PhD students benefit from generosity of researchers

PhD students benefit from generosity of researchers

Illuminate newsletter index page, Autumn 2021
March 2021

PhD candidates Alissa Robbins and Suad Abdirahman
benefited from WEHI Bridging Fellowships in 2020.

WEHI’s researchers and staff have a long history of giving back to the Institute, with 2020 witnessing a huge number of staff demonstrating their support of WEHI through donations.

A donation by WEHI researchers to establish the WEHI Bridging Fellowships, gave PhD students Alissa Robbins and Suad Abdirahman a helping hand to get them through their final thesis submissions, in what was a disruptive year.

Ms Robbins was awarded a WEHI Bridging Fellowship in 2020 so she could continue her work as a research assistant and postdoctoral fellow upon completion of her thesis.

“Receiving a WEHI Bridging Fellowship has made the last year a lot less stressful than it would otherwise have been,” she said.

“It meant I didn’t have to worry about looking for a job at the same time as writing my thesis and allowed me to keep working and generating data that will lead to more publications.”

Ms Robbins, who is studying cell death during T-cell development in the thymus, said COVID-19 had compounded the pressure associated with completing her thesis.

“COVID-19 slowed everything down for a while and made the year a little more stressful, particularly when thinking about what I would do next and whether there would be any suitable employment opportunities when I finished,” she said.

“I’m incredibly grateful to have this additional support, especially knowing it came from other researchers at WEHI.”

Fellow PhD student Dr Abdirahman also received a WEHI Bridging Fellowship in 2020.

“I was working part-time in the lab, which made it challenging to get all the experiments done. Receiving the fellowship meant I could work full-time and complete more experiments,” she said.

Dr Abdirahman has since secured a job at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, where she is working as a postdoctoral researcher studying ovarian cancer.

“I passed my thesis examination in February, just as COVID-19 hit, and then we went into lockdown. That was the worst feeling ever, not knowing what was going to happen. Those crucial months and years after you graduate are so important and not knowing when that might be possible is very daunting.”

“Receiving the WEHI Bridging Fellowship was a big relief, it kept me employed so I could continue my experiments.”

The WEHI Bridging Fellowships were made possible thanks to WEHI researchers Professor Guillaume Lessene and Associate Professor Peter Czabotar, who each donated their winnings from Australia’s 2019 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation to establish the fellowships. WEHI director Professor Doug Hilton AO also donated to establish the fellowships.

“We want to give PhD students all the support and opportunities we possibly can and to help them into careers once they finish their theses,” Professor Lessene said.

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