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Category Archives: Research

Curious, questioning and “delightful” research – a French student’s perspective

Rachel Ginieis is studying towards a PhD in Food Science and Psychology, at the University of Otago.

People usually describe me as a little bit hyperactive and crazy!  The crazy part usually results in building innovative projects and developing new ideas while I often use the hyperactivity part to realize those projects in a dynamic way. But I’m also tempted to describe myself as curious. Understanding processes, reactions, reasons why …since I was a child, I have always asked heaps of questions. I came to Dunedin in 2016 for a 6-month internship studying the effect of sweetness on cognitive functions. That time fuelled my interest and passion for sensory science and neuroscience, mainly due to the trust that Dr Mei Peng (Senior Lecturer, Department of Food Science, University of Otago) had in me. We ended up writing and publishing my first paper on the topic as well. 

Dunedin is more than 20,000 km away from Montpellier, my hometown in France, and I first came here with my friend Agathe for the opportunity to discover a new culture and have the kind of life experience which happens only once. Since being here we have seen breath-taking landscapes every single weekend, hitchhiked all over New Zealand, and met amazing people; but we were always back on Monday morning, ready to do more research.

My love for the topic never stopped and I returned to start my PhD, again under supervision of Dr Mei Peng, Professor Elizabeth Franz and Professor Indrawati Oey. My “baby” which we often call our PhD project (although sometimes I think that it would be easier to have an actual baby) is about assessing a Human Sensory Fingerprint, including all five senses, and see if we can link individual sensory perceptions to modifications of the brain’s reward circuitry. This brain pathway evolved to increase organism’s behaviours that improve its chances to survive. However an over-stimulation of this circuitry can alter this pathway and lead to different type of addictions and compulsive behaviours. My research could bring some explanations to the overconsumption and craving for sweet, salty and fatty food around the world. I find it exciting and I am looking forward to another one and a half years full of craziness, hyperactivity and curiosity…. and “envoûtante” research, which means “bewitching” or “delightful”.

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, both from Otago, she is passionate about education, and the places it can take you.

Giving back – one international student’s remarkable journey

Growing up in an academic family, in Yangon, Myanmar, with an emphatic value placed on education, my parents always wanted to give me an education abroad.

As I had never been away from home and as parents they wanted somewhere their child would be safe and still be offered the quality education they were after, it is not surprising New Zealand was at the top of their list.

With an interest in biomedical sciences from an early age, together with my parents, I made the decision to study at the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university with excellence in medical and biomedical research and teaching.

Dr Htin Lin Aung

I started my affiliation with the University of Otago in 2001, firstly completing a foundation studies course before moving onto studying genetics. I received my Bachelor of Science Degree, with first class honours in Genetics in 2005, after which I worked as a research assistant both at the University of Otago and Massey University in order to have the skills to pursue my PhD in 2010. I was awarded a PhD in Microbiology in 2013.

Immediately after my BSc (Hons) graduation and my PhD graduation, I started my employment at the University of Otago. I am currently leading an international research programme combating tuberculosis (TB) in New Zealand and my home country Myanmar through a prestigious Sir Charles Hercus Research Fellowship awarded to me by the New Zealand Health Research Council.

How did you find the learning/teaching environment at Otago?  Do you think it gave you the skills and knowledge to enable you to find employment?

I would say that my experience at Otago gave me a chance to discover myself and my purpose in life. I have always wanted to make a difference and to contribute back to the community. Therefore, I selected the health sector as my way of doing so, particularly TB, which daily claims 5,000 lives mainly from socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.

What was your experience with your lecturers/supervisors like?  Were they approachable and helpful?

Lecturers and teaching fellows were so helpful and supportive. Some of them are my longstanding mentors, and I can proudly call them my lifetime friends.

How have you found the ‘culture’ of the students, staff, and people that work at the University of Otago?

The culture of the students and staff at the University is that we courageously keep on tackling big challenges, which is the reflection of the University’s motto “Dare to Be Wise”.

How would you describe the University of Otago to somebody who was thinking of studying as an international student at Otago?

Truly home away from home – when I first arrived here I felt homesickness. But people here at the University and in Dunedin are amicable  and welcoming, so Dunedin quickly became my home away from home.

Did Otago met your expectations?

Exceeded.

