Johanna Wong's journey leads to the 2019 John Cairney Award

Johanna Wong

A typical PhD thesis is somewhere around 100,000 words in length, and represents a journey of more than three years, countless hours of experiments and an intense period of individual writing effort. Having experienced life in Australia as part of her undergraduate study, Johanna was keen to consider PhD programs in Australian universities for her next challenge.

When her supervisor Dr Jonathan Plett achieved the prestigious Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) from the Australian Research Council, it opened up a PhD scholarship at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment to investigate the molecular signals that eucalypts’ roots produce to interact with soil microbes in Australia’s unique ecosystems. So it was that Johanna returned to Australia with a PhD scholarship.

“Australia was always on my radar and I have loved being in the countryside at the Hawkesbury campus. It’s just a beautiful place to study plants!

I was looking for an opportunity around plant-microbial interactions - HIE is the place for this research. And I have now submitted my thesis, and so pleased to have a job in bioinformatics and microbiology lined up at a University.

Getting through the project and then the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t been easy for any of us - PhDs are a real challenge. But I’ve been well-supported by my supervisors, and by the collegiality of the Institute and the Graduate Research School.

Programs like the Saturday Thesis Writing sessions have been lifesaving – somewhere I can be part of a supportive network to do that writing work (the free food and coffee helps!). I’ve had to make sure we all keep connected, keep talking to my colleagues and supervisors. You just can’t do this alone even if everything goes to plan, which it rarely does.

I’m really honoured to have been awarded the 2019 John Cairney Award for Outstanding Student Publication, established to honour Professor Cairney whose legacy continues in the Hawkesbury Institute and its research. I’m proud of what I have achieved and will remember my Hawkesbury days with fond memories.”