Welcome to Pitch Your PhD – Shownotes

Season 1, Episode 13

Biofilms with Aditi Aiyer

In this episode Dr Catherine Ball had a chat with Aditi Aiyer on her PhD research on safely disrupting biofilms of cystic fibrosis pathogens using a combination therapy of antioxidant and antibiotics.

This is what I love about science …  with this massive collaborative effort, by publishing our work and looking at each other and just trying to figure out the best solution, this is the way that we can do it. Eventually. Hopefully we’d be able to use all of these different methods together to try to eradicate the root cause

Aditi is a PhD student with extraordinary commitment in helping the community through her love for science and research.

This is a “kind of, sort of, vaguely close” copy of the words from this episode.

IT IS NOT 100% accurate.  We are very sorry if we have spelt something completely incorrectly.  If it means a lot to you to have it corrected, email us at mel@ramaley.media

Pitch Your PhD – Aditi Aiyer

[00:00:00] Catherine: Hello, and welcome to pitch your PhD. I’m Dr. Catherine Ball. And today I have the pleasure of talking to Aditi Aiyer, soon to be Dr. Aditi Aiyer. So the thing that really stood out to me about our guest today is the absolute rock, solid commitment to academia and science. And this commitment actually started when she was incredibly young.

[00:00:22] and as a mother of two children, now I’m starting to see their personalities come out. But so I can imagine her mom tearing her hair out about the fact that she had a kid who would fake not being sick when she was really sick, and actually trying to convince her mum that she should still go to school whilst probably vomiting at the same time walking and putting her school bag on her back.

[00:00:41] And she was begging to be taken to school just because she wanted to learn.

[00:00:45] And when asked that horrible question, you know, what do you want to do when you grow up? Aditi said she wanted to be a doctor, but not just a doctor that treated people. She wanted to figure out the diagnosis of things. Aditi remembers as a kid wondering why aren’t there more [00:01:00] female scientists. Aditi growing up thinking that there really should be more of them.

[00:01:04] And yes, I agree with that incredibly passionately. And even now we need more of them. So once she reached high school, she took the holy Trinity of science subjects, biology, physics, and chemistry, but feeling overwhelmed, she dropped biology. However, plot twist, she ended up studying biology in university and actually using it in her career. One might say they’re all connected Aditi. Aditi started out undergraduate degrees, studying neuroscience, but shifted halfway through to microbiology and immunology as well. So that led to her doing a double major and adding an honors degree on because, immunology was just such her bag. Like she was just loving it so much.

[00:01:38] After her honors degree Aditi felt it was not passionate enough, really, to continue the honors project, which is all about allergies, which is incredibly important thing. But you’ve got to be passionate about what you study, to do a PhD project on it. So unsure what to do next, but knowing it wasn’t time to take a break and do nothing,

[00:01:56] Aditi decided to try her hand at a master’s degree in the science [00:02:00] of medicine. And then while doing her master’s degree, she met her now PhD supervisor in a seminar on biofilm infections and suddenly found herself reaching that topic, as a place of interest in getting deep into the research of it.

[00:02:16] Instead of working on her master’s degree. Her supervisor, seeing this passion for a new line of research, asked her to consider doing a PhD on the subject and she jumped into the opportunity. And I’m really glad she did because not only am I a fellow PhD in microbial ecology. So I get to seriously geek out with you about biofilms, but also it means we get to hear more of her story today.

[00:02:38] Hello, Aditi, how are you?

[00:02:39] Aditi: Hi, thanks for having me. I’m really happy to be here.

[00:02:43] Catherine: Oh, no, it’s great to have you


[00:02:44] Catherine: look, I’m just trying to think of fulcrums in our life, especially as women in the stem world, you started studying added bolted, extra majors on probably threw a few miners in there. Like, you know, moved around and you jumped around in between different [00:03:00] specialisms that some might say were actually incredibly different.

[00:03:02] Moving from allergy research into, Microbial ecology, is a little bit of a jump really. I mean, as a systems person, I of course can see that there are complete parallels in all of these things, but, tell us a little bit about how you found that windy, windy journey from when you first started your undergraduate studies to where you are now nearly getting ready to finish a PhD.

