Student Profile - Aislin Meehan

Aislin Meehan successfully completed her PhD in 2014. She looked at the role of Natural Killer (NK) cells after human lung transplantation. Aislin was supervised by Dr Glen Westall and co supervised by Dr Nicole Mifsud and A/Prof Tom Kotsimbos in the Department of Immunology. This interview was originally published in 2014.

What is your research about?

My research was centered around immunology and investigated the role of Natural Killer (NK) cells after human lung transplantation. Key areas of analysis were to assess changes in the phenotype and function of NK cells in lung transplant patients compared to healthy control subjects to determine if NK cells were affected by the process of transplantation and the immunosuppression received by patients; as well as to measure whether NK cells assisted with viral control or contributed to the development of acute and chronic rejection that occurred post-transplant.

What interested you about this sort of research?

I was most interested in the fact that this research was clinical and focused on exploring changes in the human immune system that could in due course help clinicians to help patients. I liked the fact that this research was being conducted with samples taken from patients enrolled on-site at the Alfred Hospital and I enjoyed the visits up to the hospital ward to collect the patient sample. It was great to have the clinical perspective of the doctors and nursing staff about putting the patient first. Being based at AMREP, I felt that my research was closer to the patients we were investigating.

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time I like to have a cup of tea and read a book with one of my two cats curled up on my lap. I also like to jog or go to the gym, as well as spending a weekend away camping and hiking with my husband.

What was your first job?

My first ever job was as a "checkout chick" at the local Creswick supermarket (town I grew up in).

I was a Research Assistant prior to commencing my PhD. I have been a prac demonstrator and tutor for undergraduate students during my PhD studies. I worked part-time for d3 Medicine during my thesis write up period (a biopharma company who provide strategic advice to companies during the drug development process). This placement was enabled through receiving the VIIN-Industry Alliance scholarship.

My first job having completed my PhD is working for GSK Australia as a Scientific Advisor.

Have you always been interested in clinical research?

I have always been interested in biology and particularly biology relating to humans and how the immune system works to fight infections. When choosing an honours project at the end of my undergraduate degree, I specifically wanted to work on a project that involved clinical research (a project relating to humans, not animal research) as I felt this would bring my lab based research closer to providing beneficial patient outcomes. I appreciate the fact that a lot of basic research leads to the clinical research that provides important information about assessing medicines in patients and giving feedback to the clinicians about genetics, biology and the immune system to help improve patient health and long term survival.

What's your favourite place in the world?

I love Melbourne, so I would have to say this is my favourite place to live. Most of my family and friends live in Melbourne or near enough by that I can easily visit, as well as the fact that my husband and I own our house in Melbourne. I've traveled around the world which has made me appreciate how beautiful Australia is and one of my favourite places in Australia is Kings Canyon in the red centre. It's like walking on Mars!

What advice would you give to someone who is about to start their PhD?

Make sure that you are certain that it is the right decision for you. Do you actually "need" a PhD to progress in your own career pathway? It is a very significant commitment and takes a lot of time and energy (both actual and emotional) as well as being a full-time job with only half-time pay. Be sure that you have a good support network to help you through all the way, right to the finish. Also, get used to people always asking you "So, how's your PhD going? When will you finish writing your thesis?"

Who were your supervisors and what did you like about them?

Glen Westall was my primary supervisor. Working to a doctor's busy schedule can be a challenge, but Glen always found time in between appointments to help out his PhD student. Glen was a great support to me during the write up of my thesis and enabled me to complete my thesis submission in time to be eligible to graduate at the end of this year! Nicole Mifsud and Tom Kotsimbos were both co-supervisors who's doors were always open. Nicole particularly assisted with providing technical experience with planning and carrying out experiments.

What will you do when you finish your PhD?

Now that I've finished my PhD I can enjoy having free time in the evenings and on the weekends to spend time with my husband, catch up with friends and family, or just relax!I am now working for GSK Australia as a Scientific Advisor.