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Interviews with Scientists: Natalie Guthrie

Interviews with Scientists: Natalie Guthrie
By Sam Roome 7 months ago 1961 Views No comments

Next in our Interviews with Scientists series, we had the pleasure of speaking to Natalie Guthrie, a first year PhD student at the University of Wollongong, Australia, supervised by Dr Lezanne Ooi and Dr Claire Stevens.

Prior to her PhD, Natalie completed a Bachelor of Medical Biotechnology Advanced (Hons I) at UOW straight after leaving Warilla high school. She grew up in the local area of Illawarra, and absolutely loves she now gets to study near her hometown of Shelharbour.

Natalie is a the recipient of the Magnified Justin Yerbury Travel Scholarship which we had the pleasure of sponsoring as part of our support for Magnified, a science art exhibition organised by the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI), in association with the School of Arts, English and Media at the University of Wollongong, Australia.

Great to speak to you Natalie! Firstly, what is your PHD about?

My research is focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms of amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or motor neuron disease. Specifically, I am looking at proteins that are commonly found to be abnormal in other neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia, and studying what they are doing in ALS. I do this through a variety of methods, which include but aren’t limited to, examining post-mortem sections from the human brain and spinal cord and utilizing an iPSC-derived or stem cell derived neuron model in a dish.

Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and why?

I have always had a natural curiosity about how the world and in particular how the body works, but I wasn’t always interested in science. It wasn’t until I had a couple of really passionate science teachers in the later years of high school that I developed a real interest in the subject, and ever since then I have had a passion and determination driving me towards becoming a world leading researcher in my field.

What are you enjoying most about your PhD?

For the most part, what I enjoy the most about doing a PhD is learning. I love that every day is different depending on the problem I am trying to solve or the question I am trying to answer. In addition, I love the people I work with. I am so fortunate to be not only in a supportive lab group but institution as well.

What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing life scientists and their work?

I believe one of the biggest barriers facing modern scientists is communication with the wider populous. As scientists, I fear we become so caught up in trying to answer our questions that we forget the importance of the community. It will always be hard to achieve not only funding, but support if the wider community does not understand the importance of our research. I believe that science communication and more openness between the scientific and non-scientific communities is needed.

What advice would you give to someone just starting their PhD?

Only being in the first year myself, I feel like I have a long way to go. However, what I have learnt in my first year is resilience and determination. Science and PhDs rarely go to plan, so be determined and do not let setbacks discourage you from achieving your goals.

What are you going to use your Magnified Justin Yerbury Travel Scholarship for?

I will be using the scholarship to attend the International ALS symposium in Glasgow. This is such an amazing and exciting opportunity for me, as it will grant me wider exposure to current ALS research by leading academics in the field. This will be crucial for perfecting my scientific method and will grant me a new perspective towards my PhD. Furthermore, attending this symposium will allow me to network, which will enable me to collaborate with researchers at home and abroad during my PhD project.

What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?

A typical day in the lab for me involves maintaining my stem cell-derived neuron cultures and analysing or performing immunostaining on my cells or human post mortem samples.

Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing?

Though I spend most of my weekdays and some weekends in the lab, I do enjoy a fairly quiet lifestyle. Nothing is better than coming home and snuggling up with a good book or my latest Netflix binge. Though a drink or two with friends at the bar after a long week is always very therapeutic and enjoyable as well.

If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing?

If I wasn’t a scientist, I think I would be a teacher. I have always enjoyed learning but I also thoroughly enjoy teaching as well. A lot of my work outside my PhD has been in mentoring programs which are both science and non-science related. I have always got a vast amount of enjoyment out of it. There is something about helping students understand a difficult concept, or figuring out what a student’s career goals or passions are that I find really rewarding and fulfilling.

What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?

I have always found the brain interesting but I am particularly passionate about understanding neurodegeneration. Neurodegeneration is often associated with age, which is something that is inevitable as much as we try otherwise. I am fortunate to be a scientist in a time where the field is making major breakthroughs in our understanding towards neurodegenerative diseases. The thought of getting closer to understanding the molecular intricacies of these diseases and being able to generate therapeutics to help patients with these diseases is what gets me the most excited.

Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?

I personally find it hard to isolate particular individuals as there a lot of women in the field that I admire, particularly those at my institute. To have women who are not only successful and making an impact in their chosen fields, but also juggling young families and their lab groups has a really positive impact on young female scientists like myself. They have taught me that as long as you are dedicated enough and have a passion for what you study, you can face anything that is thrown at you.

What’s your favourite science joke?

I am very much a fan of a good cheesy science pick up line or pun, so I think they are all wonderful.

Here are a couple of my favourites...

Are you a carbon sample? Because I want to date you.

You must be a neuron, because you got some action potential.

I want to be adenine just so I can be paired with U.

What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?

I find it hard to pinpoint the greatest scientific discovery of all time, as there have been so many crucial discoveries over the decades. I believe everything from the structure of DNA to the discovery of penicillin are of equal importance, as whether or not they have a direct impact on a disease or treatment, every scientific discovery contributes to science as a whole.

Somewhere out there a young student will hear about a scientific discovery and it will inspire a passion for science, or a researcher will hear of a discovery which will inspire their work or the method in which they approach their problem. That’s why I believe every scientific discovery is of equal importance.


Thank you so much Natalie! Congratulations on your scholarship, and best of luck with your PhD from all of us at Hello Bio.

You can connect with Natalie on Twitter @NeuronalNat


Additional resources for early career life scientists

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