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Heart Research Institute breakthrough treatment for life-threatening complication of the coronavirus

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Hi, I'm Dr Melissa Farnham

I'm the Unit Leader of the Cardiovascular Neuroscience Group here at HRI.

I would describe myself as an accidental scientist. I never planned on being a scientist or a researcher. In fact, there was no way that I was going to be stuck downstairs in a microscope room with nerds. I wanted to be a doctor, in particular a surgeon. But in the end, I went to an honours open day with some friends of mine at university, and fell in love with an embryology project.

I did my honours project in embryology, dropped everything, and commenced a research degree. At the end of that research degree, I loved it, and I spent crazy hours at the lab – it's not always the case for people. But my PhD supervisor happened to work across the hall, and he asked me to do a PhD, and I told him he was crazy, and I was going go out and actually earn some money. He said, "No, no, come see what I do." I went, and fell in love with what he did, and it actually happened to be a surgical project. I applied for a PhD scholarship, was awarded it, and the rest is history.

Working at HRI is a bit different to other places I've worked. I've worked in universities and other institutes based off side of a university. HRI is young. I'd say that probably its defining feature is that it's full of young, vibrant scientists. These are all your newest generation of scientists who are up and coming, who are starting to become successful and forge those new careers. They're up for collaborations, and it makes for a very interesting, fast-paced, supportive environment.

When I returned to work after seven months of maternity leave from my first child, HRI provided me with a career kickstart grant. The grant is provided to mothers, or fathers for that matter, returning from parental duties to reengage with their science. I received that award, and I was also allowed to work part-time.

I then went on maternity leave for my second child, and just before going on maternity leave then, the Institute came to me and promoted me to Unit Leader. Which meant that on my return from maternity leave, I was going to be running my own independent research group.

I'm still working just four days a week. It allows me to spend one day a week looking after my children. That has been a huge help when you have such young kids, and to still be able to have that research career, because it is intense, but it allows me to be the mother that I also want to be.

My days are different day in, day out. Some days I have 1000 meetings, other days I spend the day in the lab, different days I go to conferences, I train students, I write papers, I read articles, so I get to do something different all the time.

Medical research isn't for everyone, and you absolutely need to be passionate about it. You need to have a love for it, but you may not understand that you do love it until you've tried it. So enrol yourself in a summer scholarship, in an honours program, ask to do an internship, or some volunteer work in a lab, or a Research Assistant position before you commit to a full PhD. But you absolutely should give it a go.

HRI breakthrough drug for coronavirus

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