Graduate profile - Archa Fox

Molecular Genetics Graduate

Archa Fox

Career path

Dr Archa Fox
Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Molecular Genetics
Completed her Doctor of Philosophy in Science (PhD) in 2004

Currently running her own research lab in the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR) in Perth, WA.

Advice from someone who’s been there: "When I was an undergraduate I had little idea of just how accessible most scientists and research teams are. I never even contemplated asking for summer projects or asking if I could help out in the lab, but I wish now that I had, because it gives you a great chance to interact with others in a lab and get a good feeling for lab life. Now, on the other side, I know how impressed I am by a student showing a bit of enthusiasm and get up and go.''

Your current job in a nutshell?

I’m running my own research lab in the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR) in Perth, WA.

What path did you follow to get here?

I did a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Molecular Genetics at UNSW and then moved to the University of Sydney to do my Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) with Professor Merlin Crossley in the (then) Biochemistry Department, now the School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences. My PhD years were a lot of fun, but also hard work. During this time I learned to become a scientist, mostly because I became passionate about my subject! I was blessed in having an enthusiastic and supportive supervisor and also got involved in the social life of the Department by being president of the student society.
At the end of my PhD, I was awarded a fellowship to carry out post-doctoral research in Scotland, working with a world leader in nuclear organisation, my area of specialisation. Living in Scotland was lovely. The weather wasn’t really that bad and it was a great base for some European holidays. I made so many friends and was part of an institute where cutting-edge techniques were being employed and important discoveries were being made each year. I extended my stay overseas by being awarded a second fellowship. It allowed me to follow-up on many of my initial observations. To return to Australia, I again utilised a fellowship scheme – this time getting a fellowship from the Australian Government specifically designed to attract young Aussie scientists ‘back home’.

Where do you hope to go from here?

I have just started my own lab. It is a great feeling to walk into the lab each day and think, ‘Wow, I can do whatever I want here with no-one to tell me what to do!’ It is exciting and a little scary too. I have a research assistant (RA) working with me and together we are pursuing projects aimed at discovering new genes regulated by the novel mechanism that I focused on whilst working in Scotland. I have to call on all of my past training and experience to work out the best ways of tackling the problems I am interested in. This means no two days are the same. One day I might be sitting at my computer designing reagents for a new experiment, or working out the schedule for my RA’s experiments in the coming weeks, whilst the next day I am in the lab, peering down the microscope at cells or growing bacteria that are making my proteins for me! I might also be giving a seminar to fellow scientists, liasing with the community in a ‘getting science to the people’ initiative, or attending a conference.

In the next few years I hope to expand my group by taking on more students and attracting researchers to work with me. I also aim to build on my initial collaborations with colleagues here in Perth, both nationally and overseas. Students don’t appreciate that science is actually a very social career path – you are interacting all the time with your lab-mates, and very often with a diverse group of other sorts of people and scientists as well.

One of the great aspects of science is how international it is. Many of the scientist friends I made in Scotland are now starting their own labs throughout the world. I now have places to stay in the UK, Netherlands, Hong Kong, Italy, Canada, Singapore and Germany! Even though I am now based back in Australia, there are still opportunities for travel overseas, in the form of conferences and meetings with collaborators. There are also funding schemes designed specifically to form networks between young scientists with similar interests from different countries.

Have you won any prizes, awards, scholarships at Uni or later on?

I did receive prizes for my Honours thesis, and poster prizes at conferences, but it was really the Fellowships I received that were critical for my career progression.