A Day in the Life of: A Biomedical Researcher
Ever wondered what its like to be a biomedical researcher? What life is really like inside one of the worlds leading Children’s Medical Research Institutes?
We’ve gone being the scenes in one of the laboratories here at Children’s Medical Research Institute to speak with Chin Wong, Cell Cycle Unit Research Assistant, to get an insight into day to-day lab life, what makes him tick & how different life may have been had he not pursued a career in science…
What inspired you to become a researcher?
My year 11 and 12 biology teachers, Ms B and Ms G, were great motivators for me to become a biomedical researcher. They encouraged me to become curious about life and not to take things for granted. They also encouraged using what we learnt in class and to apply it to solve real life problems.
As I grew older I came to realise that my education, which was the main reason my parents migrated to a country that they couldn’t speak the language, was very much a privilege and that it was a responsibility to use it to help the wider community. Given my interest in biology, it only took a few documentaries about incurable human diseases, demonstrating the pain and suffering it causes, to inspire me to choose this career.
Describe a day in the life of a researcher?
I’m very fortunate to have a great supervisor that allows a lot of freedom in terms of our work day, because she knows that we will do our best to get the outcomes. Science in a very interesting vocation where outcomes are driven more by individual curiosity and passion on a particular scientific concept more so than allocated deadlines (although we still have those as well!).
My role in the lab is as a research assistant. On a typical day, I get into work and touch base with my supervisor and other lab members to see if there is anything that needs to be addressed immediately, such as equipment repair or reagent ordering. Once any issues are dealt with, I usually sit down and plan my experiment to address the scientific question we are interested in.
Examples of these could be ‘what concentrations of drugs will kill our cancer cell line model?’ or ‘where does my protein of interest travel inside a cell?’.
Once an experiment is designed through consultation with my supervisor and advice from colleagues I would set up the experiment. This usually involves preparing cancer cells, which are growing on a petri dish, and manipulating them with DNA or treating them with drugs and taking photos of them using a microscope to determine the effects of the DNA or drug.
Lab working hours are not strictly constricted to the traditional business hours as experimental procedures can range from minutes, hours or days and sometimes have to be attended to all the time. Once I have collected the scientific result, I collate the data and send it to my supervisor to discuss the implications and the next move.
What’s the best & worst thing about life in the lab?
The worst thing about lab life would be the instability, both from day to day and in the long term. Sometimes days can be more than 12 hours long because of something not working out with an experiment, this can be quite draining.
In the long term, fundamental biomedical research is very dependent on external funding which is not guaranteed. For a career that takes time to specialise and be good at, it is sometimes discouraging to know that I could lose my job because of lack of funding from external bodies, despite the amount of effort that is put into a research project.
When the general public think about a scientist, a persona of a very anti-social, intellectual donning lab-coat may pop into their mind. On the contrary, scientists are very social people who enjoy talking about their work with colleagues and friends.
I feel very lucky that I have a job that I get to hang around a whole bunch of people who have the same passion as me. People who have the same focus of helping the wider community with their research.
What’s the most interesting / surprising thing you have discovered as a researcher?
The most interesting thing that I have learnt in biomedical research is to expect the unexpected, because those findings are the most interesting.
If you hadn’t become a researcher, what would you like to be doing?
If I wasn’t a biomedical researcher I would probably would be an athlete. I think that both careers require the same kind of focus and passion to succeed. Having said that, biomedical research was actually my back-up plan when the Chicago Bulls failed to draft me in 2008. Their loss.
For more information on the research conducted at Children’s Medical Research Institute or to find out more about student opportunities & joining the Institute visit our website by clicking here.