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Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)

4.5
  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Laura Hallam

ANSTO conducts a wide variety of activities in many areas of science and business, thus giving graduates the opportunity to rotate through several areas of the organisation for a range of experiences.

What's your job about?

ANSTO conducts a wide variety of activities in many areas of science and business, thus giving graduates the opportunity to rotate through several areas of the organisation for a range of experiences. In my current rotation, I am working at the National Deuteration Facility (NDF). The NDF produces chemical and biological compounds for researchers that have been deuterated, which means that the hydrogen atoms in a compound are replaced with deuterium, which is heavy hydrogen. This allows researchers to carry out experiments, particularly using the neutrons produces at ANSTO. I work as a chemist, carrying out chemical synthesis of these compounds in the lab. This involved literature research of methods, trial reactions and method development on protonated material, producing deuterated compounds and then synthesising, purifying and characterising the desired compounds. As well as work in the lab I have other tasks including working on organising presentations of the NDF’s work to assist in effective science communication and participating in data analysis for ANSTO’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

What's your background?

I grew up in Wollongong and attended primary school, high school and university in the area. My interest in science was developed when I attended an academically gifted class one day a week during Year 5 and 6, where we got to go on many interesting excursions (including to ANSTO) and carry out science experiments generally not undertaken with primary school students. That led to me choosing a science degree for university.

During my third year, I spent a semester abroad at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany. I got to carry out my first research project in a molecular and cellular biology lab and had an amazing experience immersing myself in another culture and meeting many new people. I carried out my honours project in medicinal chemistry and cancer biology in my fourth year. Throughout university, I also worked for Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS), helping first-year students with chemistry and anatomy subjects. I applied for the ANSTO Graduate Program, received a position and have been working there since February 2019. 

Could someone with a different background do your job?

ANSTO Graduate Program takes people of a large variety of backgrounds and there is the opportunity to work in many areas of the business. The two rotations I have done have required skills in chemistry, however, there are many other places to go and I plan to branch out of my comfort zone for my final rotation in order to broaden my skills. I think the most important characteristics required for this job is a willingness to learn and be adaptable to new environments. 

What's the coolest thing about your job?

I like being able to improve my skills in organic chemistry and to be contributing to other scientist’s research in a valuable way. Working in the lab is an interesting task and breaks up the day of being in the office. I also enjoy being able to work on other projects alongside my rotation. I have enjoyed carrying out diversity and inclusion data analysis and being able to contribute to initiatives that are affecting the whole organisation. Promoting gender equality and women in STEM is something I am very passionate about. 

What are the limitations of your job?

The limitations of the two scientific rotations I have done have been that the work is quite a niche and insulated, giving me great skills but in a specific area and I sometimes have limited interaction with other staff which reduces networking opportunities. Being able to broaden those skills and my interactions with others relies on me seeking out other opportunities. 

3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...

  1. Focus on the things you enjoy doing – how do you want to spend your day to day?
  2. Take opportunities when they present themselves. 
  3. You have plenty of time to find your path so don’t stress!