[00:03:20] Aditi: One thing’s for sure. I wouldn’t change a thing because everything that I d made such a big impact on who I am today. I started off with neuroscience because I find the brain and I still do. I find the brain so incredibly intricate and beautiful to study. but then honestly, halfway through my undergraduate,

[00:03:41] so many of my friends were taking immunology and microbiology and it just. I kind of want to hang out with my friends at university. So let me just take some electives. It’ll be fun. I’m sure it’s just as interesting. And then it was insane. I realized that the immune system was [00:04:00] just this amazing story.

[00:04:02] These T cells and B cells are just desperately trying to fight off whatever’s there in your body. That’s invading it, these protectors, these centuries. And I just was so enthralled by the entire thing that I just kept studying both of them because I couldn’t pick. and I stumbled upon allergies mainly because I am plagued by allergy.

[00:04:25] Like I hate, like spring is not my favorite season because I sneeze and I, oh, it’s just, it’s a lot going on. And I just wanted to know how I could help myself a little bit. So hence the allergies, but I mean, for me, I didn’t really, gel with the lab culture, which is like, it really does matter.

[00:04:45] like, it doesn’t matter about like how amazing the lab is. They just care. We care about who’s taking care of you. So for me, I didn’t feel as supported in the lab, but I loved my project. So I was thinking, okay, let’s just take a beat. I know I want to stay in [00:05:00] science. I just need to figure out what exactly it is that I need to stick with.

[00:05:05] and I was very lucky to just stumble upon my supervisors with their projects because. Oh, my God. I couldn’t imagine being so interested in microbial ecology and microbiology. And having that background from my undergraduate really did help. And I brought, I still keep bringing that into my current PhD work and more now.

The research

[00:05:27] Catherine: let’s talk biofilms. let’s just deep dive straight into what your work is right now, what your thesis is about and what it’s going to achieve. So let’s actually tell everybody what are biofilms and why are they important to the area that you’re studying?

[00:05:40] Aditi: So the easy way should usually explain biofilms to some people, because it is a reasonably complex thing is they’re basically these structured matrices that have been created by bacteria coming together in a community and they can encase themselves in a biofilm. the way I usually explain the rest of the [00:06:00] things that go around my thesis is everyone knows the story of the three little pigs and the big, bad Wolf.

[00:06:05] the pigs tried to build a house so that the Wolf can’t get them, the Wolf then huffs and puffs and blows down the house that it made a stroll and twigs, but he can’t get through the house that’s made of bricks. We all know that. Right. But in my story, in my thesis, it’s a flipped script. It’s completely different because in my version, the Wolf is the good guy.

[00:06:24] It’s the, he’s basically the antibiotics that are trying to save us from, all of these infections, but he lacks that Huff and puff to blow down the house of those biofilm bricks that’s teaming with the bacteria within. So essentially those biofilms are just created by the bacteria to stop us from even being able to treat them.

[00:06:43] And that’s where my thesis is. I’m trying to give that good Wolf that extra Huff and puff. That is how I explain it.

[00:06:50] Catherine: I think that’s a really great way to explain it. So if we talk about bacteria for a moment, I mean, I remember when we were looking at, gosh, this was back in the mid two thousands. Now there were arguments [00:07:00] over when PCR was being used, whether we would call it 16 SDNAA. And we had to start calling it 16 SRRNA gene, because we couldn’t actually really find a way to identify and diagnose what a species was in terms of bacteria.

[00:07:13] It would always come down to function. And I think a lot of people don’t really realize that bacteria are so capable of changing what they do and sharing information with each other, through conjugation and evolution, just naturally of their genome, that a biofilm can sometimes be one species of bacteria that is just actually

[00:07:30] created different functionalities in groups with inside its own genetic potential. And I find that to be incredibly interesting. And I was looking at it.

[00:07:37] from an environmental perspective, but one of the major thought things I had about biofilms was they had to exist in a reasonably stagnant environment.

[00:07:46] So where in the human body are we finding the kind of biofilms that you’re looking at, where they’re not actually being destroyed or moved by a physical process rather than a antibiotic process.

