New door opens to PhD student’s future career

Lisa Dann with her supervisors, Professor Jim Mitchell (left) and Dr Peter Speck.

After a series of ‘sliding door’ moments, Lisa Dann has come from a budding nutritionist to microbiology PhD student, to working on the engineering team of a leading air conditioning manufacturer.

The Flinders University student is one of the success stories of the School of Biological Sciences, with her research and knowledge on microbiological systems of the River Murray now being applied to developing leading edge air conditioning technology with South Australian-based Seeley International.

Ms Dann began her studies at Flinders as a Health Sciences-Nutrition undergraduate, but soon discovered a passion for microbiology and virology which would eventually take her on the new career pathway.

“I decided to change the stream of my health sciences degree to biological science so that I could enrol in as many microbiology and virology topics as possible,” Ms Dann said.

“It was later through lectures with Professor Jim Mitchell and Dr Peter Speck (School of Biological Sciences) that I realised the opportunities to continue studying beyond my undergraduate degree as an honours student. They have both been constant motivators and mentors throughout my research.”

Ms Dann was offered an Australian Postgraduate Award Scholarship to study her PhD, as well as a CSIRO top-up scholarship to look at the flow of microbial communities within oceanic and estuarine environmental systems.

Under the guidance of supervisors Professor Mitchell and Dr Speck, her thesis is focused on the River Murray as a model system for her research, with the ultimate goal to assist in establishing better water regulations for the Murray to optimise its environmental function.

However, with still a few months before her PhD studies are completed, Ms Dann has already started working part-time as an analytical microbiologist at Seeley to help develop microbiological control systems to improve air conditioning quality.

It was an innovative five-minute PhD speed-dating business event last year, initiated and developed by the Flinders University Postgraduate Society (FUPS), and supported by the New Venture Institute at Flinders, that opened the door to this promising employment opportunity.

FUPS was founded in 2013 with the aim of linking postgraduate members with the broader scientific community in both the private and public sectors. It also aims to create opportunities for participation in activities that promote interaction between postgraduate students across all schools and faculties and between other universities.

“Rob Gilbert (general manager advanced engineering) from Seeley was the last person I spoke to on the (speed-dating) night … I talked about the presence of bacteria and viruses in all systems and how air conditioning units are, in fact, like aquatic systems which are exposed to similar chemical and biological conditions as any other environmental systems,” Ms Dann said.

“I didn’t specifically think of air conditioning as an industry I could be working in, however, I was aware of the relevance my field of research has on a wide range of industries.

“The overall aim of environmental systems is to achieve optimum function, whether this is a river or an air conditioning system, and all systems are exposed to biological and chemical factors.

Professor Mitchell said Ms Dann had continually shown drive and a broad interest in career pathways.

“Lisa is someone that seeks to learn for herself and discover new knowledge in the best traditions of university learning and research,” Professor Mitchell said.

Dr Speck said the work being undertaken at Flinders on microbial communities would be a major help to organisations, such as Seeley, to assist them in developing better products.

“If students such as Lisa can eventually find themselves being a part of this product development then that’s fantastic,” he said.

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