Meet our graduate researchers - Dr Ouli Xie
Research title: Evolution of streptococcal pathovars.
Started PhD studies in Oct 2022
"Dr Xie is going deep into microbial genomics within an evolutionary and translational framework. His studies are a beautiful example of applying cutting edge laboratory methods to investigating a prospectively collected set of bacterial clinical isolates that have caused life threatening infections. His work will deepen our understanding of how and why a particular pathogen, Streptococcus dysgalactiae subspecies equisimilis (group C/G Streptococcus), is growing in prominence in Australia and world-wide." - Professor Steven Tong
Tell us about your PhD research
Streptococcus dysgalactiae subspecies equisimilis (group C/G Streptococcus) is a bacterium that is increasingly recognised as a cause of serious human disease. It shares genes and disease manifestations, and in some regions, has reported rates of invasive disease approaching that of the closely related pathogen, Streptococcus pyogenes (group A Streptococcus). Leveraging the overlap between the two pathogens, we aim to collect and analyse the genome of Australian and global streptococcal isolates to identify common drivers of disease and potential shared vaccine targets to inform preventative and treatment approaches to combat streptococcal disease.
What and where did you study/work/undertake placement before your PhD?
I undertook my MBBS at the University of Melbourne and visited the Oxford Vaccine Group investigating emerging meningococcal disease as part of a BMedSci during my undergraduate studies. I graduated in 2012 and trained at The Royal Melbourne Hospital from internship through to Basic Physician Training (BPT). During BPT, I took 6 months to study a Diploma of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Tanzania and Uganda through the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I have subsequently completed Infectious Diseases training at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Monash Health, the Royal Darwin Hospital and the Northern Territory Centre for Disease Control in 2020. Since completing training, I have worked as a consultant at the Royal Darwin Hospital before moving back to Melbourne at the end of 2021 where I work on a sessional basis with the Infection and Immunity service at Monash Health and the COVID service at Royal Melbourne Hospital.
What made you decide to first undertake a PhD and choose the Doherty Institute?
I have always been interested in clinical and translational research throughout my training. I have had the great fortune of working with world-leading and inspiring clinician-researchers and mentors during my training who have guided me towards a goal to undertake a career as a clinician-researcher myself. Towards the end of clinical training, I reached out to several mentors regarding projects combining large scale bacterial genomics with translational research. A common theme was the emerging hub of microbial genomics at the Doherty as a site of excellence to undertake a PhD to gain skills in this area and with links to the Parkville precinct for the translational impact. The additional attraction of moving back home was an opportunity too good to pass up.
Do you/how do you combine your PhD research with any clinical work you are undertaking?
I have sought advice from my supervisors and peers who are undertaking PhDs to try to balance clinical work while prioritising a full time PhD. Keeping my clinical links is very important in the context of my career goals and I’ve been very fortunate to be supported by the Monash Health Infectious Diseases unit and the Victorian Infectious Diseases Service at The Royal Melbourne Hospital in supporting me with flexible fractional roles to fit around my PhD schedule.
When do you hope to complete and what are your plans post-PhD?
I hope to complete my PhD at the end of 2024 although I’ve been told that’s very ambitious! Post-PhD, I’d like to explore the possibility of an overseas postdoc to expand the skills I hope to gain through my PhD and my exposure to international researchers in the field. During my first year, it’s really opened my eyes to the global nature of microbial genomics research and I’m excited to explore diverse opportunities before settling back in Australia where I hope to establish myself as a clinician-researcher.
What advice do you have for a medical graduate who is considering a PhD?
I think I would have two main points of advice: 1) Please don’t be intimidated by the prospect of a PhD - it doesn’t have to take away from clinical work and really in no point else in your medical career do you get the opportunity to really dedicate and immerse yourself in a research topic, 2) Take the opportunity to talk to as many people as you can including mentors, supervisors and peers about their experience and opportunities available - there’s likely an opportunity out there you haven’t even thought of!