[00:07:57] Aditi: That’s a really good question. And like you said, [00:08:00] biofilms occurred in so many different settings. So the one that I’m focusing on is in the cystic fibrosis lung. So a cystic fibrosis itself is a disease that causes overproduction of mucus on mucosal surface. Like in the lungs or even in the gut.

[00:08:16] and it’s because of this overproduction of mucus that the bacteria that can colonize the lungs love it because it’s a warm and moist niche that’s filled with nutrients, but like obviously CF bacteria, don’t just like to grow freely. They love to form the biofilms. And when they start forming biofilms in this situation, it becomes increasingly difficult to treat because

[00:08:40] it’s difficult to get antibiotics and treatments into the lungs to begin with, but the mucus creating this like this extra layer of not going to call it protection, but this extra layer that we have to deal with in treatment is what makes this so nefarious, I suppose, to deal with. and that’s kind of part of [00:09:00] the reason that I was drawn to this project because creating treatments is one thing like, you know, we’ve already got antibiotics, we can already do something with those, but I’m trying to find a way to bypass the biofilm. like the way that it works, which is so completely, or almost completely different from freely moving bacteria.

[00:09:20] That’s that extra layer of that. I was just so interested in and I needed to figure out how we could deal with it.

[00:09:25] Catherine: I I think a lot of us know somebody with CF or know somebody who’s related to somebody with CF. It’s a genetic, uh, inherited disease persisting. Right. It’s not going anywhere. It’s still, it’s still around. And I don’t think its rates are particularly dropped. Do we know how many people currently in Australia have cystic fibrosis

[00:09:44] Aditi: I know that the overall statistics are about one in 1000 or 10,000. I’m trying to remember the exact number, but it’s still, it’s reasonably rare, but it’s more prevalent in Caucasian populations. and when you were saying about [00:10:00] people that we somewhat related to I’ve had, in fact, actually this happened just yesterday.

[00:10:05] I was presenting some work about my, thesis. I was presenting my three minute thesis to the School of Medical Sciences in my university. And I got a call from one of the people who heard my talk, she just wanted to have a chat with me and it, she revealed that she had cystic fibrosis and when she was 22 years old, she actually received a lung transplant.

[00:10:28] That was completely life-saving. And now she’s going strong with two kids. She’s 52. and it goes to prove that being able to mitigate these kinds of infections is really what can give a person a chance to continue their lives. And that’s a really big deal to see that.

[00:10:47] Catherine: So I’ve just had a quick Google and I’ve gone to a, if anyone wants to learn more about cystic fibrosis, you can go to cystic fibrosis.org.au, and just a quick headline there that in Australia, one in two and a half thousand babies are born with CF. That’s a baby every four [00:11:00] days in Australia alone. So if you extrapolate that out across the caucasian world where it’s more frequent than other, other groups.

[00:11:06] That’s, that’s a lot of people every year, still being born and diagnosed with CF, in terms of some of the work around sort of CRISPR-Cas9 technology, and some of the genetic, I remember learning about CF doing my A-level in biology, because we were learning all about gene therapy. Now, obviously gene therapy has changed a lot in the last 20 years.

[00:11:25] So I’m thinking, is there a way. The way you are attacking biofilms is almost a collaborative effort with the people that are trying to deliver those gene therapy medication

[00:11:34] Aditi: At this stage, I’m not exactly focusing on that although it would be such an amazing, future direction. To look at the crossover that you can have between antibacterial and CFTR modulators. At this stage, what we’re trying to do is not just use antibiotics because obviously we’re facing the current era of antibiotic resistance.

[00:11:56] Everyone seems to be talking about it and it’s with good [00:12:00] reason because we don’t want to see these kinds of resistances emerging a lot more in our CF bacteria. so what our lab in collaboration with, one of our industry partners, the Whiteley Corporation, What we’re trying to do is create this combination therapy.

