Life after graduate research: Dr John Lu


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Generous mentors helped Dr John Lu complete his PhD in lithium-ion battery recycling. His passion for answering questions no-one else in the world knows answers to has driven him to choose an academic research career.

Drawn by the beauty of Australian nature, Dr John Lu left his hometown, Shanghai. He planned to complete a degree in Australia.

“Australia attracted me because I grew up in a concrete forest,” he says.

Dr Lu chose to enrol at the University of Melbourne due to the University’s high international rankings.

What a PhD at the University of Melbourne is like

Dr Lu’s PhD project investigated whether recovering critical metals from discarded lithium-ion batteries is possible – and whether the refining process could be profitable.

“My goal was to create a circular economy around the battery materials, reducing the environmental impact to net zero,” Dr Lu says.

Completing a graduate research degree during the COVID-19 lockdowns in Melbourne was challenging. But the joy of solving complex research questions made the effort worthwhile.

“I remember analysing data to validate one of my hypotheses. Witnessing the experimental results align with the model’s prediction was a highlighting moment in my PhD journey,” he says.

Dr John Lu, an Asian man wearing glasses, a cap and comfortable clothes, poses next to a wallaby on a grassy background
Australia’s bush drew Dr John Lu to the country from Shanghai.
I was so excited that I jumped out of my bedroom to share it with my housemate – who has no idea about what my research is. Dr John Lu

But his relationship with his supervisors, Associate Professor Kathryn Mumford and Emeritus Laureate Professor Geoff Stevens, kept him going day to day.

“I felt like they really cared about me and cared about my project. Despite their very busy schedules, they often would work on my thesis or on my questions immediately,” Dr Lu says.

“They played a pivotal role in my PhD journey, and they also offered me valuable insights into my future career.”

Learn more about our graduate research options

How the University of Melbourne supports graduate researchers

The University of Melbourne’s career support services empowered Dr Lu to better understand his abilities. He could compare his skills to what employers are looking for in the job market.

With his family so far away, Dr Lu used the University’s counselling and psychological services to help manage the anxiety of the pandemic as well as his work-life balance. The services are free to staff and students. Dr Lu also built resilience with a discounted membership to the University’s fitness facilities.

After work, Dr Lu would unwind with colleagues at University House. A staff and alumni club of the University of Melbourne, University House provides a space for socialising, relaxation, and collaboration over affordable drinks.

“The staff are incredibly friendly, and the environment is truly relaxing,” Dr Lu says.

Building a research career starts with a PhD

After his PhD, Dr Lu has continued to work with Associate Professor Kathryn Mumford as a Research Fellow.

From experimental techniques to data analysis and academic writing, Dr Lu’s PhD experience gave him all the essential skills to begin his independent research career.

His PhD also taught Dr Lu how to tackle questions that don’t have easy answers.

Realising that I did not have the knowledge to solve a problem – but actively seeking expertise and gathering resources to acquire that knowledge – this is a valuable lesson from my PhD.Dr John Lu
Dr John Lu presents his research, talking at a podium to an audience invisible off to the side
Dr John Lu presents his research to a general audience.

What makes a good researcher

A good researcher is driven and focused. They are someone who enjoys working on society’s most pressing challenges, in Dr Lu’s view.

But a good researcher is also someone who is open, kind and generous. They’re willing to share ideas with others.

“You should be willing to share your thoughts with people from all disciplines, backgrounds, and nationalities,” Dr Lu says.

His advice for future graduate researchers is to remain curious and passionate about their work, while not neglecting their mental and physical health.

Finding a good mentor can also help you succeed, Dr Lu says.

“People at the University of Melbourne are brilliant and kind. Graduate researchers should learn not to be afraid to approach them.”

First published on 31 October 2023.

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