This week's interview comes from the one of the foremost knowledgeable people in the world of auditory neuroscience. This incredibly well-travelled lecturer serves as an inspiration to aspiring neuroscientists everywhere with his undeniable enthusiasm for his field of work. Read on to find out what shaped him into the academic he is today and his advice for undergraduates.
What is your background? Where did you grow up?
My background is in Medicine and Neuroscience. I grew up in former Yugoslavia, a country in the Balkan peninsula which, after a political turmoil in 1990s, was dissolved into several independent states. I lived in Serbia before migrating to New Zealand with my family. I still have strong connections in Serbia and use every opportunity to visit my friends and family there.
What are your interests outside of university life?
My great passion is travelling and learning about different cultures, and I have visited a large number of interesting countries over many years. I used to play chess as a college student and have soft spot for sports, tennis and basketball in particular. I also enjoy long walks with my lovely and cheerful cocker spaniel Teddy, who is one of the great joys in my life.
What was your education pathway?
I graduated Medicine from the University of Belgrade and received my PhD in Neuroscience at the same University. I had a couple of postdoctoral stints in the USA, including Emory University and Harvard University, before and after I joined the University of Auckland.
What are you working on right now?
My main research interest is in auditory neuroscience. In the last few years, my research focus has been strongly on inner ear therapeutics. Hearing loss is the most common sensory disability, and yet the treatment options are limited to hearing aids and cochlear implants which cannot repair cochlear injury. I strongly believe that the cochlear injury can be ameliorated by pharmacological agents which, if used within a time window, may prevent hearing loss. My current research projects are related to the role of purinergic signalling in cochlear rescue from injury and novel methods of drug delivery to the inner ear.
What drew you to your field of interest? Was there a particular moment you knew that this topic would be your focus?
My family history of hearing loss (my father suffered from Ménière's disease) was the likely trigger of my interest in auditory neuroscience. I made an early decision to forfeit my career in Medicine to pursue research. Choosing a research career over clinical probably contributed to my interest in developing better therapies for hearing loss. I felt strong need to focus on something that will benefit people in the long run.
A paper you have contributed to of which you're most proud?
This must be the paper published in 2010 in Hearing Research, which reported for the first time that post-exposure treatment with adenosine receptor agonists can mitigate cochlear injury and hearing loss in rats exposed to traumatic noise. This seminal paper has opened up a realm of new possibilities of treating cochlear injury with drugs.
If you could give your undergraduate self any advice, what would you tell them?
Listen to your instincts and choose your career based on what you think is best for you. Don’t give up on your dreams and don’t settle for second best.
Our sincere gratitude to Srdjan for graciously agreeing to this interview. If you'd like to see more of him, consider taking Medsci 206, 316, 317, or beyond under-grad in Medsci 739. Email him if you'd be interested in doing a research project with him!
Are you wondering about going further with your BSc in biomedical sciences or going into physiology, aka “the dark side” as some may call it? Well, you have come to the right place! In this post, you’ll learn about the reality of MEDSCI Stage II and III papers, the workload, and some tips on how to succeed and become efficient.
As you progress from Stage I up to Stage III, you will notice that the number of papers available at each Stage increases. This is because as you move up the Stages, the papers that are available become more specific, which helps you learn about your field of interest and what you want to focus on when you hit Stage III or even postgraduate level. In terms of MEDSCI Stage II and III, there are many similarities. But there are a few differences that will be pointed out to you.
For most Stage II MEDSCI papers, the prerequisites will be the standard Stage I papers taken in first year. Thus, there’s no worries about Stage II prerequisites. Once you move onto Stage III MEDSCI papers, all of them will have prerequisites. Prerequisite are requirements, which is often the requirement to complete a certain paper, that must be met in order to take that paper. The prerequisites for Stage III papers are often Stage II papers. Thus, look ahead into the Stage III papers and note down the prerequisites of the papers that you might be interested in taking.
Tip: When planning your degree (i.e. second and third year), start from the end by planning your Stage III papers. That way, you know which Stage II you should be taking.
