Student awarded Freemasons scholarship for thesis on kiwifruit

Sean Boult, left, with Freemasons grand master Mark Winger, holding the subject of Boult's thesis.
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Sean Boult, left, with Freemasons grand master Mark Winger, holding the subject of Boult's thesis.

Doctors told Sean Boult to drop out of university to focus on getting well. Four years later, he's glad he ignored their advice.

The 23-year-old is on the home stretch of completing a Master of Science degree and has just been awarded a $10,000 scholarship to complete his thesis.

Diagnosed with Crohn's disease in the early stage of his bachelor degree, despite losing 20 kilograms in six weeks, Boult said he was "too stubborn" to drop out from Otago University.

In one semester, he attended just six lectures and taught himself the rest of the material.

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Originally from Beach Haven on Auckland's North Shore, he said his time-management skills have helped him gain the Freemason's Scholarship while also keeping up volunteer work across multiple platforms.

"It was the time-management skills I learned through my illness. I'd have good days few and far between … I had to get stuff done on those days," Boult said.

"It was one of the few benefits I got out of being sick."

Boult said it was hard dealing with a diagnosis away from home and that inspired him to help out in the halls of residence helping residential assistants and first-year students.

He said the $10,000 scholarship would help him complete his 17,000 word thesis, all about kiwifruit and the pathogens that infect it, in particular a pathogen called PSA, which affected the $1.45 billion kiwifruit industry in 2010.

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His thesis worked at understanding how the pathogens find and infect host kiwifruit plants.

"When I was looking at projects, I was interested in something that was relevant to New Zealand. At the time this stood out to me," Boult said.

He said the thesis had been a learning curve as he knew very little about the pathogen before he started.

Boult hoped, once his work was combined with the work of others looking at the same thing, it will increase understanding of the pathogen.

But Boult hadn't always been interested in the furry fruit or even biochemistry, originally travelling to Dunedin to study dentistry.

"I lasted a day before I realised biochemistry is what I wanted to do."

He said the scholarship would also allow him to pursue the volunteer work he has been doing.

He had worked at Camp Quality for children battling cancer, and had done conservation work around tracks in the area among other things.

Throughout his history of helping out, a theme has emerged that many organisations are desperate for young men to get involved, Boult said.

More than $200,000 worth of Freemasons scholarship were announced on May 10 and awarded to nine postgraduate students and 20 university students from around the country.

Freemasons grand master Mark Winger said the scholarship programme was in its 39th year and recognised scholastic achievement as well as involvement in the community.

Following his masters, Boult wants to intern at the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for development before pursuing a master's in bioethics, a PhD and a career in the policy side of science.

 - Stuff

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