[00:12:15] So we’ve got our antibiotics. We know that they’re going to work at certain concentrations, but we don’t want it to be doing all the heavy lifting. So to mitigate that, we’re using things like antioxidants and due to intellectual property, I have to be a bit tight lipped about this little part, but we’re going to use a special ingredient

[00:12:32] X is what I’m going to say. and hopefully all of those components together, we can deliver those killing effects first by disrupting the biofilm matrix and then giving a chance for those antibiotics to kill bacteria within.

[00:12:46] Catherine: So understanding more about biofilms is going to help more than just your particular subject area of CF. I’m just trying to think about the average person If I was to think about somebody in general, where they would have a biofilm in their body the first thing that Springs to mind to me, Aditi [00:13:00] is dentistry. It’s their teeth, right? So biofilms are present on our teeth, which is why we need to brush our teeth twice a day, right?

[00:13:06] To disrupt that. So you can’t obviously brush your lungs twice day when you’ve got a biofilm building up inside.

[00:13:13] Aditi: Exactly. Exactly. That’s, it’s one of the main things that in our lab, I just like to also mention that it’s not just cystic fibrosis, you can also develop biofilms. I’m sure many of the women listening in the audience may be familiar with UTI. we’re also looking at UTI infections like certain, vaginal infections as well.

[00:13:34] You can develop Biofilms. and also you can develop biofilms on certain wounds, like diabetic liquids for example So there are so many different contexts, but, the way that we’re trying to target them is by using these kinds of combinations. And the reason that we’re focusing on things like antioxidants is so that we can stop using too many of these antibiotics.

[00:13:55] And we can just disrupt that matrix, chip away a little bit at it. basically using [00:14:00] it like a brush, if you will, to try to get rid of all of these bi ofilms

[00:14:04] Catherine: Well, as we look to now, a post antibiotic society, though, I’m really hoping that we catch up with ourselves and we don’t end up in a post antibiotic society. looking at alternative ways to disrupt how bacteria infections affects our bodies is absolutely key. I remember when I was studying my PhD as well. One of the things I looked at was bacteriophage. Have you played much with bacteriophage, bacteriophage.

[00:14:26] Aditi: We have a few collaborators in the. Like school of pharmacy who have been playing around a little bit with bacteriophages. I’m not all that familiar with their work, but from what I’ve been told, it is rather promising. And it’s like, it’s really interesting that you’re bringing up, you know, if the CFTR modulators and the bacteria are just, this is what I love about

[00:14:47] science is that even though I’m just focusing on one thing or our lab is focusing on one thing with this massive collaborative effort, by publishing our work and looking at each other and just trying to figure out the [00:15:00] best solution, this is the way that we can do it. Eventually. Hopefully we’d be able to use all of these different methods together to try to eradicate the root cause.

[00:15:09] Catherine: Everything in mother nature’s an ecosystem, right? So. I’ve never understood why I’ve only ever used one part of an ecosystem or one part of a food web or one part of a very complex set of weapons that we can use against certain diseases. We focus on one and not, not everything. And so I think that might be changing in terms of medical research..

Thesis title

[00:15:27] Catherine: So I’m guessing you’ve got a working title, at least for your thesis. Tell us what is it?

[00:15:31] Aditi: It’s incredibly long.

[00:15:33] Catherine: The best ones are usually.

[00:15:35] Aditi: Is that so, okay,

[00:15:36] Catherine: Oh, yes. I PhD thesis title and it’s got me, you know, and it uses words where I have to Google them, I don’t know what they are immediately drawn. It’s like when I look at a menu in a restaurant, if there’s at least one thing on there that I don’t know what it is, even if it’s some kind of weird Italian cheese, I will love the fact that there’s a new word there that I’ve got to go and learn.

[00:15:52] So give it to us.

[00:15:53] Aditi: Okay. Investigating an antioxidant antibiotic combination therapy to safely disrupt [00:16:00] bacterial biofilms of cystic fibrosis pathogens of emerging importance and

[00:16:05] Catherine: that’s amazing. There’s not a word in there that’s wasted. Nope. That says exactly what is.

[00:16:10] Aditi: Good.

[00:16:11] Catherine: Do not change. That’s amazing. Combination therapy is a big thing. I mean, combination therapy in medical treatment has only been around, not what a decade or so like combination therapy is an actual process, right?

