Interview with Charles on the PhD Experience

Posted: May 25, 2011 in Interviews
Tags: ,

What is a PhD?

It stands for Doctor of Philosophy and involves a huge research project but beyond that I didn’t really know so I went and asked a friend who’s currently completing one.

What is involved in a PhD?

A research project* that you work on with the guidance of a supervisor.

* A research project generally involves coming up with a theory or something that you want to investigate such as an unknown feature, and then pursuing this through an experiment. Not all PhD projects will involve a laboratory based experiment.

How is it different to an Honours project?

It really is up to you to research the appropriate literature and come up with your experimental design (the method of testing). While you have a supervisor for both courses, a PhD requires you to be far more independent.

An Honours project is generally one year. How long does a PhD take to complete?

Around 3-4 years.

What is your PhD about?

I’m looking at a particular neuron (a type of cell in the body). These cells are located in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and I want to investigate the path they take. I’d like to complete an anatomical (structural) survey for this cell as nobody really knows where it goes. If we can work this out then maybe we can work out it’s physiology (what it does).

How do you do this?

I inject a virus into laboratory rats. It attaches to these cells making them turn green. This helps me see which structures they go to.

How long is a thesis (written report of all your work)?

What was your pathway into Science?

I completed an undergraduate degree in Psychology in America. It involved a neuroscience component which I really enjoyed, partly because I had an inspirational professor. What I really like about science is that there is a lot about it that is unknown.

What happened after you graduated?

I was a research assistant for a few years. You get to learn a few investigative techniques as well as contribute to some publications. Then I came to Australia and began my PhD.

What is an average day for you?

A balance between writing, experiments, teaching, and reading. Most PhD students will work as a demonstrator (the teacher in the prac classes). It’s great to see a student understand something new and I really enjoy sharing what I’ve learnt with them.

Thanks Charles!


  1. Kylie T. says:

    Is there a lot of paper work to fill out to get access to the lab rats? I mean, do you have to ask someone for permission and is it hard to get? Do these forms often get refused? I mean, who says you can just hurt mice and do stuff to mice and who owns these mice?

    • Hi Kylie,
      In any experiment involving animals there is a rigorous ethics procedure that needs to be done first. You are not allowed to experiment on an animal without getting approval from an ethics committee first. I actually wrote a blog about this on our class’ Uni Melb blog here if you wanna know more.

      In the case such as using mice, you need to justify your experiment, justify the numbers of mice you need and demonstrate that the mice will undergo the most humane standards possible throughout the duration of the experiment. Ethics approval is long, involved and difficult. These will often get rejected unless you have covered every angle.

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