Fascinated by biochemistry, molecular biology, and psychology, Irene Ballagh was delighted to discover the Neuroscience programme during her second year of study. She remembers thinking "Wow, that’s actually a thing you can do?"
Fortunately, Otago’s flexible degree structure made for a smooth transition to the Neuroscience programme.
"It was easy to switch into," Irene explains. "There's a huge amount of freedom in choosing the courses for your degree... it’s very easy to sort of choose your own adventure."
Tailoring the programme to her own interests wasn’t the only thing that Irene liked about her neuroscience studies. Because, as she says, "Everything you think, everything you do, everything you feel, comes from that 2kg of ugly grey matter inside your skull, and if you start from that premise, it’s hard not to be curious about how that even begins to be possible."
"How do you create a thought from electrical impulses? How do you instruct your muscles to do the amazing feats of skill and dexterity that humans are capable of? We’re a long way off really understanding the answers to these, but every time I sit back and think about what I’m doing, I still love that I get to try to look for answers for questions that are amazing."
Since graduation, Irene's passion for neuroscience has taken her to Columbia University in New York, for her PhD studies. She's now applying for post-doctoral positions to continue her research in the US.
And in the long term?
"Eventually start a lab of my own while teaching at a university," Irene says, "preferably one with an environment like Otago!"