Maggie Aulsebrook completed her PhD studies at Monash University in 2017 conducting research in the area of luminescent lanthanide sensing materials. Maggie works at ANSTO as a research radiochemist where she is involved in the development of the next generation of nuclear medicines for the diagnosis and therapy of human diseases.
Did you ever struggle with homework or assignments?
All the time! But I don’t think this should be a reflection on what you’re capable of. People learn in different ways and have differing skill sets. I certainly excelled at hands-on lab work because I enjoyed the lab more. I believe letting what you enjoy guide your career is perfectly acceptable.
Did your parents play a big role in your career and interests?
My parents played a huge role in my career trajectory and interests. My mother was an arts teacher and gym instructor and throughout my childhood we did these activities together. Today, I restore furniture, I design and make clothing, I draw and paint and love the gym. These interests are my outlet and hobbies!
My dad was a science and maths teacher and grew up hearing stories of amazing scientists who have made incredible discoveries that have changed the way we see the world. One of these scientists was Marie Curie who was my idol while growing up. Learning about science at an early age is what inspired me to pursue a career in science.
Has it been scary changing jobs throughout your career?
I would say it has been exciting to change jobs during my career. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have a career in this era where throughout my lifetime it’s acceptable to have a career in multiple areas. I have always welcomed the opportunity to be challenged and to keep learning.
What inspired you to go into your career?
When I was younger my father told me stories of incredible scientists. Their contributions to society and our understanding of the world is what inspired my career in science.
How did you find out about different branches of your job?
Today we live in a digital world and there is a wealth of information online. I follow various scientists on Twitter and LinkedIn, I read articles online and watch online content. I attend interesting lectures, I get out and meet people and learn from their career paths, I attend conferences – there are so many different sources of information!
What kind of problems do you solve at your job?
In my current role, I develop the next generation of nuclear medicines for the diagnosis and therapy of human diseases. I specialise in the incorporation of radioactive isotopes into biological vectors which are molecules that elicit a biological response and cause the radioactive payload to accumulate in a specific organ or tumour tissue. We look at ways to improve the chemistry of how radioactive isotopes can be incorporated into these biologically active molecules and translate these technologies into the clinic.
What did you want to be when you were younger and did it match what you are doing now?
I didn’t have a career plan when I was younger. I had no preconceived idea of what my career or life would look like – and I still don’t. I am just happy to be here for the journey.
How did parents and friends react to you entering a male dominated career
My parents have always been supportive of what I have chosen to do. Women have come so far in terms of equality, but we still have a long way to go especially in the workforce. I will continuously fight for equality in the hope that younger generations don’t have the face the same challenges that I and others face today. Having said that, many of my male colleagues are incredibly supportive of me and my career and I look up to them as mentors - surround yourself with these kinds of people.
Were you ever judged by your friends for doing a science subjects?
I don’t think I was ever judged by my friends for taking science subjects. But if I was, I don’t think it would have mattered to me. You have to do what you are interested in and passionate about.
Does your knowledge of science ever put you off anything you enjoy?
Knowledge of science doesn’t put me off things I enjoy. I am still able enjoy the “magic” of Penn & Teller. Science has made me more aware and sceptical of claims of products for example, and has had a net benefit on my life.
Have there been any roadblocks in your career?
I have certainly noticed the unconscious bias through my research career. However, I don’t necessarily believe these have to be roadblocks. You as individuals are so incredibly capable and have so much to offer the workforce. If you find yourself in an unsupportive environment that isn’t interested in developing you – move on and find somewhere with people who will appreciate you and support your career growth.
Are STEM industries demanding of its employees or is it pure interest and enjoyment?
I do enjoy my career and am genuinely interested in the field of nuclear medicine. However, a career in research is certainly demanding. There is a constant pressure to deliver research outputs and meet expectations of my role. However, I believe there will be expectations of outputs in any career path or job. I am a huge advocator for looking after yourself and practicing self-care to help cope with pressures of employment. If you are in a happy and healthy place, you will be more productive and positive at work. This state of mind will help you perform better and be more productive at work. Always take time for yourself.
Do you like travelling for work?
Travelling is certainly one of the benefits of my work. During my career so far, I have had the opportunity to visit numerous countries, experience different cultures and meet many awesome people (some of who are my closest friends). A career in science certainly has the potential to take you overseas too!
Did you consider any other jobs while in high school?
My career aspirations changed every week during high school. I knew that I wanted a career in science, but I was never sure of what exactly I wanted to do. I think it’s absolutely fine to not be sure of what it is that you what to do especially at such a young age (I’m 30 years old, and I’m still not sure). There are so many different careers it’s impossible to know everything that’s out there. The only advice I would give here is to do what you enjoy and keep seeking out and taking opportunities available to you!
What is the best opportunity that you have ever gotten?
The best opportunity I have had so far was the opportunity to live and work in Paris. I am incredibly grateful to my postdoctoral advisor for granting me this opportunity and thankful to my PhD supervisor for setting me up to get there. It was an incredibly difficult year, but I had the best time. I was able to see a large amount of Europe and I learnt so much about myself and made so many great friends – and ate a lot of croissants!
How are you so sure in what you want to do?
Honestly, I’m not sure in what I want to do. I love developing nuclear medicines and think it is an incredible area of science. However, I’m not convinced I will be in the lab for rest of my life. I want to continuously challenge myself and don’t want to stop learning.
How did you decide on a career?
I have made my career by following what feels right and taking opportunities available to me. I have had vague interests and passions which have guided my career up until this point but there are still other opportunities I want to explore throughout my career.