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PhD GownTuesday 9 October 2012 9:56am

Joseph Donnelly
Joseph Donnelly

A top Otago medical student has gained a prestigious Woolf Fisher Scholarship to support Cambridge University PhD study on blood flow regulation in brain-injured patients.

Joseph Donnelly, who is in his trainee intern year of medicine at Otago, was one of three recipients nationally to gain a 2013 Woolf Fisher Scholarship. With an annual value of around $100,000, the four-year scholarship includes full college and university fees, a living allowance and annual return airfares.

The scholarship recognises outstanding academic ability and the other qualities which Fisher & Paykel co-founder Sir Woolf Fisher most admired – integrity, leadership, boldness of vision and exceptional zeal, keenness and capacity for work.

Joseph's PhD will be supervised by Dr Marek Czosnyka, a clinical reader in the emerging field of brain physics at Cambridge's world-renowned Department of Clinical Neurosciences. His project will investigate the brain's control of its blood flow, known as “cerebral autoregulation”, in brain-injured patients. Cerebral autoregulation is often impaired in such patients, leading to serious secondary injury separate to the effects of the initial trauma.

Joseph aims to determine whether cerebral autoregulation tests could be used as new tools to achieve more accurate prognoses and improved treatment.

He says being awarded the scholarship and the opportunity it brings to study with world-leading researchers at Cambridge is very exciting for him.

“I hope that using the skills and knowledge gained during my PhD study, I will be able to come back and make meaningful contributions to health research in New Zealand.”

He will commence his Cambridge studies in October of next year.

In 2011, Joseph was named the top 5th-year medical student at the Dunedin School of Medicine and was also awarded the School's John Parr Prize in Ophthalmology as the top medical student in this discipline.

Besides excelling in his medical studies, he has also started to forge a promising research career in physiology. He has already chalked up 12 peer-reviewed publications, including seven as a co-author of journal articles. Earlier this year Joseph was part of an Otago contingent in a five-week international research expedition to Mt Everest that studied the effects of high-altitude on the body.

He was also a member of a similar Otago-led expedition to the mountain in 2008. His research has been presented at local, national, and international meetings and symposia.

Music is another of Joseph's passions and he has pursued the life of a professional woodwind musician since his secondary school years at Dunedin's Kavanagh College.

Alongside his medical studies he has earned a Diploma in Music from Otago, winning the 2009 Simon Gibson Memorial Prize for top instrumental music performance student, and has also worked as a bassoon tutor in the University's Department of Music. Joseph is the Principal Bassoonist in the Southern Sinfonia, was a member of the National Youth Orchestra and has performed solo and chamber music recitals around New Zealand.

He is also a keen runner, tramper, mountaineer and rock climber and has spent many weekends and summer holidays exploring the wilderness of the Southern Alps, particularly in Mt Aspiring National Park.

Joseph says the whole process of applying for the scholarship was quite involved; requiring personal statements, academic and personal referees, and being interviewed in Auckland by the Woolf Fisher trustees, each one of whom is a leading member of society.

“So to come out the other end with one of these scholarships is a very rewarding feeling.”

He also says he is very grateful to have received a lot of support and guidance from friends and family, as well as from mentors in the University's Departments of Physiology and Music and within the Dunedin School of Medicine.

About The Woolf Fisher Scholarship

The Woolf Fisher Scholarships were established in 2003 by the Woolf Fisher Trust and are now also supported by the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust. Up to three scholarships are awarded each year to outstanding New Zealand graduate students for doctoral study at Cambridge University. The main objective of the Trust is that Woolf Fisher Scholars will become leaders in their fields and during their careers make a significant contribution to New Zealand.

The other 2013 recipients were Daniel Fitzpatrick, a chemical engineer from the University of Auckland, and Katrina de Lange, a bioinformatics student from the University of Waikato. They will all commence a four-year research programme for their doctorates in October 2013.

Contact details for more information

Simon Ancell
Communications Adviser
Tel 03 479 5016

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