Mark Hackett | Class of 2002


Curtin University lecturer Dr Mark Hackett (Class of 2002) is a mid-career researcher in the field of analytical chemistry, specifically the development and optimisation of novel elemental and bio-molecular imaging techniques, which are used by neuroscientists to study the mechanisms of brain function and brain disease.

Mark completed his undergraduate degree at Curtin (2006), before completing his PhD at the University of Sydney (2011). From 2011-2016, he embarked on two research fellowships at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada: the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation Fellowship, and a Canadian Institute of Health Research Fellowship.

Av԰ Spirit spoke to Mark about his journey.

During your time at Av԰, what were your favourite subjects and why?

I really enjoyed studying Chemistry and Physics at Av԰. This definitely had a lot to do with having fantastic teachers who put me on the right path. I also really enjoy the outdoors (sport, fishing, hiking, swimming, etc), and I was always curious about how “stuff worked” in nature. The ability for Chemistry and Physics to provide definitive answers about the natural world really appealed to me. For example, why does a blue manna crab turn from blue to red when you cook it? Why is our blood red? These sorts of questions always interested me, and science could provide answers.

Did these subjects translate into your academic career?

I am still using Chemistry, Physics and Maths every day. We also do a lot of report writing in my job. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the skill of communicating an argument or an idea through writing (which I had been taught in English and social studies), has also ended up being very important to my job.

Had you always wanted to live overseas?

I was petrified about leaving Perth, right up until the point I did (including the car trip to the airport). I never really had a desire to travel, but the scholarship to go to Sydney seemed like a great opportunity – and if I hated it, I could always come back. I ended up loving Sydney.

I was lucky enough to go on several trips overseas during my PhD, and really enjoyed meeting scientists from different countries.

I also was introduced to a really fancy machine during my PhD, a particle accelerator called a synchrotron (they have made appearances in Iron Man, Breaking Bad, and Big Bang Theory). Australia was only building our first synchrotron at the end of my PhD, but there were already a handful in North America. The opportunity to go live in Canada meant I would have a synchrotron in my backyard, as well as regular access to one at Stanford University in California.

I had decided by this stage that I wanted a career working in synchrotron science, so if I wanted a job in that area back in Australia, I had to get ‘on the job training’ at a fully operational synchrotron facility – so I moved to Canada.

What were some highlights during your time in Canada?

I loved my job as a scientist in Canada – from memory our research team consisted of people from seven different countries, which was a lot of fun – as well as the diversity in science when working overseas.

For someone who loves the outdoors, Canada is amazing. My favourite memories include holidays in the Rocky Mountains, learning to ski, and summertime camping trips by a lake.

What achievement/s are you most proud?

After my PhD, I had decided I really wanted a career as a scientist. Being able to build a career in science has been really rewarding. I am fortunate that in my current role I get to work on a range of projects, ranging from trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, developing new ways to monitor environmental pollution, and identifying better strategies for food production.

In terms of my personal life, I met my partner Brittney in Canada, and we had to do a long-distance relationship for several years in order to establish our own careers. On the back of that we have now been able to set up a wonderful life together in Perth, which we are both very proud of.

What’s some advice you would share with Av԰ students?

1) Be kind. It takes very little effort to be kind (it takes way more effort to be mean). You will never really know everything that is happening in someone else’s life, but by being kind you can make a huge difference.

2) Make the most of your opportunities to learn. It doesn’t matter how “smart” you are, everyone can learn.

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