| Auckland, New Zealand | 18 May 2016 | Asia Samachar |
By Jasrinder Kaur
Malaysian-born Dr Harveen Kaur loves research. For some years now, she has immersed herself deep into medical research, connecting tiny pieces of a puzzle that she hopes will ‘benefit humankind’.
I’m trying to connect tiny pieces of a puzzle together, as the puzzle is completed, it is something that has the potential to benefit humankind.
Harveen, 25, had recently earned a PhD in Biological Sciences at University of Auckland. She took four years to complete it. She has now embarked on a postdoctoral research.
She’s no book worm, though. Harveen, whose family migrated from Malaysia to New Zealand many years ago, leads an active life. Dancing, reading, teaching and Gurbani classes are among the items listed in her diary.
“I also found balancing time between research/study/work and other parts of life beneficial, such as regular breaks with family and friends, practicing for dance performances, reading, teaching, gurbani classes and even housework was really helpful for the mind and soul,” she tells Asia Samachar in an interview.
Asked what’s her advise to the young, she says: “Do what you enjoy, do not hesitate to embark on a new journey even if the destination seems uncertain. Believe in yourself and stay focused on your goal.”
SOMETHING ABOUT HARVEEN
Name: Dr Harveen Kaur
PhD: PhD in Biological Sciences, The University of Auckland, New Zealand (QS World University Ranking for the University of Auckland is 82)
Thesis title: Total Syntheses of Naturally Occurring Cyclic Peptides
Publications: 8 internationally peer-reviewed journal articles
Tell us about your PhD study?
For my doctoral research, I had developed a novel method to synthesize a range of bioactive cyclic peptides that possessed either antifungal, bone-growth promoting or antithrombotic properties. The aim was to selectively prepare compounds that can potentially be used to treat diseases such as osteoporosis or cardiovascular complications. One of the valuable anti-platelet agents I was working on (YM-254890) had a worldwide USD$100,000 reward offered for 1 mg synthesized, and it was gratifying to be the first in the world to synthesize that class of YM-compounds, which is now available for further cardiovascular research.
*Cyclic peptides are small proteins that have a cyclic structure and occur naturally. The advantage of a cyclic peptide structure as a medicine is that side-effects are reduced and the medicinal effect can last for longer period of time.
* Disclosure – we did not receive the $100,000 🙂
What inspired you to do it? Who was your inspiration?
I was initially inspired to study medicinal chemistry from a public lecture presented by my PhD supervisor, Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble. She passionately spoke about preparing medicinally active molecules, and using chemistry to selectively modify the molecules at specific sections, in order to increase the desired potency and reduce undesired side-effects. This has been the theme of my doctoral research. Crucial to the completion of my doctorate however, are my mother Nimi Kaur, sister Dr Ruveena Kaur, father Dr Santokh Singh and my extended family and friends, that unceasingly inspired me to complete this journey. They taught me the importance of working hard and helping others, and have provided me with unconditional support during this journey. Another equally important source of inspiration are reminders of the bigger picture of my research, that although I’m trying to connect tiny pieces of a puzzle together, as the puzzle is completed, it is something that has the potential to benefit humankind.
What were the challenges you faced?
The main challenges with lab-based research is that in doing experiments that have not been done before in the world, a lot of them do not actually work as we want them to. Thus, it is really important to remain positive, patient, open to any results and to keep going. I also found balancing time between research/study/work and other parts of life beneficial, such as regular breaks with family and friends, practicing for dance performances, reading, teaching, gurbani classes and even housework was really helpful for the mind and soul.
What do you intend to do next?
I have just received a Lottery Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship to study the effects of sugar modifications on peptides in the brain. It is hoped that this research may contribute to further understanding the link between diabetes and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, I’m currently mentoring several chemistry PhD students, writing journal articles and volunteering with community events, all of which I thoroughly enjoy. For anyone that wants to do a PhD in Chemistry though, there are a lot of career options, such as a professor or lecturer in academia, or a manager or researcher in industry.
What is your advice to the next gen?
Do what you enjoy, do not hesitate to embark on a new journey even if the destination seems uncertain. Believe in yourself and stay focused on your goal. Don’t let the challenges you face become barriers to success. Take learnings from them, and always channel your thoughts and actions onwards and upwards.
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