[00:16:22] It’s quite a new. when we look at like what’s going to happen with COVID. I mean, when we look at viruses and how they affect our health, you know, when you’ve got like, HPV causes, cervical cancer, EBV causes an increased risk of nasal pharyngeal cancers. We’ve got no idea what COVID is going to be doing to us.

[00:16:39] Right. The fact that we will actually be fighting COVID with combination therapies. Like we’ve got the new antivirals and we’ve got the new immunotherapies, and we’ll be fighting this with vaccines and immunotherapies and antivirals now and, trying to defeat it and come up with combination therapy.

[00:16:54] And I’ve had combination therapy antibiotics before where there’s been more than one antibiotic in the tablet, because we know sometimes we have [00:17:00] to punch holes in things and then stop enzymes and all that kind of stuff. But I’m not, I love it. Don’t change a single word. I think that says it does exactly what it says on the tin. an expression about a paint.It’s exactly says on the tin.

[00:17:13] Aditi: Happy about that.

[00:17:15] Catherine: Oh, no, it’s wonderfully inspiring. Maybe I’m just, you know, slightly bias towards your research. Cause I just, it’s been too long since I’ve studied microbial ecology, but I love it. and I actually think it is the future.

[00:17:23] Cause if you can find out how combination therapies can work with something as insidious as a biofilms, Then we’re going to be right going forwards. When we look at how we use combination therapies to treat post antibiotic world infections with a mixture of say, bacteria, phages, and antioxidants, and you know, all this kind of stuff.

Why PhD

[00:17:40] Catherine: And so, I mean, this is the thing to me, with someone like yourself. I mean, you could have pretty much gone into anything you wanted to with regards to medicine. So why did you think a PhD was a good thing for you?

[00:17:51] Aditi: well, I’ll be completely honest with you. I mean, you’ve already said it at the start. I love learning. So that’s already a big tick for going into a [00:18:00] PhD because you have to really be prepared. To sit and way through research, trying to make sense of all of it. And honestly, there are some moments still where I’m like, there’s too much for me to learn, but I still want to keep going.

[00:18:14] so that desire to learn was really a big contributor to wanting to do a PhD. While I honestly still really do respect, medicine as a career because unlike a PhD you’re able to actively, in the short term, I suppose, help someone or immediately help someone, but by doing something like research, like creating treatments like this, it’s not something that a doctor can just do, but at the same time, it’s what a researcher is for.

[00:18:43] And we’ve also seen this with the current pandemic that’s going on. The vaccines have been created by scientists, but it’s because of a doctor’s amazing doctors and essential workers that we’re able to deploy the vaccine. So I wanted to be on the side where I could help someone in the [00:19:00] long-term by creating something like a treatment.

[00:19:02] and that is really what influenced my decision to go towards more research to begin with.

[00:19:08] Catherine: Well, we definitely call PhD students ships. And that’s the key is that you’re not finishing something. You’re starting something.

After PhD

[00:19:13] Catherine: So, yeah. What’s next for you? Do you think after your PhD, what do you think you’ll want to do have even been thinking about that lately?

[00:19:21] Aditi: It’s like I’m in my third year, I should be thinking about it. I mean, look, I’ve I feel like every day and every time I look into, what I really want to do, I try not to think too far ahead into the future, especially because I never know what’s going to happen and never know what doors are gonna open to me.

[00:19:40] I would love to continue doing research and continue in, in at least in some way contributing to that. So whether it be influencing another student by teaching and telling them about these amazing things and how they can contribute teaching would be amazing or continuing, and just to see everything.

[00:19:58] Maybe not just in, you [00:20:00] know, treatments, but also finding out the root cause of the CFTR modulator therapies and things like that. or even who knows, maybe even jumping into medicine be another, another viable option if I want to help someone in the short term.

[00:20:14] Catherine: I think medicine would be very lucky to have you. And I think we’re at the cusp now of convergent technologies in the medical field. And so we need people that think like yourself, like systems. I mean, I’m a systems engineer and I keep saying this, so I’m very biased, but people that can see systems. More than the sum of the parts.

