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This month the career profile will be on NPBDN member Shamila Abeynayake, who is a Molecular Scientist at the ​Plant Innovation Centre (PIC), Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) in the Post Entry Quarantine, Biosecurity Plant and Science Services Division. 

How did you find yourself on this career path?  

My journey in the field of science began during my early years in school. I was always curious about nature and how things work. This initial interest led me to start learning science and eventually pursue advanced studies in various disciplines including agriculture, molecular biology, biotechnology, microbiology and bioinformatics. During my career in science, I had the opportunity to travel to different countries, meet people, and complete innovative research projects. After completing a PhD and a postdoctoral project in plant molecular biology, I joined the Plant Innovation Centre as a molecular scientist. I really enjoy my job as it allows me to develop molecular diagnostic tools and come up with novel solutions for plant biosecurity.  

 What does a typical workday look like for you?  

My typical working day as a molecular scientist revolves around a combination of planning and conducting experiments, bioinformatic analysis, problem solving, collaboration with different stake holders, reviewing relevant scientific literature, writing scientific documents, attending meetings and conferences, and providing support and technical supervision to students and other staff members when required. I always follow the policies and procedures required by my department as a public servant and for good laboratory practices. This includes chemical handling, waste disposal, record keeping, integrity, transparency, accountability, and emergency procedures to ensure proper Work Health and Safety is maintained at all times. At the end of the day, I summarize my progress and outline tasks for the next day. 

 How long have you worked in this area? 

I have over 15 years of experience as a molecular biologist  

 What roles have you held previously?   

  • Molecular Scientist 
  • Research Officer 
  • Postdoctoral Fellow 
  • Research Scientist 

 What training/education have you received?  

  • Doctor of Philosophy (Plant Biotechnology), La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia 
  • Master of Applied Science (Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology), RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia 
  • Bachelor of the Science of Agriculture, University of Ruhuna, Matara, Sri Lanka 
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Nanotechnology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK 
  • Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, Melbourne Polytechnic 
  • Certificate III in Horticulture, Australian Labour Market Services, City, Australia  

What is your most memorable career achievement?  

In my current position, I have developed a rapid and cost-effective method for identification of invertebrate pests at the borders using next-generation MinION sequencing of DNA barcodes. The outcomes of this study were published in an internationally recognized journal. 

What advice would you give anyone starting or changing their career?  

Be enthusiastic and positive with a “can do” attitude. Work collaboratively and respect everyone. Stay focused on your long-term goals and persist through difficult times.