Course: Bachelor of Applied Science (Hons.) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Molecular Bioscience
Institute: Queensland University of Technology and University of Queensland
URL: www.qut.edu.au and www.uq.edu.au
Location: Brisbane, Queensland
While Christian Gruber insists that his English was “absolutely non-existent”, it didn't deter him from applying to study abroad in Australia, swapping chilly winters at the University of Tübingen in Germany for warmer ones at the Queensland University of Technology.
“I was scared but I knew I wouldn’t have any chance of getting further in science without English,” he says. He went from not being able to understand a single word of his first local phone call to receiving a scholarship to do his PhD in Australia at the University of Queensland.
This enabled him to conduct three months of research in South America, Africa and Europe, collecting plants and analysing their peptides (small protein molecules) to test their potential for drug development. In his current role as Assistant Professor at the Medical University of Vienna’s Centre for Physiology and Pharmacology, Dr Gruber led the team that described an effect of cyclic plant peptides from coffee-family plants that could open up new possibilities for immune suppression.
“In my field it’s absolutely crucial to study or work overseas,” he says, “you have to show flexibility and international experience.
“Australian universities and research institutions are very well organised and are set up to deliver top-class education and scientific outcomes,” he explains.
“As a student in bioscience you can experience ‘real’ scientific projects starting from undergraduate level. Practical classes are often set in a research laboratory rather than in education labs.
“The Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) where I was doing my PhD ranks amongst the best in the Asia-Pacific region and easily compares to European or American scientific institutions in terms of expertise, equipment, infrastructure and output. The infrastructure at the IMB was amazing. I hadn't seen anything like it!”
Dr Gruber continues to keep strong professional (and personal) contacts with his former colleagues and his PhD mentor in Australia, and was back in 2011 working in his old lab as part of an active research grant.
“What I experienced in Australia has ultimately destined many of my current scientific projects as an independent junior group leader,” he says. “Everything I did there is related to what I’m doing now.” And that includes his Austrian wife, whom he met in Australia!
When asked to name a favourite thing about Australia, Dr Gruber has two: the “amazing country” and the “great people”.
“I was studying and living in Brisbane; travelling within a of 150 km-radius around the Queensland capital will get you to desert, mountains, tropical forests, amazing coastline, National Parks or beautiful islands.” It is, he says, the perfect antidote for strenuous working weeks and long nights of studying. Even a disastrous start to an epic journey around the Queensland Outback (the engine of the 1986 Ford Falcon he bought blew up 150 km from the nearest town) didn't lessen his enthusiasm for the landscape.