Lauren went from exchange student to PhD in Australia’s sunshine state: ‘I love the outdoor lifestyle here’

Lauren Geurds went on exchange to Australia for the graduation internship of her Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at HAN. 6 years later she finished her PhD, found a prestigious new job, and feels fully integrated Down under.

ATBC-student Lauren Geurds liep stage in Australië, haalde er haar PhD en woont daar inmiddels

“I love the sun and the surroundings here, it’s what attracted me to Australia in the first place”, says HAN-alumnus Lauren with a smile. “Life here happens outdoors. When you meet someone for a coffee, you do so outside. Because well, it’s at least 20 degrees by day all year long, and in summer it becomes 35. They call Queensland the sunshine state for a reason.”

Unique for Dutch students

Lauren just got back from her 3-month visit to the Netherlands. She visited friends and family, and got some much-needed rest after a busy period finishing her PhD at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane. She enjoyed being back, of course. “Especially when I think of the Covid-period. It was basically impossible to come back during that time, I didn’t see my family for 3 years.”

But at the same time, Lauren couldn’t wait to get back to the place which has become her new home. What started as a graduation internship in Brisbane for her bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at HAN, eventually lead to a full PhD. “In Australia you can follow-up your bachelor’s degree with an Honours research project for a year, with which you can then directly start a PhD if your grades are high enough. This is a unique opportunity for Dutch students.”

Green chemistry

Lauren specializes in polymer chemistry. “So yes, although polymers have many other applications as well, I am also working with plastics. It perhaps makes me a bit of a culprit in society”, she says with a smile. “But I’ve learned over the past couple years that there is great potential in this field for so-called ‘green chemistry’.”

“I’ve been working with nanocellulose, which is a structure made of polymer chains. It comes from trees, from our compost bins, garden waste, but also from coconuts, banana peels, you name it. And it’s used for things like paper, paint, medicines, and we’re also looking to see if we can use it for the fabrication of electronic chips.”

Pretty expensive

Finishing her PhD is the icing on the cake after a long period of hard work and great investment. Literal investment as well, because doing a PhD is not a paid job in Australia. “Your living expenses are covered and there’s a small allowance, but that’s pretty much it. Though you have to keep in mind that the tuition fee in institutes like these amounts to 40.000 dollars a year.”

The high costs of studying in Australia are part of the country’s business model. “Many students want to come here for the high level of education, besides of course the beauty of the land. And after, they bring back their knowledge to their home countries. People from all over the world come here for that.”

Interesting wildlife

Lauren doesn’t plan on going back to the Netherlands any time soon. She got a prestigious job at Queensland University of Technology, the other university in Brisbane. There she’ll focus on developing better, greener materials for airplanes. “I don’t expect people to give up on air travel anytime soon, so we might as well make it as green as possible.”

Which is not to say she doesn’t miss the Netherlands. “It’s quite something of course, being away for so long. But for now, I’m very happy with where I am. It’s such a special place. There’s wild animals walking across the street, because they’re all protected. I’ve been in a restaurant with kangaroo steak on the menu, and then I looked outside and there was one right there.”

“I’ve received several video’s of friends with scary animals in their apartments. I even heard a friend say she had a 2 meter long python in her room… Luckily I didn’t experience anything like that yet!”

If you want to know more about going abroad, you can contact Kelly Vellinga-Chan

Photo David van Haren