Meet our alumni: Kylie Howard, Bachelor of Medical Science, 2012

What has been the greatest accomplishment of your career? It’s probably what I’m doing right now! I work as a Medical Scientist for SA Pathology in Adelaide. It’s a high pressure environment, tasked with our local response to the global SARS-CoV2 Pandemic. I’ve been working with a fantastic team of people responsible for the Public Health System’s activity managing the SARS-CoV2 NAT (Nucleic acid testing): we moved from testing 60,000 NAT tests in a calendar year to testing over 1 million samples in the same timeframe. This total test number does not include the standard in-house assays we have also continued to provide.

I work in and manage the Quality Control area which has been responsible for producing Mastermix and control material for the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) assays for the duration of the pandemic to date. I have also been working on development projects by modifying current assays and evaluating commercial kit testing platforms in Infectious Diseases. As a team, our Laboratory won the Premier’s Award for Excellence in Health for 2020. I am proud to have been part of a team that has been challenged and tested for a sustained period of time and has produced consistent, high quality results.

Who inspires you? That’s easy! It’s the Head of Unit for Public Health and Epidemiology in SA Pathology, Mark Turra (also a Flinders graduate). Mark is one of my current senior supervisors in Virology/Serology/Molecular Diagnostics and, in the last 18 months, has worked tirelessly to develop the Molecular testing platform for the COVID-19 PCR testing at SA Pathology. He is a highly skilled scientist who is always willing to support colleagues to reason out problems, and to impart skills in managing complex equipment. He is an encouraging mentor, and is always available to offer his expertise and knowledge to assist co-workers. One of Mark’s other great characteristics is that he always credits the entire team for the management of the state’s COVID-19 response.

What is your favourite memory from your time at Flinders? Going to second year virology lectures with Associate Professor Peter Speck! He made the lecture content engaging and the topics were incredibly interesting. I most appreciated that one of the guest lecturers for the Virology topic was a person whom had been diagnosed with HIV. I found this to be an incredibly informative lecture because it illuminated a topic that can be associated with stigma and discrimination. Before attending this lecture I had not fully understood the perspective from the patient side before. This realisation was just another indicator for me that the pursuit of scientific inquiry and knowledge at university was an integral part of my life and future.

What are the three most important professional attributes that your Flinders degree equipped you with?
1. RESEARCH ABILITY: I have learned to research and make the most of any opportunity that will provide experience in a practical environment to further my career and knowledge.
2. NETWORKING ABILITY: I have maintained connections to people in the field I am most interested in, as it has allowed me to expand my horizons, giving me the chance to gain inspiration and opportunities from unexpected sources.
3. LEARNING POTENTIAL: I have had the opportunity to access vast knowledge and experience through attending a highly regarded university and learned that failures or mistakes are things that I can learn a great deal from by being more organised and prepared in life.

How does your current career compare to the job aspirations you had as a child? I originally wanted to be an archaeologist because of my heavy interest in Ancient Egypt! Over time as I edged into my teen years, I realised that despite my interest, it would probably be a very difficult career to aspire to and that the opportunities would be very few. It wasn’t until I had commenced study into my Arts Degree and my Nursing Degree that I realised that I would be so interested in a degree with a focus on Microbiology and would love working in Pathology. This has become a particularly important realisation due to the pandemic and the understanding that I have chosen a career in a vital aspect of the public healthcare system.

How did your time at Flinders University change you both professionally and personally? I gained a great amount of confidence during my time at Flinders, and I learned that my peers could be instrumental in improving my understanding of the concepts that we were studying in our courses. Having such a multi-focused peer group meant that minds were coming at ideas and concepts from vastly different points of view allowing me to see ideas from different perspectives. I learned a great deal more independence and self-guided study skills which have allowed me to research with confidence and present data in a well-written and clear manner in the workplace. I am now able to think and brainstorm from much broader perspectives.

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