Graduate profile - Leona Campbell

Microbiology Graduate

Leona Campbell

Career path

Dr Leona Campbell

Bachelor of Science
Completed Honours in Microbiology in 2002
Completed PhD in 2006

Currently a post-doctoral fellow with the School of Medicine at Saint Louis University in Missouri, USA

Advice from someone who’s been there: "Don’t be discouraged by undergraduate laboratory classes. They are nothing to the reality of actually working in a research laboratory. Speak to your course coordinators, and don’t be afraid to approach your lecturers - most will be keen to talk to you about gaining work experience in a lab. Research takes commitment, the hours can be long, and experimental failure is always just around the corner. But the excitement of scientific exploration, and the knowledge that you may be the first to discover something, outweighs everything."

Your current job in a nutshell?

I’m a post-doctoral fellow with the School of Medicine at Saint Louis University in Missouri, USA. My work involves using both molecular biology and proteomic approaches to identify potential drug targets in the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans. That sounds technical, but pathogen just means ‘disease-causing’.

How did you get there?

In fact, I never thought I would end up working in scientific research. However, I can honestly say that I love what I do and cannot imagine doing anything else. In 2001, at the end of my BSc, I completed an Honours year in Microbiology studying quorum sensing in E. coli, and it was during that year I discovered my passion for research. I spent four years completing my Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) studying population genetics, looking for evidence of mating and recombination in the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus gattii, a close relative of the pathogen I currently work with Cryptococcus neoformans.

During my PhD studies I had the opportunity to collaborate with researchers at Duke University, North Carolina, USA, and visited Duke University a number of times to work and learn new techniques. During this experience and through attending a number of international conferences, I developed relationships that allowed me to approach some of the foremost academics in my field to arrange job interviews. In June 2005, seven months before submitting my PhD thesis, I accepted the post-doctoral position I currently hold at Saint Louis University. I began working in St Louis in February 2006, one month after submitting my thesis at the University of Sydney.

Laboratory work can be viewed as dull, how do you find it?

It is far from dull, for anyone with an inquiring mind working in a lab is extremely fulfilling. I have made friendships that I know will last a lifetime and were initially based on a mutual enjoyment of science. Although in my current lab I work with people born and raised in the US with very different and diverse backgrounds, we share a common drive in our love of research and passion for scientific discovery.

Furthermore, the daily work for me in the lab is constantly changing. Unlike some jobs, which involve performing the same tasks day after day, each day in a lab is different. Sometimes I spend all day working at the bench, and others are spent designing experiments or analysing and discussing results with my peers. A lab is also a very social environment and I constantly meet new and fascinating people. Not to mention the opportunity to attend conferences and collaborate with institutions around the world.

Embarking on a PhD is a big commitment. How did you know that scientific research was for you?

I started my academic life as a mature age student when I was 28 years old. My love of animals was my reason for returning to study as I was planning on becoming a vet. However while studying for my Bachelor of Science (BSc) I discovered microbiology and the opportunities offered by a career in research and have never looked back. Yes, a PhD candidature is a big commitment. However, after completing my Honours year, which in the Discipline of Microbiology involved 90% research, I knew a life in research was for me.