A love of research pays career dividends
Our Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program was a pivotal moment in Michelle Meilak’s professional journey
Michelle Meilak’s appetite for grappling with the complexities and nuances of research has been rewarded at every step of her varied career path. Ultimately it has led her to become Compliance Manager for the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University, where she helps ensure research is done in a safe and ethical way.
Back when she was weighing up her tertiary education options, she was determined to have practical lab experience and skills desired by employers in her toolkit early on. She chose the undergraduate science degree in biotechnology at Swinburne University of Technology for its industry-learning focus. Michelle’s plan worked: she very quickly had two six-month work placements under her belt.
When Michelle then applied for the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, her hands-on experience, academic excellence and hunger for developing her research capabilities made her a great candidate for the program.
The highly competitive program, also known as UROP, gives undergraduate STEM students in Victoria like Michelle the opportunity to gain real-life research experience by completing paid placements with biomedical research organisations.
Michelle was accepted into the program, where she worked in a stomach cancer laboratory focusing on DNA vectors and the differences in protein levels. She says the UROP experience was a crucial stepping stone, helping ease the typically stressful transition period during her final year of university and honours.
Where many of her fellow students went on to complete a PhD, Michelle chose a different path. “I preferred to get more experience as a research assistant doing different things rather than getting pigeonholed into one type of research,” she says.
Michelle’s desire to expand upon her research expertise continued. She added a Diploma of Education and international study in Germany to her CV. “Even now…people ask me about the fact that I did industry-based learning, that I did UROP…that’s what stands out on my resume.”
Michelle then found a way to bring together the best of her talents while staying connected to her original interest in research. As Compliance Manager for Monash Uni’s School of Biological Sciences, she is responsible for ensuring researchers can do their jobs safely and ethically. She oversees everything from licences, permits, regulation, waste and poisons, to animal ethics, safety, first aid and fieldwork. “Looking at the big picture, it completely suits me because I’m a stickler so it makes sense that I’m with this role and I like structure.”
Michelle’s commitment to excellence in Australian research continues. “I feel like I’ve still got a lot more work in this role so it’s something I’ll be sticking with for a while.”
UROP supports high-performing undergraduate students to gain the experience and skills required for a career in a research environment.