Where are they now: Luke Williams

Luke Williams (alum 2017–2018) combines his passion for Indigenous education and research to investigate Aboriginal knowledge systems of traditional food preparation.

What do you currently do?

I am completing my PhD at RMIT University as the Vice Chancellor’s Indigenous pre-doctoral research fellow in the School of Health and Biomedical Science. This position has all the requirements of a PhD. It is also an academic role, which provides a great opportunity to explore a career in academia.

For my research I will be working with Traditional-Owner groups who are developing native plant foods for the Australian market. I will be exploring the history of use (the story) that surrounds these plants, performing compositional analysis to identify both beneficial and toxic constitutes, and running a number of in vitro bioassays to identify the potential for organ specific toxicity or allergenicity. Altogether, this will allow me to develop a safety assessment that can be utilised by the TO groups when seeking food regulatory approval.

Describe your research achievements at WEHI.

I first started at WEHI in 2017 as a Career Trackers intern. I then transitioned into an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) internship during 2018.

Being positioned within the Sleebs Lab of the Chemical Biology division gave me great insight into the day-to-day working of a research institute. Dr Brad Sleebs and Dr William Nguyen provided an opportunity for me to experience hands-on lab work, which included the synthesis and work-up of small molecule inhibitors that were targeted at the BCL-like apoptotic pathway found within the schistosoma worm.

This granted me an opportunity to experience what it was like to work on a real-world project within a worldclass lab. I am very thankful for this opportunity.

During my Career Trackers internship, I joined WEHI’s Reconciliation Committee of which I am still an external member. This has been a great experience where I have been able to advocate for Indigenous opportunities within a very respectful and friendly environment.

The Career Trackers program was a great steppingstone, that provided the opportunity to work at WEHI and experience what the research field had to offer, while also being a part of a community of deadly Koori interns.

What are you most passionate about?

I am strongly passionate about ensuring that all of Indigenous Australia has access to education. As such, I am a big advocate for enabling culturally appropriate spaces that are accessible to Indigenous students. For too long Indigenous culture and the Indigenous voice has not been respected, and I see education as a way that Indigenous Australians can make their voice heard.

By gaining these positions, we can work alongside non-indigenous allies to influence and initiate social change that ensures that Indigenous Australia receives the same opportunities that have been granted to non-Indigenous Australia. I would also like to see the language, the knowledge and the lore of the oldest living culture on the planet respected and not forgotten.

What are your professional highlights?

Receiving my position at RMIT has probably been my greatest professional highlight. I’ve been working towards securing an academic position where I can teach, learn and advocate for social change, whilst also pursuing a research career. My position at RMIT grants all of this while also allowing me to explore my cultural heritage through my research within a supportive environment.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I am a qualified electrician. After growing up in rural NSW and finishing school I had little knowledge of what I wanted to do with life, so I began an electrical apprenticeship that I successfully completed four years later. It wasn’t until I left my small town and embarked on a backpacking trip that I realised (through meeting many students abroad) that university was a viable option. Upon returning to Australia I began my university studies and have not looked back since.

A matchmaking process

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Do you have a story to share?

Everyone has a story to tell about their time at the institute. Funny, odd, amazing anecdotes: we’d love to hear them all. Get in touch with us at alumni@wehi.edu.au.

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Illuminate Summer 2023
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