Sara Al-Rawi does a double take in the coffee queue at Sweeney’s. Jules has just taken her order, joyfully addressing her as “doctor”.
Sara says just weeks after officially completing her PhD, she still can’t quite believe it. “I feel like, did I do this?” she says, alluding to a touch of imposter syndrome. But the answer is yes, after 4.5 years of gruelling, intense scientific research in our campus labs, Sara has emerged, with a thesis in tow.
Sara’s research looked at the potential for novel chemical compounds to treat breast cancer cells, without damaging the heart; a common and potentially fatal side-effect of some cancer treatment.
“If we could end up with a treatment that prevents this problem and treats the disease, that would be fantastic,” she says.
Sara says her project is part of a relatively new field of cross-disciplinary science, marrying cancer research with pharmacology, and it’s showing promising early results.
“It’s very, very early research and it needs a lot more attention,” she says. “I want to see more people brave enough to go into those unchartered waters. I might have been alone in this but now I’m done I feel like I’ve paved a small step for someone else to go on with towards the ultimate goal, the ‘Mount Everest’ of getting rid of cancer.”
Sara’s next goal is to publish her thesis, and gain a full-time lecturing role. (She’s currently a casual Biology and Human Bio Science teacher in Bendigo.)
“I want to teach,” she says. “That’s what I love. I’ve been passionate about teaching ever since I was 11 years old and I went to my dad’s work in Libya.” Sara’s dad, Jasim, is a senior Pharmacy and Applied Science lecturer on campus.
Post-PhD, Sara is easing her way back into her other loves, reading for pleasure, listening to music and spending time with friends and family. “One of the problems of PhD life is trying to find yourself again once it’s over,” she says.