Wednesday, November 30, 2016

An enriching learning journey to Adelaide

Getting fresh insights into the degree programmes of Australian universities and checking out their wildlife conservation research – these are what I found to be most interesting during my recent study trip in Australia. I left for Adelaide, Australia together with 25 students from the School of Chemical & Life Sciences (SCL) on 12 September 2016. Our group comprised students from diplomas in Food Science & Nutrition, Molecular Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Medicinal Chemistry. We were also accompanied by our lecturers, Miss Claudine Loong and   Dr Jayden Ang.

Outside Adelaide airport

After a 7-hour overnight flight, we finally landed in Adelaide on the morning of 13 September and were greeted by chilly weather the moment we stepped out of the airport. The temperature ranged from 6 to 13 degrees, and it was definitely a refreshing change from Singapore.

University of Adelaide’s huge open space!    

Our first stop was the University of Adelaide. We were greeted by the warm staff there and were impressed by the sheer size of the campus and its vast open spaces.

We were then given an insight into the various degree programmes offered by the university. Staff from the Sciences faculty also talked about their research work and took us on a tour around the university.

We toured the library, which has a large collection of reference books, and also had a glimpse of some of the sophisticated equipment that were used by undergraduates in the university’s Science research programme.
Peter Waite House at Waite Campus 

Adelaide University has three campuses, each 7 km apart. After lunch, we headed to the Waite campus, which caters to degree programmes in winery and agriculture. We were given a brief history of how the Waite campus came about: - a rich farmer in South Australia named Peter Waite donated his land to the university in order to educate students in wine and agriculture (Australia’s main export). The house where Peter Waite lived was left intact to serve as a memorial to him. It was also used for formal university events.

After our “history lesson”, we toured the winery facilities. The students at the Waite Campus not only learn the theory behind wine making, they also use the information they have acquired to synthesize their own wine with a desired flavor in mind.

We learnt that the Waite campus not only houses the latest winery and agriculture technologies but also has numerous partnerships with major food companies, and these companies are located within the university! Hence students are able to experience the technologies the companies are using, as well as interact with and gain useful knowledge from professionals working in the field.
Wine-making equipment

Day 2 ended with a free and easy tour around Adelaide’s very own Chinatown. It was a bustling district with many international students and Asian restaurants. We settled down for a meal in a ramen stall. It was also in this Chinatown that I had one of my most memorable experiences in Australia. We were waiting outside a Krispy Kreme store to buy doughnuts. It was freezing and there was a long wait as many people bought 24 doughnuts each. When it was finally our turn, to my surprise, the server gave us one extra doughnut for waiting and told us to “stay warm”. I was really surprised at how friendly the people there were, and how easily they strike up conversations with strangers.
A picture with the friendliest server we encountered

Day 3 

Day 3 started with a visit to Flinders University. Flinders University was a huge campus: it has a lake in the middle of the campus and a big park. We were introduced to the various programmes the university has to offer and also learnt about Flinders University’s graduates’ achievements which included some Nobel Prize wins.

Most recently, a researcher in Flinders University had successfully discovered how to unboil an egg. The process pulls apart the proteins in cooked egg whites, and allows the proteins to return to their original shape. This discovery could be useful in many applications, and could potentially reduce the cost of cancer treatment.
A lake and park in Flinders University

I was inspired by how things which seemed impossible were made possible at Flinders University. Furthermore, I was completely mesmerised by the sheer amount of wildlife it had in its animal research lab and conservatory. Being an avid insect collector, I was fascinated by the insects in the lab and the studies conducted there.

From left:  A close relative of the komodo dragon which we were able to hold and an insect burrow

We also toured the university’s chemistry lab, which allowed us to see a wide range of state-of-the-art equipment and a million dollar machine called the NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) which is used in the analysis of new chemicals.

Next up was a talk on the university’s Nutrition and Dietetics degree programme. We were also given a presentation on a research project by their honours students, who included three Singaporeans. One unique thing about Flinders University is that it has a hospital located within the campus. It was open to public, and this allows students to familiarize themselves with current technologies and even work with the dietitians and nutritionists there.

We ended the day with a free and easy tour around Rundle Street, which is similar to our “Orchard Road”. It was then that we found out that shops here close very early, at 5.00pm. I also caught a glimpse of a street performer with his guitar and saw locals singing and dancing along to his music as they walk past. It was certainly an interesting sight.

