Chemists of the Month - April 2022



David Lin


David Lin is Chemist of the Month for April 2022. He is currently an Assistant Director at Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), where he has been in the past 11 years, assessing chemistry, manufacturing and quality control data of agricultural and veterinary chemicals. Earlier in his career, he was an academic for 12 years, helping set up research programs in plant-based medicines and teaching medicinal chemistry, pharmacology and biochemistry. Even after completing his PhD, he has continued to study, having completed numerous postgraduate courses, on top of his usual work duties and his daily swimming.

Interview conducted by William Li.

WL: Great to meet you, David, on Australia Day! How long have you been a RACI Member?

DL: I joined RACI in 1991, just when I was awarded a PhD in Pharmacy at University of Queensland. Since then, I have regularly attended RACI Conferences, such as the National Chemistry Congress, and a symposium organised by NSW Pharmaceutical Science Group that was held in 2013 at Macquarie University. I am also a mentor for the RACI Mentoring Programme; one of my mentees from University of Queensland (UQ) was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

WL: Got to be proud of your student earning a prestigious scholarship!

DL: Yes, he will have a great experience over there. I hope he becomes a prime researcher in peptide drug discovery and development as well as being an ambassador to promote closer research collaboration within both Australia and USA. Speaking of ambassador work, I am also a volunteer accreditor for the RACI Accreditation Program, which involves accrediting universities’ chemical science degrees.

WL: You’ve done quite a lot with RACI over your 30 years as a member.

DL: RACI has given me so much and I felt great in being able to give back in many ways.

WL: Going back to where you started, what interested you in a career in science?

DL: Science is driven by curiosity, and as a child, I always had a curiosity, asking questions with everything I saw in nature. I was fortunate that I performed well in high school with helpful physics and chemistry teachers. I also found that science has helped me to answer many questions of my childhood. It’s amazing to be part of this adventure in understanding the way things work, whether it’s in our bodies or in the environment. My first degree was in organic chemistry from Peking University. After that, I came to Australia to pursue a PhD in Pharmacy at UQ. After completing postdoctoral studies at Queensland University of Technology, I worked as Quality Assurance Manager at a pharmaceutical manufacturer. Next, I went into academia for 12 years. For the past 12 years, I have been working for the Australian Public Service, first with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and now APVMA. I used my chemical knowledge on a daily basis in assessing the chemistry, manufacturing and quality control data of agricultural and veterinary chemicals. I work together with teams of chemists, toxicologists and case managers to ensure that each active constituent application that APVMA approves complies with all statutory criteria and regulatory policies. I peer-review assessment reports and make recommendations to delegates for them to approve or reject applications. I also contribute to the development and updating of guidelines, technical manuals and legislative instruments, such as the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code (Agricultural Active Constituents) Standards 2022.

WL: You’ve had quite some career so far, working in all three industry sectors! What was your PhD about by the way?

DL: My PhD was about the biotechnological production of anticholinergic drugs from Duboisia, funded by the Horticulture Research and Development Corporation (now Horticulture Australia). Scopolamine is a typical anticholinergic drug for its use in motion sickness and is extracted from plant sources. I investigated ways to increase the yield of scopolamine including in-vitro generation from callus culture. It was quite interesting going into the biotechnology side of drug production while broadening my chemistry knowledge.

WL: It appears you found your career in the pharmaceutical industry late in your PhD studies. However, sometime later you went back to academia.

DL: Yes, I did miss the university environment at the time. The QA Manager role was quite routine – important for the company of course, but there were no opportunities to pursue new knowledge. After two years, I went back to university. At the time, Southern Cross University just established its School of Natural and Complementary Medicine – the first of its kind in Australia. I was fortunate to be a foundation Research Fellow, enabling me to contribute to the development of its research in the efficacy and safety of plant-based medicines. The work included clinical trials and laboratory studies. An example is kava, which is used by the Pacific Islanders but suspected to be hepatotoxic. I continued my kava research at University of Hawaii in Honolulu. I also had a stint as an Assistant Professor in biochemistry at Chaminade University of Honolulu, before returning to Australia as a Senior Lecturer in Pharmacy at the University of Canberra, teaching medicinal chemistry and pharmacology. While at University of Canberra, I was headhunted by an APVMA registration manager to evaluate veterinary medicine registration data, which led to an opportunity at the TGA, and a year later, I moved to the APVMA. I enjoyed working there every day for the past 11 years.

WL: Your work in complementary medicines and pharmacology clearly leads to your current role at APVMA.  Now looking back at your career, if there was one piece of advice you wish to give to people who want to have a career like yours, what would it be?

DL: Based on my 30-year career, something that holds strong in my mind is having an open mind to learn! Even after having a PhD, I completed several tertiary courses, including a Graduate Diploma in Biotechnology, a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education and an Advanced Diploma in Leadership and Management; the latter with support from APVMA. It’s never too late to learn, and what you learn is yours and for you to apply it. Also, join some professional associations such as RACI to improve professional standing. Above all, when you do your work, do it to the best of your ability to help contribute to the objectives of the organisation you work for. You and your career will grow with the organisation.

WL: That’s sound advice there and you’ve certainly been productive in completing a fair few more tertiary qualifications for a few extra skills as well as for interest. Not many people commit to such studies after finishing their first degree.

DL: Yes, that’s the hard part. Commitment. Resilience. And staying persistent.

WL: Last question. If you have any spare time, what do you do?

DL: I like reading, swimming, table tennis, cooking and gardening!

WL: That’s a broad range of hobbies!

DL: All of those things keep me recharged! I read a lot of leadership and management books, partly as part of my Advanced Diploma studies. I also read science books, such as pesticide chemistry and crop science. I swim every day since 2003, I got this habit when I was in Hawaii, where the local government provided a public swimming pool free of charge. I continued to swim daily here in Canberra, even though it’s not free; I do have a membership at Canberra International Sports and Aquatic Centre, which has an Olympic-sized pool. I have found that half an hour a day is enough for me to feel recharged and refreshed.