Kylie Foster

PhD student, University of South Australia

Kylie FosterWhy did you choose to study the IDTC program?

I chose to be part of the IDTC program because the four year scholarship included the opportunity to undertake coursework to broaden my mathematical knowledge. Also, I was interested in working on an applied problem.

What new skills or experiences have you learned along the way?

The IDTC program has helped me to develop a range of new skills. For example, the mid-year IDTC conferences are an excellent chance to practice presenting technical work in a friendly environment. Also, through networking with the other IDTC students who have different mathematics and statistics background I have improved my ability to communicate about my PhD to people from other areas of research.The professional courses such as the media training and ethics course, offered as part of the IDTC conference were also extremely valuable.

Would you recommend this program to other PhD students? 

I would definitely recommend the IDTC program to other PhD students. The program provides a broader base of skills than a typical PhD program (including professional skills), as well as opportunities to network with students from other universities and travel around Australia for the IDTC conferences.

Who is your industry partner, what has your relationship been like, and what have you learned from them?

My industry partner is the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG). The ACPFG is a research company that is involved in breeding crops that are tolerant to various types of stresses. Since my research involves developing mathematical models that represent biological processes, it has been very useful to have input from the biologists at the ACPFG.

How would you describe your research?

The overall aim of my research project is to develop models of water, ion and other solute transport in plants. I then aim to use these models to improve our understanding of the mechanisms and processes involved in salinity tolerance in plants. It is envisioned that the results of these models will help guide plant geneticists in their search for specific genes that enhance a plant’s ability to tolerate salinity.

What impact does your research have on people's lives?

The problem that my research aims to address is the reduction in crop plant productivity that occurs due to high levels of salt in soils (salinity). Salinity is already a problem in Australia, with high salinity affecting two-thirds of Australian cereal crops. The problem of salinity is expected to become worse in the future due to factors such as population growth and climate change.

Biologists are working to address the problem of salinity by breeding salt tolerant crops. My research aims to help biologists to achieve this by improving our understanding of the exact mechanisms (including genes) involved in how plants cope with salt stress. This information can then be used by biologists who are developing salt tolerant crops.

What career goals do you have after completing the IDTC program?

My career goals include staying in academia and continuing to carry out research. In particular, I would like to continue to carry out research that involves applying mathematics to biological problems.

Has the IDTC program prepared you to enter the workforce?

The IDTC program has prepared me to enter the workforce by helping me to develop professional skills in addition to the normal technical skills developed during a typical PhD.