Science a family affair for new UQ graduate

3 Sep 2013

Dr Melanie Shakespear faced more than the usual postgraduate challenges when completing her PhD at The University of Queensland after she fell pregnant while writing up her thesis.

It was initially a race against time as Dr Shakespear, from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, tried to wrap up her 80,000-word thesis ahead of the birth of her first child, Delilah.

“I realised early on though, that I wasn’t going to finish my thesis before the baby arrived, which took a bit of pressure off but also meant a lot of extra work afterwards,” Dr Shakespear said.

“I started back working on my thesis when Delilah was about eight weeks old, which required lots of switching back and forth between child brain and science brain!

“It wasn’t easy, but thankfully my husband was very encouraging and my parents and my supervisor were a great support too.”

Dr Shakespear was inspired to do a PhD after working as a research assistant in London and Brisbane.

“I’ve always loved science and after coming back from London and working at IMB for a year, I realised I wanted to have more control over my own project and take it that bit further,” Dr Shakespear said.

Her PhD project involved studying whether certain molecules could be used to inhibit inflammatory pathways, which, if successful, could provide the basis for a treatment for inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.

Dr Matt Sweet, head of the laboratory in which Dr Shakespear works, has a grant to extend the project from cells in dishes to animal models, a vital step in progressing the research to human trials.

Dr Shakespear says she is looking forward to the challenge of combining research and a baby once again: she is now pregnant with her second child, expected in September.

“It will be different this time because I’m not trying to finish a thesis, but I really enjoy the research and I’m very interested in the project so I want to take it as far as I can after some time off,” Dr Shakespear said.

“As a young mum and early-career researcher, my family and my science are my top two priorities.

“Through IMB’s parents’ group, I have been fortunate to receive some great advice and support from my colleagues who are also balancing their roles as great scientists and parents.”

To donate to IMB’s immunology research, please visit or call (07) 3346 2132.

The Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) is a research institute of The University of Queensland that aims to improve quality of life by advancing personalised medicine, drug discovery and biotechnology.


Bronwyn Adams, IMB Communications Officer – 0418 575 247, 07 3346 2134 or