Sophia Frentz, PhD Student
Murdoch Childrens Research Institute
University of Melbourne
Life Inside the Lab
What is your research topic? I’m looking at early-onset mitochondrial disorders and investigating potential treatments and developing model systems. I’m particularly looking at Leigh Syndrome, which is an early-onset neurodegenerative disorder which typically causes fatality in childhood. There aren’t any current treatments for any mitochondrial disorders, so my work is pretty important! If you want to know more about mitochondrial disorders, there’s a lot of information on the AMDF website. (AMDF is funding some of my research)
What was your best day of science? During a summer internship, I sequenced a gene that meant a family could go ahead with in-vitro fertilization (IVF) without worrying about the inherited disorder I was studying.
What was your worst day in science? To be honest it’s before 9am, I haven’t had my coffee, so today feels like the worst day. I think the day I came back from holiday to thaw a bunch of cell lines, and they had all died was the worst day. I lost 4 months of work in lab. That day, I cried a lot and then went to a hot chocolate shop and drank three hot chocolates.
Sophia Frentz is a PhD Student at the University of Melbourne, Australia. You can follow along with her science on Twitter at @SophiaFrentz.
What are you studying at university? My undergraduate degree was in Genetics, with a minor in microbiology. My PhD I am enrolled with pathology and pediatrics, I think?
What are some of the highlights of your career so far? I was named one of 20 young Australians on the cusp of greatness and got some of my science writing published in Best Australian Science Writing 2016. That’s nice. Especially as I am a New Zealander, not an Australian. Suckers.
What does your average day look like?
- Wake up
- Press snooze on alarm like three times
- Turn on a podcast – usually MBMBaM as it takes me from getting dressed to work almost exactly with time.
- Drink a coffee and do non-work things for like 30 minutes
- SCIENCE TIME: lab-based experiments, usually from 10am-3pm
- Stop for lunch and consider doing writing
- Go back into the lab like 3:30-6pm
- Go home and go to the gym
- Watch Terrace House
What is your favorite piece of technology or equipment you get to use in your job? I have a love-hate relationship with the Seahorse XF24-3. The Seahorse measures oxygen consumption and extracellular acidification, meaning we can measure respiration constantly for cells or isolated mitochondria. This is a really delicate way of measuring mitochondrial (and other respiratory) defects, but due to being delicate, can also be a total pain in the butt. It’s a devil, but also is really nice and I defend it for like 500 words in my current thesis draft.
Life Outside of Lab
Where did you grow up? Tauranga, New Zealand, with a brief stint in Beirut, Lebanon
What profession did you think you would be when you were a kid? I’ve always thought I’d be a scientist.
What do you do to relax outside of lab? I’ve recently got really into punching classes – boxing and body combat. It helps remove all the anger I have about my thesis. I play video games and watch Terrace House, because Terrace House is flawless TV.
What is your best advice for girls interested in science? Find other like-minded girls/women and support each other.
Why do you think it is important to have more women in STEM? Basically we’re only gonna stop global warming and cure diseases if we use the smartest people! It’s not cool that we’re not including women, people of colour and disabled people from joining this Cool Kids Club (aka science), because maybe they know how to solve this.
Why were you drawn to science? Did you ever consider another career path? How close was your schooling related to your current job? I’m very curious and science is a formalized curiosity.
What was your biggest struggle during your degree? I have depression and chronically low blood pressure, and basically a body that’s trying to kill me 24/7 (but moreso when I’m stressed). So…uh. That!For example, today I nearly passed out on public transport. Then once I got to work I had a meeting with my supervisor, and it took a lot of effort to communicate because I was dizzy, nauseous, and low in brain-blood.A few months ago I had an ovarian cyst rupture while I was at work doing a FACS sort (A way of separating the cells you want from the cells you don’t want – super important to make sure you’re working on the right kind of cells and getting meaningful results!). Despite being in horrible pain, I kept at it because I needed the results and it’d take weeks to repeat the experiment. Also, after my ovarian cyst ruptured I couldn’t stand for very long without being in extreme pain and I did a poster presentation. The group running it got me a chair (because they’re amazing and I love them) and the woman who was marking my poster let me do the whole presentation sitting down. The dude didn’t even look at me until I stood up and then was still like SUPER UNCOOL about how much pain I was in.I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to navigate that if you’re permanently sitting/in a wheelchair?? Can we collectively be less jerkish about physical disabilities?
What is your favorite book?
- Fiction: Ancillary series by Ann Leckie
- Non-fiction: Best Australian Science Writing 2016 (I think I have to? I’m in it)
- Poetry: cup by Alison Wong
What is your favorite desk snack? Mate I get Harvest Box which is Australia’s version of naturebox and I love them so much.
What would you listen to while writing? When editing I listen to podcasts. When writing, usually Homestuck music, early 2000s punk pop, or (recently) the Moana soundtrack.
What was your favorite subject in high school? I know my high school teachers follow me on social media and read things I post so, I plead the fifth.
What is the strangest thing on your desk right now? I have a pug with a bobble head that was a secret santa present, and a handmade demon soft toy that I hug when science is bad.
What color socks are you wearing? Blue with light blue flowers.
Organization nut, or curated chaos? Somewhere in between. Love organization. Very quickly lose it.
Any other fun fact about you… I played piano for like 10 years (and flute for six) and still dabble in composition work.