(2)Course content -
Many Stage II MEDSCI papers build on previous knowledge learned in first year, such as content from MEDSCI 142 and BIOSCI107. For those of you who mastered the content from first year, you may feel that Stage II MEDSCI papers are a breeze in the beginning of the course! However, don’t let yourself get into relaxation mode because lecturers will be adding on new information and it is these new information that will score high during tests and exams (which we will get into later on).
Tip: Do not rote learn; ensure that you understand the concepts and utilise the array of resources made available to you. Lecture recordings, lecture Powerpoints, course guides, lecturers, and recommended textbooks are some of your go to’s.
At Stage III, most lecturers are expecting that students are highly independent learners. Thus, relying solely on what is taught in the lectures will not be sufficient if you are aiming high. Some lecturers may fool you into thinking one concept is very simple by explaining in a very shallow level. But don’t fall for that! Whenever you are curious about one particular word that you’ve never heard of, Google it! If you don’t really understand what the lecturer explained, hit the textbooks!
Tip: If figures are in the course guides or powerpoint, go find the legend from the original source (which will and should be listed), and read the figure legend (i.e. the paragraph underneath the picture). This is the EASIEST and most EFFICIENT method to understand the concept.
The best thing about Stage III papers is that it becomes more specific, thus allowing you to dive deeper into what interests you. It also gives you a great opportunity to build rapport with lecturers, who may be interested in becoming your supervisor if you wish to proceed into postgraduate studies.
Tip: The key to success with MEDSCI Stage II/III is to ensure that you are making lecture notes throughout the lecture as you progress through the semester. Relying solely on course guides or Powerpoints without any notes is not a good idea.
Since we’re on the topic of resources, all MEDSCI papers will provide a course guide free of charge, but this is dependent on whether that particular paper produces physical copies of the course guides. One note about the course guide is that unlike MEDSCI 142, the course guides for MEDSCI Stage II/III are not highly detailed. This is because lecturers assume that you have a basic knowledge and want you to become more self-directed in your learning. Most papers will provide some sort of recording, some only provide voice recordings while other papers provide video + voice recording. Furthermore, technical difficulties are unforeseeable and occurs more often that you’d like, thus go to your lectures!
Tip: Do not buy your textbook! The Philson library will always have many copies of each recommended textbook or even multiple editions. Use the textbook while in the library and get the info you need. An extremely easy method is to search for the key word using the index that is found at the back of the textbook.
(4)Tests & Exams -
In terms of tests and exams, some Stage II/III papers will have one test during the mid-semester period or two tests. The content that will be tested will include all the content taught so far, and in some papers, lab content will be in the test(s). Just like MEDSCI 142, the course content from the entire semester will be examined in the final exams.
Tip: Do not study everything from scratch the night before or two days before the test/exams! Please, plan out your schedule two weeks before a test, and one month before the exams.
(5) Labs & Lab reports -
For most Stage II and III papers, labs will take place every fortnight. Following each lab, you are required to produce a lab report. Depending on the paper, the lab report may be a full report written in a scientific format (i.e. introduction, method, results, discussion, conclusion). In contrast, some papers give out a specific lab report format with a variety of questions that require you to answer in small paragraphs using both laboratory information and further readings from other research or textbooks. You will usually get 2 weeks to complete the lab reports...before your next lab and the cycle repeats.
Tip: Start your lab report early! Spend 1-2 hours a day and slow chip away. Even though each report is worth ~5%, the total contribution from lab reports will add up (e.g. worth 20% of the entire course). So, do your best to get as much % from the lab content to give yourself some leeway for tests and exams.
MEDSCI papers do have a lot of content and it requires a lot of time in understanding the concept. If you are worried about your ability to handle MEDSCI papers, start off easy with 2 MEDSCI papers and then progress into 3 MEDSCI papers the next semester. The recommended number of MEDSCI papers you should take per semester is 3; anymore than this, you might become overwhelm. Start small, and work your way up.
Tip: Stage III MEDSCI papers are NOT restricted to third-year students! As long as you have met the prerequisite of the Stage III MEDSCI paper, you are eligible to enrol, even if you are a second-year student! Look at the example below!