[00:20:30] And I think that’s probably one of the keys, especially if we are going to head into this post antibiotic world.


[00:20:34] Catherine: so when you were younger, I mean, obviously you’ve got a family around you who, you know, are educated, they’re all in finance, they’re all in accounting. So they’re all in the math aspect of stem.

[00:20:43] So you’ve got stem people all around you. so, but what was your main inspiration, or where are your main sources of inspiration for you to choose to just. Just keep going or was it just something that was just always an never spoken truth that you would go to university and you would study something in the stem field or tell us about that part of your [00:21:00] life.

[00:21:00] Aditi: It’s interesting because I wish there was something that just this magic would changing moment that made me realize that science is where I needed to be. But frankly, the reason is whenever I was sitting in even elementary school, I be sitting and finding myself more interested in science because I keep asking the question why, and then you keep getting answers, but eventually you’d stop getting answers and I’d be like, but why can’t I get.

[00:21:28] With English. It’s like, yes, you still can keep asking why, but it’s always open to interpretation. But with science, I love the fact that there’s always a truth that you can, like, the truth is out there. You can go and find it. And eventually I reached the stage where I was like, wait a second. I can do that.

[00:21:45] Let me go do that at university. Why not? And now here I am. I’m able to ask that question. Why every day design an experiment around that why. Figure out the answer and then ask another question and it just keeps going like that.[00:22:00]

[00:22:01] Catherine: So in your lab or in your life now, do you have any role models or people or mentors, people that.

[00:22:07] support you on this?

[00:22:08] Aditi: Definitely. I mean, I’d like to just huge shout out to my entire lab because it does take a village to take care of PhD students. So without each of them being around me, like my supervisors, Jim Manos and Das Kumar, I honestly would not know what I was doing. We also have industry partners at Whiteley who just constantly, you know, encourage us to keep pushing us

[00:22:31] for different opportunities and keep asking those questions to figure out the best way forward. and of course my friends and the peers that I’m around, but there are a few people who really have stood out simply because I spend or have spent a lot more time with them. That’s really impacted me in a way.

[00:22:47] So, one of my supervisors, Das Kumar, he’s always in the lab with me because he’s also doing his own experiments. And I’ve always found that thoroughly inspirational because he’s able to do his [00:23:00] own experiments. He’s able to chug along quite happily by himself, but whenever me or some of my other peers who are around, he’d always be there asking us questions.

[00:23:09] Like, do you think that this could be a paper? Do you think that this experiment would be helpful and it’s that kind of thought process that’s really become a huge part of me even more than it was before. so he’s been a thorough inspiration to me. And, another one of my peers who I recently just published a paper with.

[00:23:28] She’s a bit older than me. She’s actually got a whole family. She’s a doctor in respiratory medicine and she’s finishing off the PhD And I just think she’s an absolute superwoman, because that seems incredible that she’s able to do all of these things so seamlessly, or at least it looks that way to me.

[00:23:46] So I kind of want to be her when I grow up. If I’m being honest.

[00:23:52] Catherine: It’s funny though, that lab culture really can make or break your PhD experience. And I’ve seen both extremes, that you can get around that. So, Yeah.

[00:23:59] [00:24:00] that there was, uh, a very famous, Harvard business school chap called Peter Drucker, who wants said that culture eats strategy for breakfast and I think that that’s huge in the science world that you can have labs that just run like clockwork because they’re, they’re just the right people in the right mentality.

[00:24:14] And you can have others that become a dystopian nightmare. and you can’t really tell before you start which one it’s going to be, which is half the half the guests of starting a PhD.

PhD Challenge

[00:24:23] Catherine: so I suppose what’s been your year three now, so you’ve had some ups and downs. It’s a bit of a roller coaster.

[00:24:27] So, can you tell us any moments where you thought, no, this isn’t going to work. I’ve got to stop. I need to change. Or something’s been really hard that you’ve had to work through to continue going with it.

[00:24:36] Aditi: I have had so many of those moments, it’s kind of ridiculous. obviously like my first year was dominated by imposter syndrome. And I think it gets something that’s thrown around for every PhD student, but you don’t understand it until you’re in it because I’m surrounded by absolutely amazing people in my lab.

