From beautician to biotechnologist
Thursday, 31 May 2012 15:34

beauticianVicki Edwards came to University late in life, mostly because she had never considered it as a possibility – on leaving school in the early 1980s, she went to work in a hairdressing salon.

But following two decades working with electrolysis and looking for a new mental challenge, an advertisement for Flinders University's Foundation Studies program in the local paper caught her eye. With encouragement from her partner, Ms Edwards commenced the course's night classes in 2000 to see if she could make a go of tertiary education.

Evidently, she could – Ms Edwards (pictured) has just completed her PhD, earning "glowing reports" from the markers, according to her supervisor.

Ms Edwards said that in the year after completing the Foundation course, she was admitted to an honours degree course in medical biotechnology, which she studied part-time for the next six years, working to support herself as she went.

After successfully completing her degree, she went back to the workforce as a research assistant at a winery, but was drawn back to study at Flinders by the offer of a postgraduate scholarship.

Although she initially had leanings towards environmental themes, she was persuaded to do undertake a research project with Dr Fiona Young, and became involved in researching the potential of extracts from marine organisms as treatments for cancer.

Ms Edwards does not see herself as special – she believes that there are plenty of people whose academic potential has never blossomed because of lack of encouragement.

She said there had been no experience or even awareness of tertiary education in her family.

"My father didn't even go to secondary school," Ms Edwards said.

"We weren't encouraged to study, and like everyone else back then, I went to work so that I could leave home," she said.

Ms Edwards said that she had always enjoyed maths and science at school, and that studying science at university had shown she had a capacity for analytical thinking and the necessary ability to focus.

And while she doesn't see herself as a natural teacher, Ms Edwards said she had been happy to talk to last year's Foundation Course students about the possibilities of studying in health sciences.

"I can see myself in all of them. A lot of them are from low socio-economic backgrounds, which is exactly what I was from. So I can actually tell them my experiences and what I went through, and I can see that they appreciate it.

"To see where I have got has encouraged a lot of them to get into uni this year."

Although she is considering the possibility of postdoctoral research, Ms Edwards is keen to find a long-term job in industry where she can apply her skills and knowledge.