Interview with Dr Munn

Posted by CK Tan on 28 November 2016 | Comments

Your brief biography

I graduated with first class Honours in Microbiology from the University of Adelaide, Adelaide, S.A. In 2008 I joined Griffith University as a Lecturer in Biochemistry at the Gold Coast campus.

I am interested in the emerging links between the actin cytoskeleton and vesicle traffic machinery and the switch of normal cellular proteins to an amyloid proteinaceous infection particle (prion) form in yeast. My laboratory has continued to use yeast as a tool to screen complex biodiversity extracts for natural compounds with interesting and potentially useful bioactivities.

What is your current area of work?

All of the gene products I identified as essential for vesicular traffic in the endocytic pathway in yeast have homologues in higher eukaryotes, including humans. We are mapping sites of protein-protein interaction between Vrp1p and Las17p (which are both extremely rich in proline) and partner proteins in yeast, many of which contain one or more Src Homology 3 (SH3) domains.

I am especially excited by the striking parallels between the stable and heritable epigenetic changes in yeast that are now known to be caused by amyloid prions and the epigenetic changes in mammalian cells associated with the development of cancer. This is an area of research I am very keen to progress.

What drew you to microbiology?

I have been fascinated with cells and organelles since I was at school. At university I learnt about the use of molecular genetics to elucidate how cells work at the molecular level. This seemed such a powerful tool for experiments and at the time these approaches were only possible using microbes. Others are probably drawn to microbiology by an interest in the diseases that microbes cause. In my case, I was drawn by a keen interest in using microbes as experimental models – to do things to them and see how they respond. Given the conservation of the gene products we study between yeast and humans, the insights we glean from playing with them in yeast cells may give novel insight into the functions of the corresponding human gene products and reveal how and why dysfunction of these gene products ultimately results in human disease and how these diseases may be treated.

What does a standard day involve for you?

On a standard day I would be found in an auditorium expounding on human metabolism or clinical microbiology or molecular cell biology to undergraduate dentistry, pharmacy and medical laboratory science students. I am often in my research laboratory asking my research students about their latest experimental results and/or helping them plan their next experiment

Many of my research students are international students, so in the evenings I can sometimes be found on Skype interviewing prospective PhD students from all over the globe or perusing curriculum vitaes, academic transcripts, research degree certificates. Usually there are a lot of practical questions to answer for PhD applicants relating to the application process, scholarships, visas, research projects, insurance coverage, start dates, availability of research funds and language proficiency testing.

Life as a scientist involves so many different types of activity it is challenging but at the same time especially rewarding. It is a real thrill to solve an important long-standing question in biology and report the findings to scientific colleagues around the world. One of the greatest rewards is training and enthusing the next generation of researchers and health care practitioners.

How do you like to spend your time outside the work?

Outside of work I like to spend time with my family, visit relatives and keep up to date with world news. I enjoy listening to classical music performances. My other favourite activities are swimming, archery, table tennis, mini golf and pool. I love family holidays to the beach, sailing, snorkelling, and long walks along the beach. Recently, I visited Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef with my family and saw whales, dolphins, sea turtles, rays, sharks, tropical reef fish, giant clams, coral gardens and an eel.

What advice would you give to students/ECRs who are pursuing a career in research?

I am extremely happy with my decision to pursue a career in research. This is a career that satisfies your need for intellectual challenges and allows you to develop your creativity and critical thinking like no other career. There are challenges and difficult decisions at times (like in any career choice) however the rewards are considerable and the skills you develop will set you up not only for further positions in science but also other careers where creativity, critical thinking, objectivity, public speaking, self-discipline, strong motivation, high quality writing, manual dexterity, team building and training, strategic leadership, and management of finances, time, projects and people are valued … and isn’t that most professional careers? One important lesson I learnt was the importance of moving around. Things are run very, very differently in different departments, institutes, organisations and countries. In some places things worked out better for me than in other places – my advice is to move around and find the place that suits you (the best place for you may be different from the best place for other people!).

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