How does it feel to be an Otago alumni?

I am a proud scarfie and a true University of Otago product (from Foundation Studies to PhD and now an employee of the University).

What is the best memory you have from your time at the University of Otago?

Unforgettable student experience – some of my best memories include my time at Cumberland College, a residential college I lived in first as a student and later as a residential assistant supporting other students. I am now a College Fellow at Cumberland, providing mentor ship to students within and beyond their academic life.

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, both from Otago, she is passionate about education, and the places it can take you.

An education for the love of fitness and health

Ashim Maharjan was born in Nepal and moved to New Zealand when he was 8 years old.  Stemmed from his own personal interest in fitness and health he has completed both undergraduate and Masters degrees at the University of Otago and is currently working on his PhD.   This is his story, in his own words, about his educational journey at Otago.

My life has always involved fitness and health – whether it was studying at undergraduate in physical education and neuroscience, or my obsessive love of training at the gym and jujitsu. I have always been fascinated with how people of different builds are attracted to the fitness and health industry, and why some succeed in their goals, and others don’t.

Obesity is a disease affecting a large number of the population, not just in New Zealand, but all across the globe. Food is enticing due to its visual allure and smell, which can act as stimuli that ultimately contribute to the obesity problem. My Masters research confirmed that stimulation of an area of the inner foreman suppressed the sense of smell, and now my PhD research is looking whether a similar suppression could apply to both smell and food senses.  Any outcome has the potential for clinical applications to help suppress hunger and appetite and therefore achieve weight-loss and improve overall health.

When I started at Otago, my undergraduate degree in physical education really focused on the body; then I shifted focus to neuroscience and the role of the brain. Jumping disciplines is quite interesting as it requires a change in mind-set, and now I’m researching in a multi-disciplinary way across anatomy and food science which combines it altogether. I was born in Nepal and have lived in NZ since I was 8.

To start your educational journey at Otago, follow the link below.

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, both from Otago, she is passionate about education, and the places it can take you.

 

Education and passion – one Otago student’s fight to save New Zealand’s native wildlife

Imagine……wanting to make a difference…..then coming to the University of Otago and finding an environment that enables you to thrive, despite setbacks, to make that difference.

If you’re looking for inspiration to study at Otago, look no further than Master of Science (MSc) in Genetics student Anna Clark……

Anna Clark

“I came to Dunedin from Hurunui, North Canterbury, but I’ve lived all over the show, from the banks of Lake Ellesmere to Cromwell. In high school I was involved in a restoration project up the Nina Valley in the Lewis Pass, trapping predators like possums, rats, stoats and weasels. Over the seven years I realised trapping and poison are a Band-Aid for a long term challenge – if we’re serious about eradication we need to be innovating new tools. My research project for my Masters in Genetics is looking at a genetic pest control method called “gene drive” and how we could use it to control or eradicate invasive mammal species in New Zealand. Despite current pest control systems our wildlife continue to decline. We can’t keep doing what we’ve done in the past, we have to think outside the box.”

The common brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula, image courtesy of doc.govt.nz

“That’s why I’m interested in genetic pest control technology because it’s a different way of approaching our invasive species problem. It’s not something we can use right now, but imagine where we’d be if we’d implemented it 20 years ago! As researchers we get to mentally challenge ourselves to answer these difficult questions and advance our understanding of the world we live in.

I actually sustained a pretty severe brain injury last year when I was hit by a car whilst cycling to uni. This was a big fork in the road and over the course of six months I seriously considered dropping everything and pursuing a career that demands less brain power. But when I look back, what got me through was finding ways to look at the bigger picture and think about how I can best lean on my strengths in order to make a difference!”

AND NEWSFLASH: the amazing Anna Clark has just been named as a Blake DOC Ambassador for 2019/20! Fantastic news and well deserved. Kia mau te wehi Anna!

AND if that’s not enough, for further inspiration from Anna herself, here’s a link to a TedxYouth talk she gave recently.

Many thanks to Anna, Guy Frederick, Communications Advisor (Science) and Craig Borley, Communications Adviser (Health Science) at the University of Otago for providing the content for this blog!

Nicky Richardson is an International Marketing Coordinator at the University of Otago. With degrees in music and marketing, both from Otago, she is passionate about education, and the places it can take you.