Appreciating every tiny thing on a very big day

Nur Diana Anuar describes the experience of completing her PhD as “a 100-metre sprint”.

“I got to the end, and I thought, is it over already?”

She leans in with a cheeky grin, and adds, “I should mention it took me six years to finish.”

Over those six years at the John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU, she says that each new discovery led to another, until “the findings were too interesting to stop”.

Her thesis looked at the epigenetics of the male germ cells of mice, specifically the factors involved in changing these cells from being round to an elongated spermatids.

“If you can understand how this mechanism works in a germ cell, it might give you an idea of how it works in different type of cells in a disease-related context,” she says. “It could also lead to a better understanding of infertility in humans.”

She is still working on this research with her PhD supervisor, Dr Tanya Soboleva, preparing results for publication, and is hoping to continue it for as long as she can.

“I might be at the end of one race, but now I’m preparing for a marathon!” she says of her career ahead. “It’s a never-ending exploration.”

Diana says that while she has been interested in science for as long as she can remember, her PhD has changed her as a scientist.

“At ANU I have been trained to think outside the box, and to pursue other possibilities which might push your research forward. I also learned a humility and a respect towards knowledge here, because there is always so much more you don’t know.”

But today, her graduation day, is a moment for Diana to catch her breath between races. She says she’s worried she might cry during the ceremony, overwhelmed by knowing that behind every PhD graduate whose name is announced, there is the long story of their journey to get there. And now she’s among them.

It wasn’t easy to come to Australia from Malaysia, she says, reflecting on the challenges of securing a place at ANU and a scholarship. But “every minute of it was worth it”.

Looking at life through a microscope, she says, gives you a different perspective.

“Seeing that remarkable process happening in one tiny cell, you can’t take anything for granted.

“It makes you realise you should appreciate every tiny thing.”

Find out more about PhD opportunities at Australia’s national medical research institute, the John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU.