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The path to science is not always a straight one: Virtual research talk with alumna Dr. Rochelle Aw

Sarah Begum, Communications and Content Officer, UWCSEA Dover Campus

On Tuesday, 23 March 2021, with the guidance of Mr Tim Lovatt, Grade 11 students from the Girls in Stem group and Alkene and Botany at UWCSEA Dover Campus, Annika and Vrinja, hosted a virtual research talk with Class of 2003 alumna, Dr. Rochelle Aw, a post-doctoral research associate at Imperial College. Rochelle is a biotechnologist/synthetic biologist whose very niche research on the methylotrophic yeast Pichia pastoris has led to her involvement in the development of a number of vaccines to combat diseases such as HPV and COVID-19. 

Alumni research talk student

Rochelle’s path to science was not always straightforward. While she can attribute her early interest in science to time spent in Mr. Hunter’s class at UWCSEA, she did explore careers in marketing, patent law and publishing before succumbing to her love of science.  She highlighted the value of finding good mentors, the support of her family to pursue her passion and shared a story about how baking brought her back to science. Students and staff alike appreciated Rochelle’s thoughtful and candid responses to the many questions posed were inspired by her unique career path.

Rochelle has also been a researcher on Frontiers in Engineering, continuing the work on the novel P. pastoris CFPS platform and investigating the ability to produce the anti-HIV antibody VRC01. In December 2017 she was named researcher on the EPSRC Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub, where she is responsible for the generation of a novel P. pastoris expression platform. She holds a BSc in Biology and a PhD in Biology/Biotechnology both from Imperial College, London. 

Thank you, Rochelle!

Student hosts for alumni research talk

She elaborated that although she works in a Chemical Engineering department now, she is a biotechnologist/synthetic biologist. With her extensive knowledge in working with vaccine companies, students engaged in a Q&A session with Rochelle with questions about her line of work and even ones about her nostalgia for the school!

I am in awe of Dr. Rochelle Aw – her career was incredibly inspiring, and I think I can speak for student attendees when I say her advice was definitely taken to heart. Her career journey had taken several turns and wasn’t necessarily confined to one field, and one of my key takeaways was the flexibility and curiosity that drove her to go from biology to consulting to the vaccine research she does now. Having the chance to speak to someone further along in her career made it an especially unique opportunity, where we often hear the experience of undergraduate college students or recent graduates, and I think this was a great opportunity set up by Alumni Relations and Mr Lovatt. - Annika

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