Some Stage III papers can be taken in your second year! For example, the prerequisite for MEDSCI 302 is BIOSCI356 or MEDSCI203. If you have taken MEDSCI 203 in Semester 1, you are eligible to enrol for MEDSCI 302, which is taught in Semester 2. You will be accepted once your MEDSCI203 results come out. Taking a Stage III in your second year will help you lighten the Stage III workload in your third year!
Some last wise words…
A lot of your peers in second or third year will try and scare you or put you off from progressing further into MEDSCI papers. The truth is, if you enjoy learning about it, you won’t feel that it is difficult. The key is to explore your interests early on and look into which field takes your fancy. Talk to lecturers, get perspectives from a range of people, not just one or two people who have had a tough road with MEDSCI papers, and lastly, take everything with a grain of salt!
Just remember, there are numerous students who have graduated from taking these MEDSCI papers. Some have gone further into clinical degrees, while others pursue their interests in scientific research. All you gotta remember is to take one step at a time, don’t get too overwhelmed. If you need help with planning your degree, feel free to pop into the Student Centre in Grafton or email us!
Dr Kim Mellor is an expert in matters of the heart, literally. Her passion for her research is evident in the way she lecturers and leads her lab which you will know if you have had the pleasure of taking Medsci 205, 309, or 311! This interview covers the ins and outs of Dr Mellor's pathway so read on to be inspired.
What is your current position/role?
Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physiology, University of Auckland, New Zealand. I lead the Cellular & Molecular Cardiology group focused on understanding the mechanisms of cardiac dysfunction in settings of diabetes and heart failure.
What is your research background? How did you begin your career in Physiology?
After completing my undergraduate Bachelor of Biomedical Science in Physiology at the University of Otago, NZ, I moved to the University of Melbourne to undertake a BSc(Hons) research year with Prof Lea Delbridge in Physiology. It was in Melbourne where I caught the ‘research bug’ and continued into a PhD in the same laboratory.
What research are you currently involved with?
Since establishing my lab in the Department of Physiology at the University of Auckland in 2013, our research has primarily focused on investigating the mechanisms of heart failure in the hope of identifying new targets of therapeutic value. We have a particular interest in diabetes-associated heart failure – a condition with no specific treatment strategy. Heart abnormalities in diabetic patients are distinctive from those observed in non-diabetes. We have made some new discoveries relating to the process of glucose management in diabetic heart muscle cells and have studies underway addressing new questions about glucose storage and availability in the diabetic heart. Diabetes prevalence has been linked with excess dietary intake of fructose, and our studies suggest that fructose sugar may be a key instigator of heart damage in diabetes. Very little is known about fructose metabolism in heart muscle cells and our studies are examining the intracellular fructose damage pathways and testing novel intervention strategies. Our pre-clinical investigations include assessment of heart function at the ‘whole organ’ and ‘single cell’ level. We link functional outcomes to molecular signalling measurements and use gene manipulation techniques to interrogate the proposed mechanisms.
What is the research direction you would like to take in the next 3-5 years?
I would like to advance our work using cardiac-specific gene manipulation to identify the mechanisms of heart dysfunction. We have great opportunity to interrogate the role of specific molecular pathways in the heart to reveal novel targets for intervention. Our Australia-NZ collaborations are very robust and productive, I would like to see these connections continue and develop over the coming years.
What's the best thing about your lab at the moment?
We have a fantastic group of people in the lab who are engaged with the science and enjoyable to work with. There are always interesting science discussions to be had and new findings to interpret. I feel very privileged to lead this group of committed researchers - to have the opportunity to learn from them, and enable others to learn and grow as scientists.
Which part of research makes it most enjoyable for you?
I love working and interacting with people on a daily basis who are passionate about what they are doing. We have some excellent collaborations and I enjoy working closely with other lab groups. A research career is a lifetime of learning and moving forward with new technologies - it is exciting to think about the possibilities of the future!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
With the recent arrival of my baby girl, Emma, spare time is rather limited! But when it is possible to get away for a long weekend, I enjoy going camping and hiking, and visiting family.
Dr Mellor has been a fantastic contributor and we are thankful for her time! The Cellular and Molecular Cardiology lab has many exciting opportunities for research students so take a look or email Dr Mellor directly!