A long and winding pathway to PhD

8 Jun 2021

My name is Clare Primiero, and I’m a third year PhD student under the supervision of Dr Aideen McInerney-LeoDr Anna Finnane and Professor H. Peter Soyer at UQDI’s Dermatology Research Centre. My research project is on evaluating the impact of providing genetic testing for familial melanoma, and I have recently published two systematic reviews on the topic, regarding primary and secondary preventative behaviours and psychosocial outcomes and attitudes.

On reflection, I guess I’ve taken the long and winding pathway to becoming a HDR student, rather than the straight and narrow. I was a rather unenthusiastic and underachieving high school student, with my sights set on travel. After school I worked mind-numbingly boring data-entry jobs to save all I could, then take off for months at a time to backpack far places of the world. Eventually I came to the realisation that I can’t work in data-entry forever, so I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science.

After completing my degree I worked at UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) as a Research Assistant on needle-free vaccine delivery methods, using the Nanopatch. From there, I moved on to the Dermatology Research Centre (DRC), working for Prof. Soyer, and this is where I became involved in clinical trial research.

I worked in the DRC for 6 years before starting my PhD. During this time I also had my three children. I am forever grateful that I worked in such a supportive environment that each time I announced I was pregnant and would yet again be off for another 6 months, it was met with genuine congratulations and celebration before contingency discussions began.

While I was on maternity leave with my second child, I wanted to maintain focus on career progression, so I began a Master of Clinical Trial Research with the University of Sydney (remotely). I finished my Masters one month before my third child was born. Once my youngest was two years old, I felt ready to take on a full-time PhD.

So here I am now balancing full-time PhD study, family life with three kids, and I’m still working for the DRC as a Clinical Research Coordinator. It is most definitely full-on, and I really don’t have any spare time or hobbies! I do sometimes feel disadvantaged in my time availability due to family priorities. However, I also feel it has made me more efficient.

My advice to any other parents who are considering a PhD, is to choose your supervisors wisely. I have a very supportive and flexible supervision team behind me. It’s no coincidence that my primary supervisor also completed her PhD post-children too. I wanted someone who understood the challenges of young children and balancing family with a PhD.

Overall, I’m very happy that I took on a PhD. Previously I was ‘doing other people’s research’, and now I’m doing my own research which I find much more exciting and motivating!