Mater Research-based student wins inaugural UQ award

13/Dec/2021     Mater GroupResearch

New PhD graduate Lena Batoon has a single focus – looking for a cure for bone cancer.

Lena is already making huge strides in her journey to achieve that goal – completing her doctorate this year under the supervision of the head of Mater Research’s Bones and Immunology Research Group, Professor Allison Pettit, and being awarded The University of Queensland Faculty of Medicine PhD student of the year award, ahead of over 100 eligible candidates.

She is taking her next steps in America, beginning her postdoctoral research fellow position at the University of Michigan.

We asked Lena about her time at Mater Research and how her student experience has helped her forge her path forward.

What attracted you to a career in medical research?

Five days after graduating from my Bachelor of Biomedical Science degree, my mum lost the battle with metastatic bone cancer. She was the kindest person I know. So, in order to honour her life, I would like to dedicate my time and effort to finding a cure for this debilitating and incurable disease.    

Why did you choose to do your PhD project with Mater Research?

I joined Mater Research during my Honours’ year. Back then, I was specifically looking for a bone or cancer focused project given the impact of bone metastasis on my family. I met with four potential supervisors, but I decided to join Professor Allison Pettit’s laboratory at Mater Research not only because she had a project specifically on bone cancer but also because of her welcoming personality and her passion for medical research.

Were there any advantages in completing your doctoral project with Mater Research?

Mater Research is a world-class institute with a “bench to bedside” philosophy. Having leading experts across several facets of medical research, Mater Research ensures that students of various research backgrounds receive the best possible mentorship and training.

What kinds of opportunities did you have at Mater Research to help you progress your career and were any of these unique to Mater Research?

During my PhD tenure, I had the privilege to work on several student committees not only within the university but across Queensland. These experiences revealed to me how much effort Mater Research invested on student welfare and development to guarantee that they are provided with the optimum environment for learning, research experiences and professional development.

Mater has its own Student Research Committee membered by group leaders, postdoctoral researchers, student representatives and individuals from Mater Foundation and Mater Health. This committee is unique to Mater and it is committed to providing academic and professional development support to students by organizing workshops, mentorship opportunities, and networking events. Through these initiatives, I developed several skills I needed to progress in my career such as communication, organization and leadership skills. I also found it very helpful that the Mater Research Head of Education, Associate Professor Paul Dawson, and the Student Administration Officer, Sarah Doyle, always ensured that all Mater students were aware of the myriad professional development opportunities available to them and always encouraged students to take up these opportunities.

You have been named the UQ Faculty of Medicine PhD Student of the year – what do you think set you apart from the field?

I’m deeply honoured to be the inaugural recipient of the PhD Graduate of the Year award. Based on what was mentioned during the awards’ ceremony, I think my PhD journey shows my enthusiasm to take every opportunity that comes my way in order to be the best version of myself. I worked hard for my research, but I also made sure that I gave back to the community by participating in fundraising events, supporting and mentoring other students and contributing to several committees to develop initiatives for other people’s welfare and development.

How has Mater Research helped you during your doctorate?

Mater Research has provided me with the best mentor I can ask for. I’m really blessed and honoured to have completed my PhD in Professor Allison Pettit’s laboratory. Her passion for research inspired me to work hard and she really embodies Mater’s Mercy values: act with compassion and integrity, and strive for excellence. Through working at Mater Research, these values have become mine and they have pushed me not only to do my best in everything I do, but to do these things with integrity.

Why did you choose to continue your research in the U.S.? 

My three supervisors at Mater Research (Allison Pettit, Susan Millard and Liza Raggatt), who have been my greatest role models, went to the US to undertake their postdoctoral training and I want to follow in their footsteps. Before my PhD tenure ended, I was offered an opportunity to join a lab at the University of Michigan with cutting-edge research on bone metastasis and to be mentored by a leading expert in the field. This opportunity allows me to utilize and hone the skills I acquired during my doctorate while developing new ones. It was undoubtedly an opportunity that was too good not to take.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I hope to be back in Australia with a fellowship and lab funding so I can drive and pursue my own research on bone cancer.

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