Cynthia Turnbull (2014)

Cynthia Turnbull (2014) is another Daramalan College student who chose a challenging but very fulfilling pathway; she is studying Immunology and Genetics. Please learn more about Cynthia’s very important job and the Teachers that encouraged her to pursue a career in Science.      


How has Daramalan influenced your life?       

Daramalan helped me to grow into the person I am today. Learning lots of different school subjects while also making friends and being involved in non-academic activities like community service and leadership roles, taught me what kind of a person I was. Looking back, I feel like I left Daramalan knowing my strengths and weakness and had a rough idea of how I might be able to use my strengths to find a job I enjoyed. Mainly, Daramalan left me curious to discover more about the world and find my place there.    


You mentioned that you chose your career while at Daramalan; who was your favourite Teacher then?     

Mrs Singh (Chemistry) and Mrs Wunsch (Biology). Mrs Singh and Mrs Wunsch encouraged me to explore the nature of the world through Biology and Chemistry. Their classes initiated a deep passion for science which has only grown since Daramalan and helps me daily to pursue a scientific career, which can be challenging and full of ups and down. I honestly think I would not have become an Immunologist without their classes. I owe them both so much.   


What are you doing now, or what did you do after school?  

In 2019 I started a PhD at John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR), Australian National University (ANU), after completing a Bachelor of Science Honours. My PhD was part of the Centre of Personalised Immunology (CPI), which identifies the genetic mutations responsible for the development of autoimmune disease, i.e. when the immune system attacks the healthy cells and tissues in the body. I learnt a lot from my supervisor Professor Carola Vinuesa who is a leader in the fields of autoimmunity and genetics but also an incredibly supportive and kind person with a strong sense of justice. In fact, during the last 2 years of my PhD, she contributed to the discovery of new scientific evidence which led to the pardon and release of Kathleen Folbigg. Under Carola’s guidance, I worked on a patient with a severe form of autoimmunity and discovered a new regulator or “remote control” of the immune system, which we believe can turn the immune system on and off. This was really exciting because many diseases are caused by some kind of imbalance to the immune system. For example, under-activation of the immune system enables the spread of cancers and infections (e.g. Covid-19) within the body, while over-activation results in autoimmune diseases (e.g. Type 1 diabetes and eczema). We are very eager to publish this discovery and hope it can be used one day to modulate the immune system and treat many different kinds of diseases. Since submitting my PhD thesis in March this year, I have also been working as a Research Associate in another Immunology research lab at JCSMR. This lab is run by Associate Professor Anne Bruestle and is trying to understand how immune cells contribute to Multiple Sclerosis, a damaging autoimmune disease which targets the central nervous system. It is really thrilling to work in a different research lab as a young Immunologist instead of a student, and I am eager to see what the future holds. 


What are you most proud of in your life?     

I am most proud of the work I have done during my PhD. I really hope it will enable more discoveries into the regulators of the immune system and help us to improve the way we treat many diseases especially autoimmunity and cancer.  


What is your advice for current students?       

Try to understand the world, your place in it and what excites you about it…your passion. Once you find that passion, go for it. Don’t be afraid of failing because people fail all the time, the biggest failure is giving up before you have even tried.  


What is your idea of perfect happiness?   

Succeeding at what you love doing and finding people to share that happiness with.     


Which talent would you most like to have?       

Coordination. I am a classic nerd, so having good hand-eye coordination for dancing or playing sports would be a fun change!    


Who is your hero/heroes?     

David Bowie has been a hero of mine for a long time now. His creativity and need to try new things inspires me a lot. Plus, his songs are great for late nights in the lab! Elon Musk has also become a source of inspiration. I know he is controversial but his drive to help humanity through his companies and many scientific advances, e.g. in electric vehicles, engineering and space technology, is unparalleled. Lastly, I have to mention my PhD supervisor Professor Carola Vinuesa. Carola was at the forefront of personalised medicine for the treatment of autoimmune diseases and has improved the lives of countless patients. Her kindness, integrity and passion for science is very inspiring. I am so happy I got to be part of her research team.   

Posted By , 03 Aug 2023

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