Thorsten Kampmann (Germany) - University of Queensland
Course completed in Australia: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Antiviral Drug Discovery
Institution: University of Queensland (UQ)
Current position: Consultant – Pharmaceutical and Medical Technologies
Just a few months into a one-year scholarship in biological sciences at the University of Queensland, Thorsten Kampmann knew he wanted to stay on and do a PhD.
A dinghy trip to Stradbroke Island convinced the avid sailor.
“I decided very early on that I wanted to stay,” he says, adding that it wasn’t just about the sailing.
“I wanted to do something specific in bioinformatics, sequencing analysis and that’s why I firstly chose UQ.
“I’m a practical-minded person, I like to work on real projects,” he says. “Australian universities allow their students much earlier to become involved in applied research.”
Thus he found himself working on a biochemistry project with Professor Paul Ebert, examining pesticide resistance genetics in grain pest species.
Keen to prove he was serious about doing a PhD, Kampmann enrolled in a postgraduate certificate during his scholarship, completing the equivalent of a year’s honours degree in biochemistry.
Based on his outstanding marks and performance, he was accepted to do a PhD focusing on developing antiviral drugs targeting the Dengue Virus.
Kampmann admits that it isn’t so easy to move from scholarship student to doctoral candidate, and credits the flexibility of the Australian system and UQ academics for allowing him to do so.
“That’s the thing about Australia,” he says, “you can give it a shot. It’s a frontier culture. People are more willing to experiment and try things.
“In Germany it’s all about having the right academic references. The diploma, the master’s must all be in place,” he says. “In Australia they look for ability and if you show that you are capable then they help you to make things happen.”
He says he found the hierarchy of Australian universities less rigid than their European counterparts, and had the impression that if you worked hard and had good ideas, you could make a difference, even as a PhD student.
“There’s an openness you don’t find everywhere. People listen,” he says.
Kampmann was also fortunate to have internationally renowned structural biologist Professor Bostjan Kobe as his PhD supervisor. With the support of Professor Kobe and Professor Paul Young, Kampmann met and collaborated with other leading scientists and researchers around the world, producing significant research papers, which were published in high-ranking scientific journals.
On finishing his PhD, he secured a job at the prestigious Max Plank Institute, Germany's most successful research organisation. He puts the “good start” to his working career down to “UQ academics who make things possible”.
Now living in the UK with his wife, an Australian veterinary virologist whom he met at UQ, he has swapped pure research for a more business-related role. Working as a consultant in pharmaceutical and medical technologies with Pera, one of Europe's leading medical technology innovation and business support organisations, he develops and gauges the potential market value of technology concerned with biochemistry, pharmaceuticals and bioplastics.
“It’s quite astonishing but as a scientist you tend to specialise and focus on your little area. You never see the technologies in the context of economic requirements,” he says. “Working in a business environment changes your perspective.”
Australia also changed his perspective: “I didn’t want it to finish,” he says of his time there, adding that “a PhD isn’t an easy thing but I would happily do another in Australia!”
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