What do you do?
I am a research scientist with an interest in understanding how the microorganisms living in the large intestine, known as the gut microbiome, can be modulated to improve human health and wellbeing. I perform experiments in animal models and humans and examine their gut microbiome by reading the composition of the microbial DNA using cutting-edge sequencing techniques. In addition to my work in the lab, I also enjoy presenting my work at conferences and meetings, writing reports for publication, and initiating new research ideas and collaborations. I also work with other aspiring scientists, provide them training and mentorship.
Why did you choose this field?
The first time I heard about DNA, it fascinated me. I was in my Biology class at my school in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I was intrigued by how complicated yet so precise this blueprint to life is. The more I learned about molecular biology, the more it captured me. With this interest, I went to India to do my undergraduate degree majoring in biotechnology and molecular biology. I then came to Australia to learn more about molecular biology. In 2014, I got an opportunity to do a PhD, where I used DNA sequencing to examine how dietary fibre impacts the gut microbiome. Fifteen years after hearing about DNA for the first time, I now work with DNA every single day to unravel the mysteries of a world within us, the gut microbiome.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I wish my younger self knew that with hard work and dedication, nothing is impossible. There were many times that I was lost, not knowing whether I am on the right path or whether I am doing enough. As an older version of myself, it all makes sense now; everything that happened in life has shaped me into who I am today. My biggest achievement to date is the mindset to do my best and take chances.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love the excitement of learning new things. My job requires me to read new research, learn new techniques, and perform experiments that have never been done before.
Best advice for next generation?
Follow your heart.
While it can be scary at times, be in control of your life, especially your career. Decide for yourself and be prepared to give your best. Take opportunities and be open to change.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
It always seems impossible until it's done - Nelson Mandela