Gemma OlsenApplied Science Animal Technology (2002)

Research Projects Officer

Gemma Olsen has a big job title at the CSIRO – Research Projects Officer Experimental Scientist in the Niche Laboratory – and a big job, working with the various properties and applications of adult stem cells. It’s Gemma’s research that helps to lay the foundation for cancer treatment. And she wouldn’t be working in this vital and dynamic environment but for the decision to drop a Psychology degree and study Applied Science Animal Technology at Box Hill Institute.

Gemma’s desire to work “with animals, not people” led to the change of heart, and then, in the very encouraging environment at Box Hill Institute, the steps to her career emerged. In second year her teacher told her of a job at Peter McCallum clinic in the animal facility. She got the job, and worked there whilst studying for two years. From there she secured a job as lab technician and continued at Peter McCallum for 5 years, doing further study at Monash University and obtaining a position with the Australian Stem Cell Centre and now CSIRO. The University experience confirmed how highly she regarded her time at Box Hill Institute: “Having had 6 years at uni, I realised how much I enjoyed the TAFE experience. I love hands on stuff. The course and teaching were structured a lot better. The class sizes were distinctly better – classes of 25 at TAFE, and 600 at Uni! It was even a better quality education. Working in a lab we get Honours students and PHDs who aren’t competent in hands on stuff. At Box Hill Institute it’s competency based training, so it’s more beneficial in a lot of ways.”

A lover of animals from an early age, Gemma still harbours the desire to get back into working with animals, depending on where her current work takes her. She is highly interested in the animal-human bond, how animals can benefit human health, and educating the public on animal welfare. But she has absolutely no regrets about her career path so far, and the important role the teaching at Box Hill Institute played: “I think without doing Box Hill Institute I wouldn’t be where I am now. It opened my eyes to a lot of different options. Teachers encourage you to give things a go. When the opportunity came up for me to work at the Peter McCallum clinic, I was really unsure. But the teachers said ‘give it a go’, and it’s led me to where I am.”