Our PhD students stopped their experiments and ‘retreated’ from the lab for two days last week. The annual Student Retreat is an opportunity to share experiences, learn new skills and think about the future.

Our annual Student Retreat was held last week in accommodation near Sydney Harbour. Those attending included two visiting Chinese students and two students from the Behavioural Sciences Unit at the Kids Cancer Centre, Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick. First-year ‘newbies’ learnt from the experiences of second and third year students, and everyone benefitted from the program provided.

So what do you do?

To kick things off, each student was asked to explain their research project to the group in three minutes. Not as easy as it sounds!

PhD student Ashleigh Fordham stands in front of a white board to explain her project
PhD student Ashleigh Fordham explains her project

Eden Robertson, who’s studying in the Behavioural Science Unit, found this session particularly useful.

“The retreat was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the pre-clinical research that is being done at Children’s Cancer Institute,” she said.

“As a psycho-oncologist we often fail to see that side of the research, so I felt very lucky to be able to learn about the work from such a kind and supportive group of rising stars.”

How can we help you?

These days medical research can generate huge amounts of data that need to be analysed and interpreted. Our Chief Bioinformatician, Chelsea Mayoh, took students through some of the latest technology, and explained how her team could help students analyse their results.

Chelsea points to a slide explaining the bioinformatic resources available to students
Chelsea explains the bioinformatic resources available to students

What’s next?

Though it may feel like it lasts forever, every PhD eventually ends. When that happens, students need to find their first ‘post-doc’ jobs. The second morning of the retreat was dedicated to exploring how to find the perfect post-doc job.

Students workshopped questions such as:

  • What should you look for in a lab leader?
  • What will a lab leader be looking for in you?
  • What questions should you ask of your potential co-workers and the institution?
  • What other factors (e.g. lifestyle and logistical) should you consider?

Ashleigh Fordham, who is close to finishing her PhD, is considering her career options. For her, this workshop was the most valuable scheduled activity of the retreat.

“As a third-year student, it was great to get some advice on what to look for when on the path to finding a post-doc.  It was also very interesting and valuable to hear my fellow students’ thoughts on the process, as they brought up questions and ideas which I hadn’t thought of,” she said.

a group of students sit on the floor, workshopping ways to find their ideal post-doc job
Students workshop ways to find their ideal post-doc job

A bit of fun

On the final afternoon it was time for a bit of fun. Everyone headed outdoors to make the most of the winter sunshine and get to know each other a little better. This included a friendly game of ‘Lab Olympics’.

Stuents sit outdoors around a table playing lab olympics
Bonding over Lab Olympics

Ashleigh is hopefully speaking for the whole group when she says:

“I really enjoyed bonding with the other students over the fun activities and free time. Talking about our work in a non-formal setting has opened up doors for inter-group collaboration and just given us all the opportunity to better support one another through our PhD journeys.”

Would you like to study with us? Right now applications are open for a UNSW Scientia PhD scholarship, to work with our researchers on a 3D Bioprinting project. Applications close 20 July 2018.

Top image: The students prepare to explain their projects to each other

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