13 Sep 2017

CCS PhD student profile: Mahtab Parvaresh

Mahtab Parvaresh at the 2017 CCS 3MT heats.
 by Matt Jane                                                             
Mahtab Parvaresh is a PhD student in the Natural Killer (NK) Cell Biology Laboratory in the Department of Immunology. She is supervised by Dr Dan Andrews. Mahtab completed a Bachelor of Biotechnology at RMIT and then went on to complete her Honours at Monash University.

What is your research about?

I research the transcription regulation of Natural killer cells, in particular the role of NF-kB family members in Natural killer cell development, homeostasis and the control of viral infections, specifically targeting Murine Cytomegalovirus infection.

Have you always been interested in this area? What made you choose to do this for your PhD?

I first discovered my love for science in high school, which then lead me to studying a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Biotechnology. My fascination for living systems and cell biology has influenced my natural progression into a PhD.

When I was deciding on a PhD project, I looked in areas that I found interesting and enjoyed learning more about. I like immunology, I like Natural killer cells and I like genetics and I think putting them together was a good idea for a project.

Who is your supervisor and what’s your favourite thing about them?

My supervisor is Dan Andrews. I had met Dan before my honours year, and then we crossed paths again towards the end of the year. I got along really well with him. I think it’s really important that you get along with your supervisor. I also have a great lab. The people I work with are really supporting. There’s always someone to go to if you need assistance. Everybody is really friendly, they’re great to be around and see on a daily basis.

The work itself is also extremely enjoyable. It’s comforting to know that there are a lot of people around who are willing to help if ever I am stuck. There’s also another PhD student and a couple honours students in the lab.

Is it helpful having other students in your lab also? Have you been able to impart any wisdom onto them?

Because Angela, the other PhD student, and myself started last year we have been able to help guide the honours students throughout their journey. It has been a rewarding experience.

Has there been any lightbulb moments, either personally or professionally throughout your PhD?

There has been a lot of personal development throughout the first year and a half. You become very self-disciplined. From a professional standpoint, there have been some exciting results that have come through in my project.

The PhD can be quite demanding. Has there been a lot of highs and lows for you?

There definitely has been highs and lows throughout the PhD. You have some great moments as well as some challenges, but overall I’ve been quite happy in it. You just have to be willing to ride the highs and lows.

You recently competed in the Three Minute Thesis competition. What were the difficulties and benefits of participating in this competition?

The Three Minute Thesis competition was both very difficult and very rewarding. I personally don’t like public speaking so participating in the competition was a huge personal accomplishment for me. I know now that I have the capabilities to go in front of an audience and present my work, so for me that aspect of the competition was quite rewarding.

I found it quite difficult to put my research into lay terms. My PhD topic is extremely science driven and therefore you have to be particular in the way you present your findings. It was hard to make it not all facts, you have to try and engage the audience as well. Despite the difficulties, I found the whole process to be very rewarding.

What are your plans post PhD?

I haven’t really thought that far to be honest. I think that I would like to do a post doc or potentially work in industry. At this point I’m just focusing on my work here and trying to get the best out of myself.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received whilst studying?

Probably that you have to be organised. There is a lot that goes on throughout your PhD, both personally and professionally. It’s really important that you organise your time well. Also, you have to be disciplined. Stick to your guns and work through the hardships that you may come across. If you remain disciplined and self-motivated, it will make the project a lot easier.

What advice do you have for others starting a PhD? 

I think it’s really important to find out if you’re compatible with your supervisor and your project. Make sure you do your research. Go into the lab, meet your supervisor, see if the project interests you. A PhD can be anywhere between three to five years. It’s an emotional roller coaster and you’re donating a lot of your time to the work, so you have to make sure that it’s something you’re going to want to do.

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

You don’t get a lot of spare time when you are undertaking your PhD but I think it’s really important that you find a good work life balance.

I really enjoy keeping fit. I do kickboxing and go to the gym. It’s a really good break from work. Doing some physical activities can be a really good distraction from your day-to-day life in the lab. I also enjoy spending time with friends.

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