Capilano Supports USC PhD Student

20/06/2017

Recently, we caught up with Simon Williams, a Capilano funded PhD student out of the University of the Sunshine Coast and asked him a few questions about his PhD. We’d like to thank Simon for his time and for giving us an overview of what amazing things he’s been working on as part of Capilano’s Keeping Futures program.

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I am originally from Tauranga, New Zealand where I lived until I left to study at the University of Waikato in Hamilton. I have always had a passion for science and finding out how things work. When I’m not chasing flowers, I like to dive and snorkel.

What you have studied?

I completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Waikato, majoring in Chemistry and Physics and avoiding Biology with a passion. During my time at University I was fortunate to work as a Research Assistant under Associate Professor Merilyn Manley-Harris on a number of projects. I continued work under the supervision of Merilyn for my Master of Science in Chemistry (MSc) on the topic “A Survey of Dihydroxyacetone in Nectar of Leptospermum scoparium from Several Regions of New Zealand”.

After the completion of my MSc I spent two years as a research assistant at the Hawaiian Natural Energy Institute, then a short stint in commercial analytical testing before starting my PhD at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. What this has shown me is just because you’ve avoid a subject at high school doesn’t mean life won’t drop you in it later on. I deal with a lot of biology now!

What you are studying now for your PhD?

In short, I’m testing the nectar of the Leptospermum species across Australia to determine which ones are capable for producing a Manuka style medical honey. I aim to inform beekeepers about which species to target to increase Australia supply and quality of this unique honey.

What are your aspirations?

To keep working with beekeepers developing the Australian Leptospermum honey industry as well as grow the understanding around other honey and pollen producing plants.

Any tips on how to get into this field of work for budding scientists?

Since a young age I’ve always wanted to be a scientist, I was always asking questions on how the world works. As I progressed through my education I refined that passion to focus on chemistry and physics. Since beginning my research career, I’ve learnt that education only gave me my foundations, it doesn’t define what I do now, and I’ve developed a host of other skills, from database design through to public relations, within my role. To future scientists, look for projects that will help you develop a broad range of skills and don’t be afraid to take some time off to work between your various degrees.

Why is it important for organisations, like Capilano, to get behind funding education and research?

With Governments working on tight budgets, industry partnerships on research projects with economic, environmental and social outcomes is crucial. Industry contribution signal the importance of scientific research to the economy, and can be used to level matching Government funding. I have been asked why this work has not been done sooner and the simple answer is, there was no funding for the work to be done.

Capilano have helped me by providing the support to get the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) project “Active Australian Leptospermum honey: new sources and their bioactivity” off the ground which my PhD forms one part of. They’ve provided additional support with fieldwork and beekeeping advice. Capilano has also provided a drone for aerial photography and a dedicated HPLC system for the honey research laboratory, which is essential in the work flow of the project.

Along with the support of Capilano, the RIRDC project “Active Australian Leptospermum honey: new sources and their bioactivity” is also directly supported by the University of the Sunshine Coast, University of Technology Sydney, University of Sydney, Comvita and of course RIRDC. You can keep track of the project via the website and Facebook page.

I’ve had a great time so far doing this project and meeting many beekeepers across Australia. Without their help and support we would not have covered as much as ground as we have done. I’ve got to work with people from 2-3 hives to 1000+ hives and though they all have their different methods, they’re all passionate about caring for their bees.

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