The 6th EMBL Australia PhD Course

24 June – 5 July 2019, university of tasmania, hobart

EMBL Australia recently held its highly popular and successful PhD course in Hobart at the University of Tasmania.  This year, a record number of students applied, and 60 of Australia’s top PhD students were selected to participate.  It covered a wide range of topics – from epigenetics and bioinformatics to translational and clinical sciences, and exposed students to the latest ideas in molecular biology.

Students listen to a workshop at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.

The program included practical workshops covering basic R-programming, bioinformatics, data-driven subgrouping, genetics, molecular biology and imaging techniques.  Students participated in a Tasmanian devil themed session on one day, which included one of the highlights of the course – a visit to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.  Students also spent one day visiting the Australian Antarctic Division and Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, where they drove snow rovers that were gearing up for expeditions and participated in a virtual reality tour of penguin colonies.

“The students really enjoyed the experience. It’s been a great way for them to network with other students, learn about different areas of research and the career paths of senior researchers,” said Assoc Prof Ville-Petteri Mäkinen who is an EMBL Australia Group Leader at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and was also on the 2019 PhD Course Organising Committee.

All students presented their research in three-minute thesis presentations and participated in a poster session. Mary Mandsilla was awarded first place for her poster, and Frank Olivier won first prize in the three- minute thesis competition.

Winners: Mary Mansilla won the poster prize and Frank Olivier won the three-minute thesis competition.

“This course was an incredible academic experience. I’m truly inspired by all the research that is being conducted around me.  The connections and networks that we have all built at this course will no doubt support future collaborations with each other, foster friendships and peer support with each other,” said participant Kay Myo Min.

“We arrived as 60 PhDs scattered across Australia, and left as an inspired community of young researchers,” said Frank Olivier.

Two very interesting and informative panel discussions with Q&A sessions were held on genetics and society, and also integrity and ethics.  Students attended a science communication workshop, where they used a pen and paper to draw their research –   a first for most students.

“It was fantastic to work with the local Tasmanian organisers from the University of Tasmania and to bring together enthusiastic students and distinguished speakers from all over the country. Indeed, the course program was an amazing cross-section of the top molecular sciences in Australia”, said Assoc Prof Ville-Petteri Mäkinen.

Isabelle Capell-Hattam was a participating student who wrote a blog post on her experience:

‘There is not a single better way I could have spent these two weeks of my PhD and I would 110% recommend ALL eligible PhD candidates apply for the future EMBL Australia PhD course- you will not be disappointed!’

Read the full blog post here.

Thanks to the 2019 PhD Course Organising Committee:

Pirjo Apaja, Michelle Boyle, Lisa Foa, Nadya Glebova, Kana Gudan, Lydia Kokotos, Ville-Petteri Mäkinen, Tanya Rogers, Phillippa Taberlay, Antoine van Oijen, Coral Warr.

The 5th EMBL Australia PhD Course

1 – 13 July 2018, UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES, Sydney

Sixty of the nations finest first and second-year PhD students converged at UNSW Sydney in July 2018 to participate in the annual EMBL Australia PhD course.

PhD candidates – all students of the life sciences – were selected from all over Australia to attend the two-week course that exposed them to the latest research, ranging from structural biology to animal models, developmental biology to bioinformatics, advanced microscopy to plant biology.

Inspired by the compulsory pre-doctoral training program for students at EMBL, the home-grown EMBL Australia PhD course is now in its fifth year and included tours of local state-of-the-art facilities, career insights and panel discussions, as well as networking opportunities.

The winners and judges of the poster prizes at the 2018 EMBL Australia PhD Course.

Leading international scientists (including Yale University physicist Professor Joe Howard) and Australian researchers at various career stages gave rare glimpses into how scientific careers are forged, and how projects change over time – including the mistakes, failures and personal struggles that are part of most success stories but are seldom told.

“We wanted to inspire them with amazing research, but we also wanted to tell them the whole story,” said Dr Yann Gambin, one of the organisers of the PhD course and EMBL Australia group leader at UNSW’s Single Molecule Science.

Professor Kerry-Anne Rye, Deputy Head (Research) of UNSW’s School of Medical Sciences, said: “It was totally different from any talk I have given before because it required divulging some personal information before the audience could make sense of some of the decisions I took along the way.”

UNSW’s Head of School of Medical Sciences, Professor Peter Gunning, captivated the students with the evolution of an overarching project from his group that spanned over 15 years and was impressed with the lively atmosphere throughout the course.

“When an audience engages like this, it stimulates everyone in the room; you kick ideas around and explore options which otherwise would be passed by,” he said. “It does not happen all that often but when it does, there is nothing quite like it!”

