It is possible to combine family and a love of science. PhD graduate Rubbiya Ali looks back on everything she’s achieved at UQ, including mapping microalgae to help produce more efficient biofuels and having a son . . .
Every day I used to sit at a café at the beautiful UQ St Lucia campus and wait for my husband – a PhD scholar at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) - to meet me for lunch. And every day I would wonder if I would ever enter the building as a PhD student.
This week, I graduate with a PhD from IMB and ongoing employment there, a 2-year-old son, and proof that dreams really can come true.
Road to success
Early on, I knew it would be a challenge. I found my first year very difficult. I had to quickly get a grip on the molecular mechanism that generates biofuels, and cope with living away from my parents and siblings, who remain in Pakistan.
To add to that, in the middle of my PhD I discovered I was pregnant and spent nine months of pregnancy in the lab.
I worried that it would be impossible to balance lab work and motherhood, as each day of my pregnancy progressed, my priorities changed and I felt like I couldn’t juggle it all.”
But thanks to the great support of my IMB colleagues and my husband Dr Ahmed Mehdi, my approach changed from “no I can’t” to “yes I can”.
I managed to balance my pregnancy with studies and, during my research project, I felt like both my son and I were working in science. I ended up deeply in love with both my child, Muhammad Raza (2 years old), and my dissertation.
I named my 3D computer program RAZA after my son to show other ladies that it is possible to combine family and science.
Most people are aware that we face the urgent challenge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and transition from traditional energy sources to clean fuels. However, what many people don’t realise is that microalgae is key to addressing this global problem, and IMB researchers are using microalgae to produce biofuels and other products like dengue virus vaccines.
I have a bioinformatics background, so I focused my PhD project on developing computational tools that would allow scientists to visualise the structure of microalgae proteins, enabling more efficient biofuel production.
Similar to the way the atlas of the world shows how each part of earth is connected, the tools I developed will help to build a 3D atlas of different photosynthetic proteins used to generate biofuels.
A dream come true
My experience at IMB left a positive influence on me as a person and a researcher; I am a lot more productive, hardworking and confident now than I was when I started my PhD.
My husband I had a great time working at IMB together; we both had similar backgrounds, so we used to have never-ending and fruitful discussions about our projects.
When I first visited IMB I was totally impressed by the outstanding staff, world-leading research and especially the project itself, so starting my PhD was like a dream coming true.
As both my husband and I are working at UQ, it has become our family university, and I hope my son will one day become a UQ scholar too.
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