As a school student or teacher visiting QIMR Berghofer, you will work with Education Coordinator Dr Liam St Pierre. Dr St Pierre is a passionate educator with almost a decade of post-doctoral research experience, and is dedicated towards providing authentic science experiences for the community.
Dr Liam St Pierre came to QIMR Berghofer as a PhD student in 2002 on a research project to identify new therapeutic drug leads from the venom of Australia’s deadliest land snakes.
He went on to do eight years of postdoctoral work in laboratories, and now introduces high school students and their teachers to the exciting field of medical research through QIMR Berghofer’s Education Program.
We asked Dr St Pierre to share a bit about himself and his journey as a medical researcher.
I first cut my teeth on research into novel drug leads from the venoms of snakes, in particular those toxins that cause blood clotting in their mammalian prey. Since then I’ve dabbled in a wide range of research projects, including:
The toxins of venomous animals are such a rich resource of unique and extremely potent biologically active molecules. It’s amazing, when you think about it, that these reptiles have evolved proteins in their venom which specifically target and alter the functioning systems of mammals.
I initially had a deep interest in blood coagulation in general, and it was this that led me to research the blood clotting proteins of snake venoms, with the idea that they may make great blood coagulation drug leads. From there, the project expanded to cataloguing through genetic means, many toxins from the venom that may one day be of novel diagnostic or therapeutic use.
I was initially drawn to science as a student as I perceived it to be a fact-based subject. Like maths, I enjoyed science as there is often a clear-cut right and wrong answer. I particularly loved biology as it underpins so much of our knowledge on how the natural world works.
At university I completed a straight applied science undergraduate degree covering a broad range of subjects including biology, physics, chemistry and maths. It was the biology subjects, particularly the physiology and molecular biology subjects that I enjoyed most and found easiest to do well at, I guess creating a positive feedback loop!
As a medical researcher, I quickly learned that biological systems governing our body and the natural world are unimaginably complex. As a researcher, every question answered would open the door on a dozen new, unanswered questions.
One of the great things about science is it always affords an opportunity to learn. I’ve always felt that concepts are most clear to me when I try to teach them to someone else.
In addition, the role of Education Coordinator means that I interact with literally thousands of school-aged students each year and share my passion for science, with the knowledge that hopefully some of them will be inspired to take on STEM based learning (particularly that related to medical research) in the future.
I appreciate that not every student I work with will go on to be a future scientist, however I feel it is extremely important that the general population of Australia has a healthy base of scientific literacy.
At this stage, I couldn’t image a career outside of science. I guess the thing I love most about science is that it gives you the base knowledge underpinning how so many things work in our lives, and yet new knowledge is constantly being acquired that can sometimes alter this knowledge. It’s a very dynamic career.
Do you have a question about careers in medical research or science? Contact Dr St Pierre ask, or find out more about participating in our Education Program.
Dr Liam St Pierre (Mon–Wed) T (07) 3362 0307