“Know yourself and be true to yourself.”
Professor Damien Harkin is a senior scientist at the Queensland Eye Institute.
Tell us a little about yourself, i.e. how did you become interested in science?
I enjoyed studying science in school and was fortunate to have had some great teachers, all who had been to university to complete a science degree. So my immediate goal after finishing high school was to do the same: complete a Bachelor of Science and become a secondary school teacher.
Watching a lot of TV on science (The Curiosity Show, Channel 9, Adelaide; Cosmos starring Carl Sagan) and science fiction (Star Trek, Blake’s 7, Space 1999, and Dr Who) also inspired me to go in this direction.
What was the path you took to your PhD?
After completing my Bachelor of Science at the University of Adelaide, I had intended to commence my teacher training, but got distracted by the offer of a summer job working in the Pathology Department. I enjoyed working in the research laboratory so much that I went on to undertake a full-time honours degree by research (just 1 year) and this in turn led me to me completing a PhD. My honours and PhD projects both involved studying how white blood cells change their shape while crawling into damaged and infected tissues.
What drives you and what do you enjoy about your current position?
I still enjoy conducting my own experiments and working in the lab, but what drives me now is helping others to do the same, while searching for ways to help patients.
What is the personal and/or professional achievement you are the most proud of?
On a personal level, I am grateful to be married to one of the kindest, funniest and well-read people that I know, and to have an equally kind and funny daughter who has no fear (she recently went sky diving!)
On a professional level, I am grateful for my generous mentors (there have been many) and my wonderful students – who teach me much.
What has been the most important advice you were ever given?
Know something about everything and everything about something.
What would you like to tell your PhD self?
Know yourself and be true to yourself.
If you were not working in science, what would you do?
My dream job would have been to become a professional songwriter. But more realistically, I would be a graphic artist, high-school teacher, speech pathologist or optometrist.