[00:24:58] Most of the people in my [00:25:00] lab, like in my department are women. So they’re all so brilliantly incredible, intelligent, sensitive, empathetic, and all of these things. And I’m sitting here like, Am I meant to be here. Like did I join the wrong department? Because sometimes I don’t think I’m as smart or I don’t ask as insightful questions and then slowly but surely you start getting, or I’ve started to get a lot more confident in who I am and what knowledge I have obtained. And I have to just keep kind of reminding myself that you are meant to be here and it shouldn’t discourage you in any way that, you know, somebody is asking a slightly more insightful question because you’ve also got your own strengths. So that’s been, that’s been a a bit of a hurdle for me to jump across, the other hurdle, which I’m currently dealing with, which I think, again,

[00:25:50] I did not realize was a thing that I had to deal with until now writer’s block. It is genuinely the most horrifying thing I have to deal with [00:26:00] because I think I spent a whole day last week sitting at my computer, looking at all of these windows open and I wrote one sentence the whole day and it just destroyed me.

[00:26:13] But all I’m trying to do now is just take one step at a time, trying to chug away, plug away at my thesis, breaking it down as little as possible into tiny pieces to make my life just a bit more simple. But yeah, definitely. And I think it’s a completely normal thing to go through a PhD and just think, yeah, I’m going to quit.

[00:26:34] I’ll just go do something else. I think it’s more important to move past that and realize that you’ve come this far. Why would you do this? You’re going to make an impact on someone’s life. You may as well finish off the PhD to do that.

[00:26:46] Catherine: Yep. Grit and tenacity. That’s the key marker to success. Actually, it’s not even IQ or EQ is your level of grit and your tenacity and your ability to just keep going at a task, just in terms of writer’s block. Next time that happens. Do you get up and walk away from your computer and spend the day doing something [00:27:00] else?

[00:27:01] Aditi: what I did.

[00:27:03] Catherine: Don’t sit there if it’s not. And also the other thing I would do when I was that night, I was just so tired and I couldn’t think straight it’s I just start doing formatting or I’d just drop bullet points down, start working on the formatting of the thesis, but that was, you know, nearly 20 years ago, mate.

[00:27:16] So I think you’ve got better software than I had 20 years ago in terms of writing your thesis..

PhD highlight

[00:27:21] Catherine: So with this rollercoaster, ups and downs, what’s been one of the, one of the best times for you.

[00:27:26] Aditi: gosh, there are two things that really have stood out. first of all, is getting published and getting research actually published and reviewed by scientists and read by people who are not my mum. Even though my mom tries to read my work. She still doesn’t know what’s going on, but bless her cotton socks.

[00:27:45] She will still say I did an amazing job, but it’s quite a different kettle of fish. When somebody from the University of Milan is reading my research and having a look at it. so that’s been just absolutely wild, but one of my [00:28:00] favorite moments, during science is when you spend weeks designing an experiment

[00:28:06] and then doing the experiment and then you can finally finish it off and it all worked just perfectly. Those are my favorite moments and they, you know, they don’t happen a lot. They’re happening a lot more now. Thank God. But, I think it’s really been a growth process, but also just seeing myself evolve

[00:28:28] throughout this PhD from someone who is very, you know, still interested in science, but still quite nervous and not too confident about their abilities to someone who I’d like to think now is a lot more confident with who they are and how they can project themselves to people. so if you want to do a PhD, it really does change you as a person or does require change to actually get through..

Advice for others

[00:28:53] Catherine: So you’re obviously loving the PhD, which is amazing. It’s wonderful energy because people won’t know listening to us. This is energies, just steaming off the laptop [00:29:00] here in terms of the love for the PhD experience and it’s one that has a jaded ancient PhD student, pay in my past. I’m quite like I like the energy that’s coming off of this conversation.

[00:29:10] so if anyone’s listening to this and thinking, cool, I’d never even thought that I could go from something like neuroscience to, you know, immunotherapy, to, microbial, ecology. What kind of advice would you give to people who might be considering either doing a PhD or might be considering they’re listening to this? Cause they’re actually considering dropping it, dropping, doing their PhD. What would you say.

