Life after graduate research: Dr Susi Seibt


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German PhD candidate Susi Seibt had always wanted to experience life in Australia. The international joint PhD program enabled her to fulfil both her personal and professional ambitions. After completing her PhD in chemistry, Dr Seibt secured her dream job at the Australian Synchrotron.

Meet the researcher

Tell us about yourself and why you decided to do a joint PhD

I am originally from Germany, where I attended the University of Bayreuth for my undergraduate degree and the beginning of my PhD in chemistry.

I had always wanted to travel to Australia, but couldn’t afford it. During my PhD, I came to Melbourne for a three-month research stay, funded by the DAAD. While I was here, my supervisor from Bayreuth helped to establish the research partnership between the Universities of Melbourne and Bayreuth. He offered me a joint PhD opportunity, and I accepted immediately.

I have lived in Melbourne since completing my joint PhD.

Describe your PhD research and what you were hoping to discover

My research was in the broad field of physical chemistry / nanoscience. I used a tool called microfluidics, in combination with scattering techniques, to investigate the reaction kinetics of chemical syntheses.

Chemical reactions often happen in milliseconds, so it’s hard to examine the detail of each step. The early stages define the end result – this is where you can adjust the reaction. My research aimed to de-mystify the fundamentals and gain better control of reactions.

Describe the impact of your research

My research was fundamental, rather than applied. As a scientist, my findings enabled researchers to better understand their reactions, and engineers to build better products and processes.

For example, I worked on the nanoparticles for quantum dots, which are used for LEDs and solar cells. By better understanding the process of their production in the lab, we can improve the devices made from the particles. In turn, this benefits industry and society.

How does international collaboration add value to a PhD project?

International collaboration means greater diversity, and this brings so much value to a research team. It helps to hear different perspectives from researchers in another country.

Also, access to different facilities, like the synchrotron in Melbourne, complemented my research.

How did international collaboration influence the direction of your research?

My two supervisors – Stephan Foerster in Germany and Paul Mulvaney in Melbourne – had a complementary skill-set. Paul was the nanoparticle expert, and Stephan had expertise in scattering. Early in my studies, Stephan sparked my interest in small angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) and microfluidics. Experience in that area led to my current job.

Describe the experience of working in laboratories at different institutions

It is exciting to work in different laboratories. The whole approach to research is different in every country, every university, every lab.

But there were challenges. In Germany, my reactions worked. Then I moved to Australia and I replicated the processes I'd followed at home, but it didn’t work, and I had to learn why. In my case, it came down to the different chemicals in the tap water.

But setbacks can also teach you resilience and better problem-solving skills, and lead to a better approach overall. In general, research should be international, so it can be replicated anywhere.

What was the best part about completing an international joint PhD?

The biggest benefit of doing a PhD is the people you meet. A joint PhD doubles those connections and increases the level of support you receive.

A joint PhD creates career opportunities on both sides of the world. It increases your networks, and the international experience distinguishes you from other applicants.

Living in another country is an amazing experience, and really improved my English language skills too.

What were the challenges of completing an international joint PhD?

Overall, I had the greatest time. But sometimes one can feel homesick or isolated. International friends in the group could relate and offer support.

The initial paperwork was frustrating – especially being the first candidate on the program. But it’s a much easier process now. Make sure you investigate the cost of living in another country, so you’re prepared.

How has your joint PhD shaped your current work situation?

I am currently a beamline scientist at the SAXS / WAXS beamline at the Australian Synchrotron. I had experience in Germany using scattering methods. Through my joint PhD I met the beamline team in Australia. They recognised my experience, and approached me about my current role. It’s a dream job for me.

What advice would you give to people interested in doing a joint PhD program?

It helps to have an adventurous spirit and a level of resilience. If you’re concerned about spending 12 months away from home, investigate a shorter research stay instead.

A joint PhD is highly rewarding and fun. If I had my time again, I’d make exactly the same decision.

First published on 16 February 2022.

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