Chester Martin Vera

What is your current position, and what do you do?
I am currently in the final year of my candidature for a PhD at the University of Western Sydney Parramatta. My thesis revolves around the topic of high throughput chromatographic separations, exploring supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC) as an environmentally friendly high speed chromatography technique. As well as the exploring the limitations of high velocity separations in high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and Ultra-HPLC with regards to the generation of heat through viscous frictional heating.

Describe your study/employment pathway so far
After graduation from UNSW with a Bachelor of Science (Honours in Chemistry) in 2012 I found employment as a research scientist at Phenomenex Australia. My primary role was method and application development in HPLC, UHPLC and SFC. After 3 years of employment, I decided to look for other opportunities to continue my development. Through Phenomenex I was able to establish a connection with Andrew Shalliker, a Professor as the University of Western Sydney, who took me on as a PhD student looking into high through-put separations and its limitations. I am currently on track to complete my candidature by the 31st of March 2018.

What has been your biggest challenge, career-wise?
The biggest challenge career-wise for me has been developing confidence in my expertise. I often forget that I am well versed in my field of science, and that I am capable of the doing the task that have been set for me or the ones I set for myself. I find one of the best ways to overcome this is to present your work to others as it gives an insight to how much you really know about your topic.

What achievement are you most proud of?
At RnD topics 2016, I presented a poster comparing the selectivity, separation and speed of the chiral separation of FMOC-amino acids in HPLC and SFC; evaluating economic and environmental impacts. The poster and my presentation of it won 1st place.

What do you believe are the greatest attributes of a successful scientist?
A successful scientist needs to be flexible with regards to their skill set and expertise. That is, they should not be afraid to learn or develop techniques that are foreign to them. This not only includes different areas of chemistry e.g. synthetic vs analytical but also across all scientific disciplines (chemistry, biology, physics, etc.)

How have you used the skills/knowledge that you acquired, from studying chemistry, in your current role?
My honours project was synthesis based, with an aspect of analytical chemistry that involved the use of liquid chromatography. The experience with chromatography largely opened up the door to my first job outside of University, which ultimately led to my PhD candidature. However, the biggest skill acquired from studying chemistry is learning skills, the concepts learned in undergrad formed the foundation of my knowledge, but being able to learn and implement new techniques and concepts has been the greatest tool.

What are your interests outside of work?
I play Senior Ice Hockey for my local club every weekend during the winter and summer seasons. Although I found a sport a bit later in life, I’m quite glad to have found it in the first place.

What helps you achieve a work-life balance?
Understanding the difference between work and home, and allowing yourself to leave work behind when I am at home or during the weekends. Understandably, sometimes it is difficult to separate the two especially, when deadlines have to be met, but don’t let your life at home be an extension of your work.

What advice would you give to students starting their science careers?
Be open to all potential opportunities as they come, apply for “that job” even if you don’t think they will hire you because of “lack of experience”. In the selection process of my first job it came down to me and another candidate who had a lot more experience than me, in the end I got the position because I was more suited to the role regardless of my limited experience.

Is there anything you would like to share?
Don’t shut the door on higher opportunities because you don’t think you have what it takes. If I had done that I would have never done my honours year, and ultimately wouldn’t be in my current position. Expect there to be some difficult times yes, but nothing worth doing was done because it was easy.

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