Christina Gangemi

Christina Gangemi

Christina Gangemi

  • Student type: Domestic
  • Degree type: Degree
  • Year commenced: 2011
  • Degree(s): Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts
  • Major(s): Biochemistry
  • Specialisation: Biochemistry and theatre

Why did you decide to study Science?
There were a number of factors that led me to study science after VCE. I first looked at what I loved to do when I was really little. I was always a creative person, I did a lot of amateur theatre and music but I was also very curious about the world around me. I would spend hours in the backyard catching small lizards and insects, observing and asking questions. I begged my parents one day to buy me a toy forensics kit to play around with and this book that had a set of science experiments that kids could do at home. So there was always that curiosity from a young age. And in high school I got the science award in year 7, and so I kept doing science right into VCE where I studied biology and chemistry. I loved learning the theory, but I loved even more the times where we could actually do the experiments as well. One week in year 11 biology we were looking at elodea plant cells under the microscope and my partner and I observed something different happening with our sample to our classmates. The teacher came over and had a look and said the chloroplasts were undergoing cytoplasmic streaming, moving around the parameters of the plant cell! To me it was incredible, I had never seen it before. I loved that science can be so surprising and unexpected like that.

What made you choose Monash University in particular?
Originally, I was just going to study either a science or theatre degree because I never thought I could possibly do the two at once. But after getting my results, I decided to look around more at what was out there and I found the double degree at Monash. It was the only university where I would equally be able to study theatre and science together. I also went to the change of preference expo at a few universities. The staff and students who were at Monash were really helpful. I made sure to ask lots of questions and the staff offered me great advice. Those were the two main factors that led me to choose science at Monash.

What is your favourite aspect of studying science?
It is difficult to narrow it down to one favourite thing because there are a number of aspects of it that I enjoy. I love the fact that it's not easy. Science is meant to be challenging. Most of the time you don't know the answer right away and there is often no set path in answering a research question. But I find it really satisfying when you can work through your initial limitations and find an answer.

What do you plan to do when you graduate?
I am keen to complete my honours in biochemistry and then see if I can go onto postgraduate study. But I am also keen to explore careers relating to science communication. With my performance background I am competent in presenting and communicating science to others and so if there were opportunities where I could do that, I think I would find it very rewarding and I feel I could really make a difference to other people's lives.

If you were talking to a VCE student who wanted to study science but wasn't sure which uni to pick, what would you tell them about Monash?
I would tell them that Monash offers students a range of opportunities outside of your studies that can enable you to gain skills in other areas that you would not directly get from your degree. It has been these experiences that have really made the difference in enabling me to improve my overall skills and gain some wonderful opportunities.

What has been the highlight of your science degree so far?
There have been many great experiences. But my highlight would have to be at the end of second year where I got to do a two week placement at Hexima Limited, which is an agricultural biotechnology company as part of Monash's Science Industry Placement Program (SIPP). This experience enabled me to really see firsthand if research was a path that I could consider taking after my studies. The experience was so rewarding because I realised that it would in fact suit me well. I felt I could work well in the environment. It also gave me a glimpse of what it would be like to work in industry compared to pure academia. It was also great that I could actually work on something that had real life applications. At the time, the lab was working on developing a new variety of transgenic corn that could be resistant to fungal infections. I was able to clone two genetic constructs into Agrobacterium that would later go onto being transformed into the plants for testing. Doing the science to a real life application gave me even more drive and was directly related to my studies. Most of what I had learnt in my lectures I was able to actually do for myself in the laboratory, and so this really enhanced my learning as well.

Do you have a favourite class/teacher/subject? What is it about this class/teacher/subject that you love?
It would have to be in my second year when I undertook two units in molecular biology. I was also doing zoology units because I originally wanted to become an ornithologist and study birds. But surprisingly, my molecular biology units got me hooked. I realised that I found what was happening to organisms at the molecular level to be even more interesting than what was happening on a larger scale.

What was the biggest misconception you had about studying science before you started your course?
It wasn't so much as a misconception, but more of an idea that I hoped I could prove myself right about. Often people think science is about information and gaining new knowledge, that is a large part of it and very important. But it also requires creativity. In research, we have to ask new questions all the time that we have yet to find the answers to. To answer those questions we often have a limited amount of information available, so when you design experiments or find unexpected results, that is when your creative side and problem solving skills need to come into play to find new solutions and change your experimental approach. I thought that because I was very creative that I would not be able to be a good scientist but I learnt that although knowledge is very important, you also need to use that knowledge well.

Are you involved in any extra-curricular activities? What have you gained from these activitie?
I have had so many great experiences at Monash outside of my regular studies. In first year I started volunteering at Wholefoods Restaurant which is located on the Clayton campus. It is run by students and they recruit many volunteers. My role involved helping the restaurant develop a collaboration between itself and another group on campus called Monash Permaculture. I helped to set up regular meetings, plan projects, seek quotes for certain projects we wanted to undertake and apply for funding. It enabled me to communicate with a wide range of people with different backgrounds and develop my leadership skills.

In second year I got accepted into the Science Future Leaders Program at Monash. The program provided me valuable skills in understanding how I can best work with people in different situations. I gained much needed confidence from the program. The students were all very inspiring and encouraged me to challenge myself, try new things and to collaborate on new projects.

At the end of last year I received a Summer Research Scholarship from the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Monash. I did a small research project with a few other students in their RNA Systems Biology Laboratory. This was a great chance for me to get some more research experience and work in a longer project than my placement at Hexima. Our supervisor was also able to offer some great career advice and answer a lot of our questions about what it is like to work as a scientist in academia.

Most recently, I got accepted into the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. This initiative enables students to work in a research group while they complete their undergraduate studies. I have been placed at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) for this year. I will be undertaking my own research project, analysing the GILZ gene and its role in stem cell regulation and signalling pathways in mice. It will enable me to work alongside researchers who are experts in their field, understand the demands of being a scientists, learn some new techniques and greatly assist in my future career plans.

Anything else you would like to share about your Monash Science experience?
My experience at Monash has been a life changing one. Monash Science has a culture that encourages young people to challenge themselves, set up projects, get creative, gain experiences outside of their studies as well as offer a high quality education.