Alexis Baltrop

Current position:: Laboratory Technician, Oceania Dairy Limited (2015-present)
MSc with distinction: at the University of Otago with Professor Sally Brooker
BSc(Hons): University of Otago (2010-2012)

Alexis doing Chemistry Outreach

Photo: Alexis doing Chemistry Outreach

I decided to do my Masters in the Brooker group so I could gain insight into what it was like to do chemistry research in an academic setting. Having successfully carried out the multi-step preparations of my pair of isomeric, new ligands I then complexed them with a variety of iron salts and patiently waited for good quality crystals to grow. Amongst other things, I learnt that persistence, trying again and again until good and consistent results are achieved, is something that underpins excellent research. Determining the 3D structures of my own brand new never-made-before complexes, with help from Humphrey, was a highlight for me. Writing my thesis was something of a mission - in patience, persistence and punctuation! - but the end result was well worth all the effort. I am sure that the critical writing skills I developed will come in useful in the future, and meantime the hard bound thesis looks great on my bookshelf.

At every step of the way there was someone in the Brooker group to offer support, guidance and assistance, in both the lab and the office. Throughout my Masters Sally was always there to help as a supervisor and she does well to juggle teaching and researching responsibilities. She suggested my research topic, and was helpful in helping to identify gaps, and associated targets, in the research as the project evolved. She also took the time to read through several drafts of my thesis, and provide detailed feedback, including noting the parts that were written well. My distinction grade for my Masters would not have been possible without the support of all of the Brooker team.

With Sally’s many overseas collaborators and contacts there were opportunities to meet many overseas visitors and students and hear about how and what chemistry research is done elsewhere.

Dunedin is a cool wee town with lots going on plenty of opportunities to do whatever you like. There are lots of tracks to cycle and walk, music and festivals to groove at, and a club or society to find other people interested in the same stuff as you.

Currently I am working at a dairy factory doing routine testing of milk powder. The day to day tasks include testing the nutritional content of milk powder for things like protein, fat and moisture levels. The industrial approach to the chemistry that I do now is very different to working in academia, as its more results/process focussed, and you don’t have the freedom to explore any interesting, but possibly unrelated, observations along the way. The work itself is also very different from the synthetic chemistry focus of my Masters, as it is focussed on analytical chemistry. But its interesting to note that my employer was less interested in the details of the actual chemistry I did in my MSc, and far more interested in the fact that, with this MSc with distinction from Otago behind me, he can expect me to be able to rapidly learn any details that I need to whilst on the job.

Even if I never go into a synthetic lab again, I am very grateful for all the people I have met in Sally’s group, and the support and effort Sally provided as a supervisor for my Masters – and my Otago MSc is already proving to be a great stepping stone into the future!