Day 4 

On Day 4, we visited the University of South Australia (UniSA). Our tour started with a brief on the university’s Radiation Therapy degree programme, where we were introduced to the various equipment used for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Then we explored the nursing and healthcare facilities where we were shown manikins which have been programmed to react to treatment, thus giving the Nursing students a chance to practise their skills. The sessions could also be recorded so that students can download and review the sessions. This is similar to what we have in NYP’s Nursing course as well.

Next, we visited the Hematology lab and saw real life human samples which were dissected and stored for research purposes.

We continued our tour with another talk on the degree, masters and doctorate programmes offered by UniSA.

After visiting three Australian universities, I realized that all of them offered degree and post degree programmes related to animal research and conservation, such as marine biology and wildlife conservation science. These are good options for those who are interested in wildlife conservation.

Day 5 

On Day 5, we took our last guided tour at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), an Australian polytechnic. At first glance, the façade of SAHMRI looks very similar to our Esplanade.

We were introduced to SAHMRI and toured the different facilities and research areas there. I was particularly interested in the research area which aims to improve the well-being of aboriginals. The Aboriginal unit was led by Professor Alex Brown, who is an aboriginal Australian himself. He is a doctor who later shifted his focus to research as he realised that he can do more to help his people prevent diseases as a researcher. Since then, he has made significant contributions to his research areas.

One of the best parts of the entire trip was the dialogue session with the PHD students in SAHMRI. There were a few Singaporeans currently doing their research there, and the dialogue session gave us great insights into the work involved in the research field. The researchers encouraged us to  keep an open  mind and be always willing  to keep learning in our chosen field of research.

Day 6 and 7 

The last two days in Adelaide were reserved for our leisure. We started off with a wine tasting trip (for those who are 18 and above) on Day 6 but along the way, our bus driver took a quick detour so that we may enjoy the breathtaking scenery at Mount Lofty.

A group photo at Mount Lofty 

A chance to do some wine tasting

On our last day in Adelaide, we visited the iconic Kangeroo island. We took a short boat ride to the island. Kangeroo Island may be a tourist spot but the island’s main source of income is not tourism but farming, which explained why they had so many sheep and horses on the island. Our first stop on the islandwas the Remarkable Rock, a landmark which had been left untouched for millions of years, resulting in an incredible looking formation.

One of the many incredible rock formations

Our next destination was the famous Admirals Arch on Kangaroo island. I was incredibly lucky to spot a wild seal there.
The scenery on top of the Remarkable Rock

 The famous Admirals Arch, and a seal I spotted

One of my favourite moments on Kangaroo Island was the visit to the Seal Bay Conservation Park, where we were able to see the critically endangered sea lions. Being able to get close to the sea lions was an amazing experience for me. We also learnt more about the behavior of sea lions.  These creatures actually hunt for 3 days in the ocean without sleep before coming back to the shore to sleep for another 3 days.

Our tour of Kangaroo Islands ended with a short visit to a self-sustaining eucalyptus farm. 

Day 8
On 19 September morning, we packed our luggage with many souvenirs from Australia before boarding the airplane at 11am. Adelaide was fun and memorable. We met many kind strangers and saw many animals but I was glad to be back home in Singapore again.
We touched down in Singapore at 3.10pm

My roommate, Terence Tan, second from the right

Terence Tan from the Diploma of Medicinal Chemistry was my roommate for the trip. As he loves nature, he too enjoyed Kangaroo Island very much. He reflected on his trip:

“During our visits to the Australian universities, seeing and hearing Singaporeans share their research really made me proud of my fellow countrymen. Not only did they advise us on our future studies, they also told us not to worry about costs as there were scholarships available.”

I certainly learnt a lot from my trip. I still remember a poster I saw in Adelaide University which caught my attention. It said: “A typical thesis contains 90,000 words, and will probably take 9 hours to explain it all. You have 3 minutes, GO!”

I feel in today’s society, knowing what is happening in a test tube or agar plate is not enough. We need to communicate our ideas to the public effectively and efficiently. When the Flinders University honours students explained their work to us in a way that we could easily understand, under three minutes, I was blown away.

A big thank you to all the lecturers who had organized this trip, and to Adelaide for the wonderful experience!

By Christopher Teo Yu Yuan, Diploma in Medicinal Chemistry

A smile is a curve that sets things straight.

Never be afraid to try. Even if we fail, there is no better way to live. Continue to pursue to what you truly love to do.

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