Graduating with a degree in biochemistry in the midst of a global pandemic gave Moizle Ocariza a flying start to her career in biotechnology.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the biotechnology company MicroGEM found its virus diagnostic kits in high demand, and its Dunedin-based research lab needed skilled technologists quickly to help fine-tune the chemistry for the kits. Moizle had the right skills at the right time.
During the last year of her biochemistry degree, Moizle was the chief operating officer of the Dunedin branch of Chiasma, an organisation that links students with the science and technology industry. She was asked by Otago Biochemistry to talk at a careers evening for students on behalf of Chiasma.
“My future boss happened to be one of the speakers as well. He opened his talk by asking ‘Who wants a job in molecular cytogenetics?’. I wanted a job and so after the event I told him to ‘expect a CV from me’. Yes, those were my exact words. There was no sweet talking! Fast-forward a week later, and I found myself interviewing for MicroGEM.”
Moizle always knew her path would lead her into science.
“Biology has always fascinated me and since I was little I knew I wanted to be a scientist of some sort.”
She grew up in the Northern Philippines and moved to New Zealand when she was 14, attending a rural school in North Canterbury. “I loved chemistry and biology in high school. They were my best subjects and I always wanted to know more than I needed to.”
A year 13 science camp at Otago University helped her decide where to follow her passion.
“I explored some amazing projects, I got to meet like-minded individuals and so I thought I really could see myself studying at Otago - the beautiful campus is a mere bonus.”
High school Mendelian genetics, and biochemistry’s reputation for being ‘hard’ led Moizle to start university as a genetics student. However, she quickly found out that biochemistry is an accessible subject with patient, enthusiastic teachers, and its ability to explain exactly how life works at the molecular level is addictive.
“I realised I enjoyed biochemistry more, especially its molecular biology aspect. For example, I loved learning about the different proteins involved in wrapping and unwrapping the DNA to turn it off and on, and the molecular mechanisms involved,” Moizle says.
“I wanted to study biochemistry because I am passionate about learning about our innermost workings.”