Hayden Selvadurai, MSc graduate
From writing for student newspaper Critic to DJ-ing for Radio One; from student politics to directing the capping show: it's a wonder Hayden Selvadurai has had time for study at all.
But alongside these extracurricular activities, Hayden found time to complete a double degree in genetics and marketing, and a cutting-edge master's degree investigating the genetic basis of cancer.
"I'd found cancer genetics one of the most interesting subjects when studying for my BSc," notes Hayden. "So when funding became available to do my MSc in this area, I leapt at the chance."
Hayden's work involved a new method for identifying cancer stem cells, which recent research has suggested may be responsible for initiating and sustaining the disease.
"This may explain why tumours can recur following treatments such as chemotherapy," he explains. "These therapies target and destroy the out-of-control cancer cells, but not necessarily the stem cells responsible for causing the cancer in the first place. If the theory is correct, it could change the approach we take to treating cancer."
Now Hayden is looking to a future full of opportunities.
"I'm considering doing a PhD in the UK and then I could either get into research or perhaps work in a biotech firm. And I'm also interested in communication issues around science—showing the public how funding for scientific research can make positive differences."
Cameron Craigie, BCom BSc(Hons) graduate
Cameron Craigie decided to keep his options open by majoring in Genetics and Business Management—a combination that was quite unique in 2002.
It soon proved to be wise decision, for after graduating, Cameron walked straight into a summer job at a Dunedin-based biotech company focusing on the economic values of livestock traits. Cameron soon found that despite his work not being directly related to the genetics curriculum, he had learnt the important skill of adopting a dynamic approach to problem solving—skills he attributes to his year spent in the genetics honours programme.
"Taking responsibility for your own work in the fourth year, you find yourself facing and solving problems under time constraints—just like in the real world."
Despite having completed his genetics honours degree, Cameron still had 3 semesters left to complete his BCom so he opted to partake in the exchange programme run by the University of Otago.
"This was one of the highlights of my studies, I was able to spend a year studying as well as fitting in some sightseeing in Europe—the perfect reward for getting a first class honours degree in genetics!
"I have found that my genetics degree is the main advantage in securing jobs because many organisations appreciate having someone on their team who understands both the science and business facets of a project."
Since graduating, Cameron has been working in Edinburgh both in research and for the Scottish meat industry as an R&D project manager, and is now doing an industry-funded PhD on value-based marketing of Scotch beef and lamb. An important part of Cameron's research is focused on the meat quality aspect of lamb produced using novel breeding systems.
"The combination of a BSC(Hons) and a BCom has opened many doors. I have also discovered that as a graduate of Otago my qualifications are held in high esteem in the UK, which just goes to prove that I made the right decision to study genetics at Otago."
Nicki Sherratt, MSc graduate
"The skills I gained whilst studying in the Genetics Programme can be applied in a number of research fields.
"Whilst studying genetics, I discovered an interest in how genetic techniques can be applied to medical research. After graduating with my master's degree , I found that the general overview of genetics and the skills I gained whilst studying could be applied to a number of research fields.
"I now work as a Research Assistant at the University of Melbourne. We use mouse models of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's to look at the effect of various drugs on disease. We make use of a transgenic mouse model, which carries genes mutated in human Alzheimer's disease and which exhibit a disease pathology similar to that observed in humans. Following drug administration, the animals are studied using behavioural analysis, such as memory tests. This is followed by analysis of protein expression in the brain and observation of brain pathology, to determine if these have been improved with drug treatment."
Charlie Goldsmith - Hons graduate
"The communication skills I learned throughout the course of my genetics degree have been paramount
when dealing with clients.
After completing my Honours Degree, majoring in Genetics, I began working as a Customer Service Consultant for Pfizer Animal Genetics, a branch of Pfizer which provides genetic testing for sheep and cattle. In this role I deal with customer enquiries regarding our DNA testing on a daily basis. The communication skills I learned throughout the course of my genetics degree, especially in the final two years as I moved through the honours course, have been paramount in dealing with those clients whose genetics knowledge can be very basic.
My day to day routine, in short, is to log samples submitted by farmers and then report the results back, following testing at the lab. In addition to this I provide support to farmers who are making breeding and selection decisions by explaining the meaning of their results and answering any further questions they may have, mainly over the phone. I also plan and attend a number of events, out of the office, to maintain a face to face relationship with our clients. These trips out of the office and dealing face to face with clients interested in genetics are the highlight of my job. New Zealand farmers are innovators and it is interesting to hear the ways they are implementing genetics on their farm to increase production – for me it really bridges the gap between what I learnt in a classroom and how to integrate it into real life.
Recently my responsibilities have extended to performing the analysis for our parentage product which is used to assign new animals parents through DNA and Management Information. This analysis can be quite complex and requires a good grasp of population genetics to understand the results and how best to manipulate the data to give the most accurate result, skills I learned through my Population Genetics papers at Otago. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Otago both in and out of the classroom and found all the Genetics papers have been of some help in my current position with Pfizer, from dealing with technical questions behind testing, right through to inheritance patterns and explaining these aspects to an individual in a manner that is easily understandable."