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03 Jul 2017

Postdoc postcards: Hamish McWilliam #2

In his last blog in April, Dr Hamish McWilliam (Professor Jose Villadangos’ Group) had just landed in New York.  Now in Europe, he reflects on his two months at Rockefeller University. 

Hamish and wife Miriam atop the Empire State Building
Hamish and wife Miriam atop the Empire State Building

As I mentioned in my last post, I was at Rockefeller to learn new techniques from the laboratory of A/Prof Howard Hang, who uses novel chemical biology tools to investigate the intracellular complexities that govern vital steps in immunity.

Currently I’m in Europe between a conference and a couple of lab visits, and I am coming home soon with great new techniques and ideas that I can use in the lab back at the Doherty. The ‘chemical tools’ I’ve learned from Howard’s lab are unique and not currently used in Australia. I’m confident they will push forward our research into how the immune system recognises and fights bacteria.

Aside from the fact that I actually fractured both my arms after falling from my bike (cycling in Manhattan should not be attempted lightly!) I managed to keep pipetting in the lab and finish the experiments I aimed to do. But being able to live and work on Manhattan has been an absolutely amazing experience! Someone told me that time moves faster in NY, and it is true – people run to a different clock here. And being here for a couple of months from early to late spring, we could witness the explosion of green as all the trees come alive again.

Another aspect of my trip which has been invaluable, although harder to put in words, is being able to absorb the philosophy and ethos that permeates a place like Rockefeller University. I have been amazed at the amount of basic research that is done there. While Rockefeller is a biomedical research institute, and one of the oldest in the world, many researchers are attempting to answer fundamental biological questions. Hence it’s not surprising that so many Nobel prizes stem from their labs. Rockefeller was started and has since been supported by generous private funding, and it seems to me that this backing is a key part of why they are so strong in basic, ‘blue-sky’ science.

I have been really inspired by my short stint at Rockefeller. And now I’m keen to get back into the lab and see what happens! But finally, I want to thank Veski and the Victorian government, who have funded my trip on a Victorian Fellowship – it is very appreciated and has been extremely useful.