AITHM immunology research assistant and soon-to-be PhD student, Daniel Browne, is already keen to mentor others. His first workplace intern, aged just 16, recently passed with flying colours.
Cairns Hinterland Steiner School Year 10 student, Bethany Sarles, spent two days per week working alongside him in the laboratory, in November last year.
“She performed as well as I would have expected a second or third-year biochemistry student to perform in the laboratory,” he said.
“If she ever does practical classes in an undergrad biomedical or science course, she will have a considerable advantage over other students, as she will already know how to think about protocols (experiment implementation procedures), analysing data and safe practices.”
Mr Browne asked Bethany to evaluate two commercially-produced molecular protocol kits to determine the best. “It was a real project that I had previously shelved, because I didn’t have time to do it,” he said.
The task was physically and mentally challenging, requiring high levels of finesse, memory and hand-eye coordination to conduct – then diligently re-run – experiments to obtain accurate and meaningful results. Items required for the project had to be assembled each morning, then stored away at the end of the day.
“I went through the process with her and watched over her shoulder, the first time she did it,” Mr Browne said. “After that, she could come and ask me a question, if she wasn't sure about what she had to do next. But pretty much all I had to do was let her into the building in the morning and away she went. She was very engaged.”
Bethany had the opportunity to utilise a range of laboratory equipment, including centrifuges, vortex mixers, pipettes, gel electrophoresis, nanospectrometers and quantitative PCR thermocyclers. “Pretty much all the equipment I use on a day-to-day basis,” Mr Browne observed.
As someone who has teaching in his blood (“both my parents were teachers”), he is well pleased with his first foray into mentoring.
“I think it would be really good if this kind of initiative creates a platform to help recruit science students and build collaborations with them. That would be fantastic,” he said.
Bethany, who worked with AITHM as part of her school’s Big Picture Education Graduation Portfolio program, said her stint at the Institute had reinforced her desire to pursue a career in health, where she could “make a difference in people’s lives”.
“Every day I was there, I was challenged and constantly interested. I enjoyed every minute of it,” she said.
Location: AITHM Cairns