

What advice do you have for others considering or just starting a PhD?

To people that are considering starting it, make sure you pick something that you’re going to be passionate about, that you’re going to enjoy, because it’s a long and difficult couple of years to do something that you don’t want to do.

Something else I would also recommend is choose your lab - find a project you like, but make sure you’ve got a supportive lab with people you’re going to get along with. My lab’s amazing so I’ve really enjoyed coming into work and seeing them every day. It’s such a great environment.

To people starting a PhD, make sure you realise it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Manage your time, make sure that you do take time for yourself. Try and have a work-life balance, don’t come in every weekend because you’ll burnout after a year. Have a good support system around you, family and friends, people that are at work, people who you can talk to to take your mind off it or rant to if you need to.

What have you enjoyed most about doing a PhD?

I enjoy pretty much all of it! I enjoy the work, I love coming in and doing the actual lab research. It’s a really cool feeling to find something that’s worked and realise you’re basically the only person in the world to know that at that point in time..