University pair head to US for research

LUCY TOWNEND LUCY.TOWNEND@MSL.CO.NZ
Last updated 12:00 02/07/2014
scholars
WARWICK SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ
Star spangled: Thomas Burn, a Massey University Bachelor of Science graduate, and Massey Professor of Vet, Animal and Biomedical Sciences John Cockrem, have both been awarded a Fulbright grant, worth tens of thousands of dollars, to travel to the United States to further their study and research.

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Thomas Burn will be making a big move next month from Palmerston North to Philadelphia to do cancer research.

The 22-year-old is one of 26 university students to scoop tens of thousands of dollars through the Fulbright New Zealand Graduate Student Award scheme, which will take him to America on August 25.

Fulbright has offered exchanges between New Zealand and the United States for more than 65 years, with students, some of whom were alumni of more than one university, having their return airfares, a health plan and programme support paid for.

The grants are based on academic excellence, leadership potential and ambassadorial qualities.

"When I met all the other graduate scholars, it was hugely humbling to be in a room of amazingly qualified and talented people in their respected fields," Burn said.

Burn will spend the next five years in Philadelphia completing a PhD in Immunology, specialising in cancer immunotherapy, at the University of Pennsylvania.

He completed a three-year Bachelor of Science degree at Massey University's Manawatu campus, doing a double major in microbiology and physics.

He then did an honours year specialising in medical science at the University of Auckland under the tutorship of biomedicine expert Dr John Taylor.

Burn also spent four months studying at Cornell University in New York, where he got a taste of tertiary life in America.

"I sort of know the ins and out of studying in the US and how it works, and when I was over there I talked to a lot of PhD students about what to expect," he said.

"It's very full on and very intense and when I was working with undergrads they were supremely dedicated to their study, which you don't find everywhere in New Zealand. In saying that, I was certainly very qualified to be there after doing my first 2 and a years at Massey and I was never out of my depth in terms of the type of work, there was just a lot more of it."

Burn, who wants to be research scientist after completing his PhD, said cancer immunotherapy, or the use of the immune system to treat cancer, appealed to him because of the potential to help people.

"I want to know that something I'm working on could possibly contribute to something in a medical setting that could help someone one day," he said.

"Rather than doing something that's knowledge for knowledge's sake, I want to be contributing to something that could be used in a clinical sense for people."

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Professor's career takes flight

From a school science project studying starlings to travelling the world as an avian expert, Palmerston North professor John Cockrem is heading to the United States for his next career challenge.

Cockrem is one of 12 New Zealand academics awarded tens of thousands of dollars through the Fulbright New Zealand Scholar Award to undertake overseas study.

The avian endocrinologist will move to Missoula in October to research animals' stress responses caused by climate change.

He will be based at the University of Montana for the six-month project where he will write a review into how wild mammals respond to environmental shifts.

It is hoped this will provide conservation managers with a practical method to determine how various species may be affected by change.

"I hope to develop a new way for people to conduct studies to help them predict how a particular group of animals will respond," he said.

"Some animals will be better able to cope with changes than others and if we can predict that, particularly from a conservation situation, we'll be able to identify which populations we may need to put more effort into."

Cockrem is the head of comparative physiology and anatomy at Massey University's Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Science in Palmerston North.

His career passion was sparked by a school science project where he looked into how starlings' breeding was affected by seasonal changes.

- Manawatu Standard

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