[00:29:28] Aditi: First of all that they think about dropping it as completely natural. I think about that as well, but I always just push pass and think about the bigger picture about how I can really make an impact in someone’s life. but as for just normal advice and something, I wish I gave myself before I started, get used to failure.

[00:29:46] And it’s, it’s something that a lot of people don’t realize, but on my first time designing an experiment, I failed and I cried and I called my mom

[00:29:56] and I was crying to her. And then the funny story about that whole thing [00:30:00] is I didn’t actually fail. I just didn’t realize that my bacteria took an extra day to grow, so I didn’t fail whatsoever.

[00:30:07] But learning to deal with that is something that I’ve now actually come to accept is a normal part of not just a PhD, but life as well. You’re going to have these ups and downs and unless you can take the downs with the ups, there’s no point in doing anything so letting to deal with failure and letting to push through that more importantly.

[00:30:28] Catherine: Learning from the failures. Yes. The amount of times my bacteria didn’t grow up, grew too fast,, it was contaminated you know, something, Yeah.

[00:30:35] Something strange would happen. I’m just really glad that Instagram didn’t exist when I was doing my PhD. Cause all my Instagram channel would have been pictures of, Petri dishes basically, which would have been incredibly boring.

[00:30:46] Um, but your research sounds amazing and I’m going to be following you and stalking you on all the social media channels, which I’m sure will be written into words around this particular podcast episode.

[00:30:56] Catherine: looking to the future. I mean, obviously you’ve got lots of things in front of [00:31:00] you. You’ve got the idea of potentially postdocs.

[00:31:01] You’ve got the idea of maybe even retraining in medicine and going in as natural, you know, practicing a doctor, medical doctor rather than a PhD doctor. When you sleep at night and dream, do you see, do you ever go forwards in your life, you know, fast forward for a bit and see where you might want to be?

[00:31:16] Aditi: Honestly, if that was the case, then each night I’d have a different dream. Sometimes I think great industry because I understand research and I’ll be able to apply that as like, consultant sometimes, especially after my conversation I had with, the lady who called me off to my presentation, my immediate thought I went to my, I rent my partner, actually who’s thankfully working from home as well.

[00:31:38] And I just said, you know what I want to be a doctor because that way I could have helped her immediately, but each day it keeps changing and as more opportunities come to pass or come towards me, hopefully, or I go towards them, I’ll be able to figure something out. But for right now I’m focusing on just what’s going to happen tomorrow and what my next experiment is going to [00:32:00] be and what my next paper’s going to be.

[00:32:02] And I think that’s the best way forward.

[00:32:04] Catherine: I think it’s the best way forward to one step at a time, especially during current times and well done for holding on, especially during the pandemic trying to do PhD during the pandemic. I don’t even want to go there. Don’t. even want to go there. So well done, for hanging on, oh my goodness. Me. Well, I’m going to be following your blossoming career with great interest.

[00:32:21] You obviously need to become a board director too, cause we need more stem, trained people as board directors. as well as maybe starting a startup or two, and also getting involved in, you know, some kind of, cutting edge space medicine. I could see you doing biofilms are very important for us.

[00:32:34] Aditi: Yeah, true.

[00:32:36] Catherine: Working with space X. see so many things. That’s a few extra dream peppercorns be there now that I’ve just put into your head,

[00:32:41] Aditi: I’m on call with Elon Musk right after this actually.

[00:32:44] Catherine: Are you? to Say hi to I’m talking to him next Tuesday. No. but yes, and I thank you so much for your time today. It’s so wonderful talking with people like yourself, that you’re in the middle of it.

[00:32:55] You’re in the trenches, but you’re still just absolutely buzzing with the idea of the research and the science that you’re working on. It’s [00:33:00] just so wonderful to hear. And it’s so great. And you’re exactly, you’re exactly where you need to be at year three. Just get it finished, get it done. And remember done is good.

[00:33:07] Just done is good. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just get it finished so you can move on to that next thing that you need to do, but thank you so much for your time today. And I look forward to following your successes.

[00:33:17] Aditi: Thank you so much.