Life as a graduate researcher: Liam Murray

 

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Liam Murray wants his biomedical engineering research to reach the patients who need help. At the University of Melbourne, he is connected to an international network of leading researchers who help him build a deeper understanding of how human bodies work.

Biomedical engineer and graduate researcher Liam Murray investigates how heart muscle cells work. He hopes his research will one day lead to better treatments for cardiovascular diseases.

“We all know someone who’s had a disease. We all know someone who’s been in the hospital,” Murray says.

Persuaded by his supervisor Associate Professor Vijay Rajagopal, Murray continued to a PhD in Engineering and IT after graduating from a Master of Engineering. He was prepared for graduate research to be solitary. But he has discovered that the experience is much more connected than expected.

Murray still has years of his graduate research degree left. His research and career goals are evolving. But his supervisor and the networks he is building through the University of Melbourne will support him in whatever direction he takes next.

University of Melbourne scholarships support PhD research

Murray wasn’t sure he’d continue to a PhD after finishing his Master of Engineering. He had landed a job he enjoyed at medical technology company Seer Medical. But encouragement from his lecturers, Associate Professor Rajagopal and Dr Lionel Lam, convinced him.

Deciding to leave behind stable paid work was difficult. But he was offered two scholarships to support his research. He received a Research Training Scholarship from the University of Melbourne and an Ingenium scholarship from the Faculty of Engineering and IT.

Liam Murray, a white man, sits at a computer looking at models of striated muscle.
Liam Murray’s PhD research to better understand heart muscle cells mostly takes place in front of a computer.
That financial support takes a lot of the stress away from the PhD, which would've probably been my biggest concern going into the PhD program. Liam Murray

Learn more about our graduate research options

How a PhD in biomedical engineering may lead to better medicine

Murray’s PhD project is in mechanobiology, which studies the forces and motion of bodies. He builds models of how heart muscle cells change over time as they contract to pump blood around the body.

Cardiovascular diseases, like heart disease, often change how those muscle cells work. Researchers could develop better treatments for cardiovascular diseases if they understand those changes better.

“We know that cardiovascular disease is the highest non-accidental killer worldwide,” Murray says.

“I've dealt with it personally in my own family – and pretty much everyone knows someone who's dealt with a form of cardiovascular disease.”

None of our bodies work in the same way. Combining models of heart muscle cells – like Murray’s – with tests performed on you, doctors could create a personalised model of your heart. And that would help them personalise your treatment as well.

“I want to create things that help the people who actually really need it,” Murray says.

“But obviously the other side of it is that I do just genuinely think the research is really cool. I love the innovation; I love the mechanics and the programming.”

The PhD experience at the University of Melbourne

With a focus on theory, Murray does most of his day-to-day work in front of a computer.

“Labs terrify me and experiments terrify me, so my research is very much computational. I’m writing code, creating models, doing simulations,” he says.

But for a complete model of a contracting muscle cell, Murray needs more than mechanobiology. He works with other researchers to get the complete picture.

Murray’s collaborators research chemical engineering, fluid mechanics, metabolism or artificial intelligence. Sometimes they’re based at the Cell Systems and Mechanobiology Lab, like Murray. Or they’re based at other research groups at the University of Melbourne – like in Associate Professor Kathryn Stok’s Integrative Cartilage Research Group – or even in Germany or the UK.

Liam Murray receives a 2022 Dean’s Honours List award from Professor Mark Cassidy.
The Melbourne Curriculum for biomedical engineering has taken Liam Murray through his bachelors and his masters, after which he decided to stay for a PhD.
I think research has a bit of a stigma about it. People think you’re just sitting and reading. You might go into a lab and do some experiments. But for me, at least, it hasn't been like that. It's been significantly more creative and a lot more connected than I thought it would beLiam Murray

How the Melbourne Curriculum benefits biomedical engineers

Murray first arrived at the University of Melbourne in 2018, when he began his Bachelor of Engineering. The engineering program had won him over at a University of Melbourne open day.

“I saw Associate Professor David Ackland doing a presentation on a boy with cerebral palsy having his motion tracked and then a man who had needed a replacement jaw,” he says.

The Melbourne Curriculum for biomedical engineering took Murray through his bachelors and his masters. The curriculum allowed him to see the discipline from many different perspectives.

“There is so much opportunity to try different subjects, learn different skills and be flexible with the things you study. It gave me a more positive outlook into what sort of impact I can have in the workplace,” Murray says.

The Melbourne Curriculum supports its students to build networks. Participating in a mentorship program led Murray to a tutoring role. A lecturer helped him secure his job at Seer Medical.

The building the Faculty of Engineering and IT is based in, Melbourne Connect, also helps bring people together, in Murray’s experience.

“You sit there for a coffee, and you meet someone new every time.”

Learn more about a PhD in Engineering and IT

First published on 30 November 2023.


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