Eileen Phoenix Lam

Eileen Phoenix Lam: Master of Public Health, 2019. Project and Research Assistant at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity.

Eileen Phoenix Lam’s (Master of Public Health, 2019) first role since graduating from University has seen her immersed in COVID-19 research at the Doherty Institute.

Frontline workers fighting COVID-19 exist on a broad spectrum. From seasoned clinicians to early career researchers, each contribution is uniquely valuable. Eileen is a Project and Research Assistant for some of the COVID-19 projects at the Doherty Institute. Now a household name for many of us, the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity has been driving progress to minimize the impact of the novel coronavirus. Eileen’s work sees her assist on the ASCOT (Australasian COVID-19 Trial), the FFX (First Few X) project, and the COVID-19 Pacific Islands project with her supervisors, Associate Professor Steven Tong and Professor Jodie McVernon.

A typical day for Eileen in this fast-paced environment varies from collating evidence for reports on the modelling of COVID-19 in the Pacific Islands, writing reviews and contextual paragraphs for reports and attending to numerous emails. Initially, her role involved assisting on an adaptive platform trial related to Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and research for a Strep A bacteria project with her supervisor, Dr Katherine Gibney. The shift in her work exemplifies the universal prioritisation of the COVID-19 project. Despite the increase in workload, Eileen reflects that “It has felt really great for me, knowing I am making a small difference and contributing to the COVID-19 evidence base, which can help inform public health policy and available treatments for patients. This is one of the reasons why I studied my Master of Public Health and microbiology.”

Eileen’s background is in Microbiology, and while studying her Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne she did an internship at the Epidemiology Unit of the Doherty Institute. Finding the work interesting, she became immersed in public health initiatives which inspired her to study the Master of Public Health that she completed in 2019. Eileen says she enjoyed the flexibility of her Science degree but wanted to expand her understanding of broader human health aspects beyond specific laboratory research. Speaking of her experience thus far, Eileen loves “that it draws on science and science communication” while playing a “vital role in enhancing the public health response to any disease or issue.”

Many current students interested in epidemiology, public health and research would no doubt find Eileen’s path motivational. Her advice for those students is to get involved in University life and engage in volunteering and work. She encourages them to “get to know your fellow students, lecturers and tutors as you never know what opportunities may come up.” Beyond networking on campus, she also underlines the importance of trying internships and research project subjects to “see where your interests lie.” For Eileen, the most unexpected lesson she has learned in this early career stage is that “there a lot of opportunities out there if you only know the right people and where to look for them.”

The Doherty Institute continues to pioneer developments in the COVID-19 sphere, from reproducing the virus in the laboratory to creating the first saliva tests. In celebrating such achievements, each individual supporting and guiding the journey is commendable. Going forward, Eileen hopes to continue to assist on COVID-19 projects and become more involved in other pandemic-preparedness projects. She is considering pursuing PhD studies in the near future as the next step in her career journey. She remains inspired by “people’s ingenuity and innovation” and believes that “despite all the bad in the world, people can band and work together to find solutions to problems that face humanity and our planet.”