"I’ve always really enjoyed science. It’s been a passion of mine, I enjoyed it at high school, and I chose to continue doing it because I loved it."
Kaih is the recipient of the 2019 ND Goldsworthy Award, for excellence in undergraduate physics for a student continuing to masters. He recently spoke to us about his experience of transitioning into graduate research from a Bachelor of Science. Get to know his journey below.
In high school I was part of the Kwong Lee Dow Young Scholars Program at Melbourne. I had lots of fun, and that definitely shaped my intention to come and study at Melbourne.
Knowing that Grandpa went here was also at the back of my mind when choosing where to study. I don’t think this is true, but we always joked that he would never speak to me again if I studied anywhere else! My dad always told me about being dragged around here as a kid, just being able to explore the University. A lot of it has changed since then. The John Smyth building that was recently demolished was a big area that he used to run around. There was a little room like a Harry Potter’s cupboard in there that he would explore. I’m sure it was good fun for a five-year-old!
When I was going into first year, I didn’t really know what area of science I was interested in, so it was great that the Bachelor of Science gave me the opportunity to try different areas and make a decision based on what I enjoyed. That was really important to me.
I enjoyed physics, chemistry and maths at high school, so I took all those subjects in first year. At the end of first year I sort of moved away from chemistry. I was going to do the mathematical physics major, but when I got to third year I decided I wanted to do a research project subject, so that meant I changed into the physics major. I probably enjoyed it much more than I would have [enjoyed] the maths that I’d have to do for mathematical physics.
The thing that helped me decide I wanted to major in physics was the practical component, the labs. I just really enjoyed getting my hands on something and playing with it, and actually applying the theory that we learn in lectures to a real situation.
That’s what physics is all about. It’s about describing the fundamental nature of the universe and trying to use that in different ways that you can actually do something with, which is what I really enjoy.
In undergrad, as well as studying a Bachelor of Science, I did a Diploma of Languages in Indonesian, and I was involved in the Indonesian Studies and Language Association. In 2017 I was able to go on exchange to Indonesia. I spent a semester studying language subjects over there and was also able to do an internship at the Indonesian Institute of Science’s Physics Research Center that allowed me to combine the two areas of studying the language and science.
The internship was working with lasers, which is very similar to the work I’m doing now. That helped me to understand that I wanted to get into research. It was quite hands-on and actually involved doing something, rather than just theory.
I’m part of the optics group, so that’s looking at using light to image things, and all the different things you can do with light. I’m making an ion microscope, which is using ions to take images of things, kind of like an electron microscope. It’s where you use particles, you shoot it at something, it bounces off, and you collect that information to look at things on the nanoscale. Really cool.
Community, in relation to the university, is really important. The local community, where I’m studying in physics, is important, and people that I interact with on a daily basis are important. My tutors, lecturers and supervisors have all been encouraging and helpful, and that’s helped me to enjoy studying here and encouraged me to continue to pursue my passions. But a lot of my closest friends at university are actually from clubs and areas outside of physics.
The difference between undergrad and graduate study is enormous. There’s so much more work, but it’s also so much more enjoyable because it’s content that you’re passionate about and really want to get to know. The environment that you’re studying in is different as well. In undergrad there are lots of students and you sort of feel alone in a big crowd, but in masters there’s a smaller group and you can all collaborate. It’s a really nice environment to get to know your peers and work together on things.
My plans for after masters aren’t quite set yet, but the option of doing a PhD is there. If I enjoy doing the research, I’ll definitely be looking at the PhD, because that’ll be the way to continue doing what I enjoy.