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North Shore Mäori scientist Dr Chris Rodley travelled a long way to pick up his PhD at the first of six Massey University graduation ceremonies in Takapuna on Tuesday.
The young molecular biologist flew from Europe, where he works as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Geneva doing cancer cell research. He was one of 12 scientists to receive doctoral degrees at Tuesday morning’s ceremony for the College of Sciences, and among 32 students to graduate with doctoral degrees from the Albany campus this year.
Since finishing his doctorate at the end of last year he has been living in a tiny village in the French Alps with this French conservation biologist fiancée, and commuting one hour by bus daily across the border to Switzerland to the University of Geneva’s Department of Cellular Biology. He is the only English speaker among a team of 12 international researchers. The team is investigating the behaviour of cervical cancer cells to better understand the disease mechanisms.
“I’m working on a new type of cellular processing which the researchers discovered before I arrived. I’m learning a lot of new techniques as well as using all the skills I picked up during my PhD,” Dr Rodley (Ngati Koata) says.
His PhD focussed on studying DNA to DNA interactions. He investigated the mechanisms of gene interaction and expression, with a view to the implications for disease development and treatment.
Dr Rodley’s stellar academic career is a far cry from his days as a teenager who left Long Bay College aged 16, with no qualifications. “I got in with the wrong crowd. I was bored,” he said when he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biosciences with First Class Honours in 2008.
But his lifelong fascination with science, especially genetics, always remained with him. After a spell of apple picking in the South Island and then several years as a bank teller in Auckland, restlessness and boredom compelled him to pursue his dream of becoming a medical researcher. Encouragement from one of his former schoolteachers also helped to spur him on, he says.
He enrolled, aged 20, as an adult student, and found his first year “quite a struggle”.
“I had to do a lot of independent study to fill in the gaps in my knowledge base. “I made a lot of sacrifices to do well. I didn’t have much of a social life – I had to study ten to 12 hours a day.”
The hard work and dedication paid off. Mr Rodley was named top Maori student for 2007, and was awarded a Purehuroa Maori Postgraduate Award in 2007 for excellence and achievement. He also won a Health Research Council of New Zealand Mäori PhD scholarship worth $105,000 for three years.
One of the highlights of his time at Massey was being a finalist in the MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year competition, as well as publishing three papers in international journals, which he says helped him obtain his current position. “I really love science and asking questions that have never been asked before,” he says.
Dr Rodley, who will marry his fiancée later this year in France, says he hopes to return to New Zealand when his three-year stint in Geneva is over. While finding work as a medical researcher is on the cards, he is also considering applying his skills in other areas, such as health care-related management, education or communication. He was among 220 students to graduate from the College of Sciences.
Guest speaker Ian Williams – a Massey graduate and co-founder of WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery – told graduates to follow their dreams, do what they are passionate about, to believe in themselves and to be persistent in pursuing their goals.
“A degree from Massey indicates you have a breadth of talent and ability, so I challenge you to believe that any dream could be yours, as long as it truly resonates within you.”
He urged graduates not to be afraid to use their scientific knowledge to start businesses. “New Zealand needs scientists like you to help us grow as a nation. It’s not billion dollar companies we need necessarily, but new ideas spawning small-to-medium sized businesses. It is these smaller companies that drive all economies.”
Check out our Graduation Live website and share this link with anyone who wants to watch live. http://www.massey.ac.nz/?gad941633y?37D28666-9789-4283-AD94-332B129F6B1F