Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The official student newspaper of Methodist Ladies' College, est. 2020

Interviews with Teachers: Dr Rachael Rutkowski (Biology)

Thank you very much for agreeing to participate in this interview— we look forward to your valuable insight! 😊

Why do you think biology should be studied?

I think Biology is worth studying because the living world is fascinating. There is such complexity, diversity, beauty, and awe in the life found on Earth, and new discoveries are highlighting the many ways in which life adapts and thrives. It is a science that encompasses the molecular (how molecules such as DNA and proteins work together to allow for living process) to ecology and evolution (how living things interact with each other and the Earth over the history of the Earth). Much of the diversity and complexity are variations on common themes, but there is still so much more to learn.

What specifically motivated you to study biology? Did you have a role model?

Biology always fascinated me. I was one of those kids who was really into dinosaurs, then the human body, and so on. Once I learnt about genetics and DNA technologies in high school, I was hooked.

By popular request, what was your PhD about? Was it a worthwhile experience?

My PhD was in genetics, molecular biology, and developmental biology. I was studying the genetic pathways that when disrupted, can lead to cancer. Cancer is a group of diseases caused in part by uncontrolled cell division. In normally functioning cells, cell division is carefully controlled, and this control is lost in cancer. My PhD was looking at how these pathways work normally and how loss of control could lead to uncontrolled cell division. In my postdoctoral research (what I did after my PhD), I looked at the genetic pathways that controlled cell death (another thing that becomes deregulated in cancer cells). I enjoyed my PhD. It took almost four years and there were many moments of frustration and disappointment but there is such a sense of achievement when discovering something completely new.

What’s the most exciting thing happening in biology at the moment?

There are many exciting advances and discoveries happening at the moment. Biologists are still finding new species, developing new techniques in molecular biology, and finding ways to analyse large amounts of data; diseases are being researched and new treatments found; ecologists and environmental scientists are working on understanding the impacts of climate change. But one of the amazing things to have happened in the last year or so is how biologists and other scientists have worked tirelessly together to understand and find solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. In less than a year the global effort has allowed for us to know the specific virus, learn how it is transmitted, and amazingly develop several vaccines. To understand the magnitude of this achievement you need to realise that there has never been a successful vaccine to a coronavirus developed before, and there are multiple vaccines being used to save lives right now.

Any final words to aspiring biologists out there?

Biology is a really big field; find the part that speaks to you, the part that intrigues and keeps you wanting to know more. You may be interested in research, in conservation, in working with animals, or plants, or humans, or fungi, or bacteria. Whatever sparks the passion, find people who also share it, as they can be good peers, colleagues, and mentors. Nurture your curiosity or your persistence.

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