Michelle Tan Sze-Fan

Perseverance in research

PhD in the School of Science

1. Full name, age, nationality.

Michelle Tan Sze-Fan / 26 / Malaysian


2. Degree studied?

PhD in the School of Science, expected completion in 2016.


3. If you were on a scholarship or received awards, please specify what they are?

Higher Degree by Research (HDR) Pathway Scholarship  

HDR Postgraduate Research Scholarship.


4. Describe your current major, or the current focus of your research thesis.

My research focuses on developing a novel approach for studying bacterial attachment to plant cell walls. This is particularly important as human pathogenic bacteria which were previously only associated with food of animal origins have been found to occur on fresh produce. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), fresh produce has been identified as a major cause of bacterial foodborne diseases around the world. Using the bacterial cellulose-based plant cell wall model we have established, we were able to gain a better understanding on how pathogenic bacteria attach to plant cell walls which aids in the development of more effective ways of preventing and removing attached bacteria from fresh produce. 


5. Why did you choose Monash Malaysia?

Monash University stood out as one of the world’s most prestigious universities. Though the Malaysian campus is close to home, yet it offers a rich international learning experience. 


6. While at Monash, what type of opportunities did you participate in?

While at Monash, I had the privilege of being involved in organising events such as the Plug n Play Street Carnival, Orientation Bash, Monash Ball and Monash Science Symposium. I also participated in the Novartis National Biocamp 2015 and was privileged to be selected as one of the top finalists among graduate and postgraduate students in Malaysia. The experiences gained from these were invaluable.


7. How has your postgraduate experience been at Monash?

I am very fortunate to have great supervisors who are very supportive. They continue to sharpen my thinking and helped me to grow as a person. During the course of my PhD, I had the chance to collaborate with a few researchers in Australia and was awarded funds to conduct part of my research there (and of course, travel too!).


8. If you were a postgraduate student, why did you choose to do a postgraduate degree? What were the benefits and challenges that came with studying in a postgraduate course?

I have a strong interest in research and postgraduate degree equips me with the required skills and knowledge. Scientific research can be challenging as there will be days when you have to stay overnight to do your experiments and they won’t work and you have to redo the experiments 67843256287 times before you finally succeed. Ironically, these challenges give me the greatest thrill and satisfaction when I am able to find the solution.  


9. What did you love most about your student life at Monash? 

I treasure the friendships built and memories formed along the way. One of the most memorable experiences with my friends was when our class went for a seven-day field trip to the Gunung Mulu National Park. We did many amazing things, from visiting the breathtaking Mulu caves to exploring the park at night searching for snakes and frogs in the dark. 


10. What is your goal in life, where are you headed to in the future?

My dream is to conduct impactful research which will benefit mankind. I look forward to gaining work experience in the industrial research organisations but I also love learning new things and am open to different opportunities that present themselves. 


11. What is your advice to current Monash Malaysia students? 

Have study-life balance. Doing well academically is important but also make time to meet people and pursue your interests. Always do what is right and don’t give in to peer pressure. Dare to be different.