Lucy Sulzberger

Photo credit: Stephen A’Court. COPYRIGHT ©Stephen A’Court

Age: 23


What are you studying and what year?
Fifth year Medicine


At what university are you studying?
Otago University – Wellington Campus


When were you at the GMRI?
I undertook research at the GMRI working towards a BMedSc(Hons) degree in 2014 and summer studentships in the summer of 2012/13 and 2014/15.


What are your career aspirations?
I am training to be a doctor, however, at this early stage I cannot say for sure what field of medicine I would like to end up in! What I know for sure is that I want to have a meaningful career making a tangible contribution to the advancement of healthcare. I hope to be involved in both clinical medicine and research and ultimately would like to make a contribution through a management or policy level position.


Why did you decide to do a studentship at the GMRI?
The work conducted by the team at the GMRI is well grounded in current issues facing the health of New Zealanders and is well respected throughout the research world. The opportunity to work amongst a group which is both so passionate and knowledgeable was one I knew I could not pass by. Dr Swee Tan is not only incredibly well regarded for his dedication and amazing work, he is also a humble, passionate teacher who truly believes in the potential of young people. I knew a studentship at an independent research facility like the GMRI would be so different to one offered through a university and would mean more focus on meaningful, novel research and allow me to direct my own line of questioning.
What research were you involved in during your studentship at the GMRI?
My research focused primarily on the role that stem cells play within strawberry birthmark by looking at the activity of a family of transcription factors within the various stages of this vascular tumour. I also cultured strawberry birthmark tissue and looked at how the stem cells it contains can be differentiated into blood cells.


What’s the most important thing you have learned while you were at the GMRI?
The importance of communication between the clinical medicine and medical research bodies. Through tutorship under Dr Swee Tan, who is actively involved in both these fields, I now appreciate that these two bodies ought to be in constant communication and collaboration with one another. Medical research is about so much more than chasing knowledge for knowledge’s sake. It is essential that the questions asked in the laboratory are directly inspired by the challenges faced in the clinical setting. Without a thorough understanding of the effects of disease on a patient, researchers can lose sight of the “bigger picture” and the ultimate aim of reducing human suffering.


What’s the thing you liked most about your studentship at the GMRI?
The GMRI was such a unique learning environment. We were really encouraged to step up to the challenge of directing our own research – under supervision of course! I learnt so much and developed planning and critical thinking skills because I was encouraged to be proactive about my project.


What’s the most exciting thing you have done/been involved with during your studentship?
It is so exciting and rewarding when new discoveries are made in the research environment. The opportunity to do research that is directly related to health was so amazing. For me, to grow human red blood cells in a laboratory setting was so exciting and something that kept me so motivated through all the ups and downs of the research journey.


Would you recommend the studentship at the GMRI to other students? If so, why?
Absolutely! A studentship at the GMRI is such an incredible learning experience that cannot be gained in another setting. It is a great opportunity to conduct research and learn about a different side of medicine. Not only is this an incredible personal experience and a chance to work towards a publication, it is also an opportunity to make a tangible contribution to the current understanding of common diseases and ultimately the people they affect.


What has your practical experience at the GMRI taught you that university can’t, or hasn’t?
Very few medical students get the opportunity to conduct hands-on and cutting edge medical research. World class resources in the GMRI laboratory allow a far greater efficiency of research, meaning that in the just 10 weeks of a studentship a significant amount of new data can be gathered and analysed.
Working in a team research environment with researchers who are experts in their field really helped me to develop an understanding of the different facets of medical research and how they all link together. It is important to develop the skills of prioritising what questions should be asked, how investigations should be conducted and where meaningful answers are likely to be found.


How do you think the studentship at the GMRI will help your career development?
Medicine is an increasingly competitive field and the average achievements of a medical graduate only continue to grow. To set oneself apart is a real challenge and experience in research, publications and presentations is an excellent way to demonstrate not only academic success but also a true dedication to the advancement of healthcare, and ultimately, improved patient outcomes.
Currently I am working towards publication with the data gathered during my time at the GMRI. I have also had the privilege of presenting my work at two academic conferences with the very generous support of the GMRI. This is an opportunity that I quite simply would not have gained elsewhere. There are few research environments that really empower researchers who are so early in their career – but the GMRI is one of those. I believe that my exposure to the world of medical research will make me a better health professional. My research skills have developed beyond belief, but more than that, I have developed as a team member and a critical thinker which puts me in great stead as I enter my clinical training.


What have you achieved since you completed the studentship at the GMRI?
I have been awarded a BMedSc(Hons) degree by the University of Otago in 2015 and submitted a paper on my work on the expression of phosphorylated forms of STAT1, STAT3 and STAT5 in strawberry birthmarks for publication in an international medical journal.



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