Rebecca Lim, PhD


Where can people find you? Twitter: @BecLeeSteere

Undergraduate: Double major in Biomedical Science and Molecular Biology, Murdoch University (BSc, Hons)

Graduate school: University of Western Australia (PhD) graduated in 2007

Current job title: Associate Professor, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Monash University; Scientific Director, Cell Therapies and Regenerative Medicine, Monash Health Translation Precinct.

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue? 

Probably 3rd year of high school and learning about cell biology. While I’ve worked across a number of different areas including preeclampsia, immunology and cancer biology, the underlying theme has always been about how cells work and how they do what they do.

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career. 

My mum instilled in me a rock solid work ethic so my sis and I grew up knowing that nothing replaced hard work. As a postdoc, I was fortunate enough to stumble into the lab of a mentor who was incredibly encouraging and had an extremely strong work ethic of his own. He appreciated my efforts and he placed many opportunities in my path but he never pressured me into taking on any more than I was prepared to. Mind you, he ensured that I was always prepared!

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it? 

I think the further I progressed, the more doubts I had. I started my career with firm beliefs that I could change the world with my research and I thought that the stress of the PhD would be over as soon as I had that degree in my hand. It took me close to 8 years of postdoctoral training before I could say that I was sure that I was made for this and I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. 

As a postdoc fresh out of my PhD, my capabilities were questioned on my first day of work by a PhD student. And in the first year of my postdoc, I was sexually harrassed by a senior member of staff, who also happened to be a long time friend of my PI at the time. And in later years, the first international conference that I attended without my PI, I was inappropriately touched by a well-respected and extremely well-published Professor from an Ivy League school. This time, I was under the mentorship of a PI who had my back and that made all the difference.

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path. 

(1) I thought that working with industry was selling my soul to the devil, going to the dark side… etc… I know now that developing novel therapeutics are best done with industry leaders who have the expertise that academics lack; 

(2) Ambition does not have to come at the cost of my mental health or physical health. I bring my best self to work when I am well-rested, have eaten well and working with people I genuinely enjoy being around; 

(3) I can be competitive and supportive at the same time. I can be part of creating a safe environment for others to thrive so that they can bring their best selves to work.

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work. 

I am an athlete and martial artist. I value persistence and determination, but more importantly, I view my team as my athletes and I use a lot of sport analogies when coaching them through deadlines, experimental designs etc. 

For example, I am very open at the very beginning of a coaching cycle (e.g. grant writing period) that I will be pushing the team member to perform and I am there for strategy and support but ultimately, it is their own race to run. I also remind them about self-care, nutrition and rest because the best performing athlete is on top of all of those things. Finally, I remind them that training and competition seasons are cyclical – no one expects them to be performing at 100% all year round. In order for our careers to be sustainable, we need to allow time for rest/planning/thinking.

Is there some advice you could you share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path. 

There is no exact ‘right’ way to do this. You’ll find your own path and there are plenty of us around willing to help you get to where you want to go. No one expects you to do this on your own.

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