Each day, a different student took over the @EMBLAustralia twitter handle to live tweet from the course using the hashtag #EMBLAPhD.

A tweet from a course participant hailing from the University of Queensland summed up the fortnight beautifully: “Thank you @EMBLAustralia for the opportunity of spending two amazing weeks knowing other (bright) PhD students Down Under! Totally mesmerised by the quality of research lead by our senior investigators and truly inspired to becoming one myself”.

The student participants of the 2018 PhD Course.

Our thanks to the 2018 PhD Course Organising Committee:

  • Dr Yann Gambin & Dr Abigail Pollock, EMBL Australia Node in Single Molecule Science, UNSW Sydney
  • Dr Ville-Petteri Mäkinen, EMBL Australia Group Leader at the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute
  • Alex Langer & Rochelle Ades, EMBL Australia Secretariat, Monash University, Melbourne


The 4th EMBL Australia PhD Course

9 – 21 July 2017, Monash University, Melbourne

Dozens of life science leaders from across the nation – and several from across the globe – travelled to Melbourne to share their expertise with sixty hand-picked young scientists at the 4th EMBL Australia PhD Course.

The line-up of 57 presenters comprised Nobel Laureate Professor Ada Yonath and other eminent scientists, including:

  • EMBL Australia Scientific Head Professor James Whisstock
  • The Jackson Laboratory for Mammalian Genetics Scientific Director Professor Nadia Rosenthal
  • South Australian Scientist of the Year 2016 Professor Alan Cooper
  • EMBL Electron Microscopy Core Facility Head Dr Yannick Schwab
  • Walter and Eliza Hall Institute Director Professor Doug Hall
  • The Garvan Institute of Medical Research Director Professor John Mattick and
  • The Bio21 Institute Director Professor Michael Parker.

Several presentations were also opened to the public.

Modelled on the compulsory pre-doc training program of the prestigious European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), the course covered a wide range of topics – from epigenetics and bioinformatics to translational and clinical sciences – exposing students to the latest ideas in molecular biology and infrastructure available in Australia.

Other highlights of the two-week residential program, held at Monash University between July 9 and 21, included a panel discussion with industry leaders on translating biomedical research, a tour of the Australian Synchrotron, practical workshops and a poster session where students shared their own research with their peers.

Social events assisted the first and second-year PhD students in developing their network of scientific contacts and forging relationships for future collaborations.

Several students also volunteered to guest tweet on the EMBL Australia Twitter account, at one point propelling the course hashtag (#EMBLAPhD) into the top ten trending topics in Australia.

The calibre of presenters at the course was a testament to the hard work of the group leaders on the Organising Committee – Edwina McGlinn (Chair), Maté Biro, Chen Davidovich and Max Cryle – and student programs coordinator Paul Jones.

The 3rd EMBL Australia PhD Course

22 June – 3 July 2015, Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, Perth

Th third EMBL Australia PhD course at the Harry Perkins Institute, attended by 59 of our PhD students, was met with much excitement and proved to be a triumph once again.

The course was a highlight of the EMBL Australia calendar, for students and presenters alike. It was the ideal platform for our PhD students to network, learn new techniques, and expand their scientific knowledge.

This year’s guest speakers were extraordinary, motivating the students to think more laterally and encouraging them to consider how their scientific research fits in globally. We attracted an amazing contingent of well-known presenters, both locally and from overseas. We even had two Group Leaders from EMBL Monterotondo join us. Dr Cornelius Gross delivered seminars in neurobiology and RNA regulation and gave two stimulating presentations on his research, “Gardeners of the brain: how microglia prune synapses during development” and “Primal threats: the neural circuity of social and predator fear”. Dr Donal O’Carroll also shared his exciting work in RNA function in germ and stem cell biology and gave a dynamic presentation entitled “Cell programming In-Focus: Understanding spermatogonial stem cell dynamics in homeostasis and regeneration”.

We are truly grateful to all the speakers for making their time and knowledge available to our students and for their ongoing enthusiastic support of EMBL Australia in such an intimate setting. It was inspiring to see how much our students grasped the opportunities created for them at the course, and to watch them interact with their peers and share insights and knowledge with such vitality. Many students commented on how they had identified opportunities for collaboration – the perfect outcome! We would like to thank all the speakers for committing their time, their stimulating presentations and for inspiring our students and making this year’s course such a success.

Thank you to the organising committee, Dr Archa Fox, Dr Louise Winteringham, Dr Joshua Mylne, Ms Rosie Goldup, Ms Meredith Eddington and the Harry Perkins Institute for warmly hosting this year’s successful course.