Outstanding students gain Woolf Fisher Scholarships

Three outstanding young New Zealanders with the potential to be leaders in their field have each been awarded a Woolf Fisher Scholarship at Cambridge to study at the University of Cambridge.  These scholarships are offered annually by the Woolf Fisher Trust and supported by the Cambridge Trust.

The 2019 scholars are Gabrielle Budd, aged 24, a studying medicine at the University of Otago; Sam Frengley, aged 21, a Bachelor of Science (Hons) student at the University of Canterbury; and Stephanie McGimpsey, aged 25, a graduate of the University of Canterbury currently studying a Master of Science at the University of Otago.

The estimated value of each Woolf Fisher Scholarship, which covers the study and living costs at Cambridge, is about $300,000—making it one of the most generous scholarships available to New Zealand students.

Gabrielle Budd, who is completing her MBChB at the University of Otago, aims to become a world leader in medical research, starting with her plans to complete a PhD in Biological Science at the University of Cambridge's Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

Gabrielle grew up on a beef farm in North Canterbury and attended Rangiora High School.  “I was always going to become a scientist…I admire the way a scientist needs to think, to design experiments in order to isolate cause and effect, to keep pushing the boundaries of the familiar and unknown,” says Gabrielle. “I chose medicine because of its demonstrable relevance to myself and others around me…medical science has tangible effects on real people.”

While still a student, Gabrielle has spent much of her spare time to using her skills to help others, including working with teens and young adults with special needs through Recreate NZ, through the Coastguard and as a first responder with the St John Ambulance service. While in Hanmer Springs on her rural placement as a GP trainee, Gabrielle also helped restart the volunteer ambulance service in the town, training volunteers and acting as lead ambulance officer most nights.

While she loves clinical medicine, Gabrielle would prefer for now to leave behind the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and work towards creating new treatments and technologies to help patients. “I have always been fascinated by the human immune system, and in the perpetual arms race between humans and microbial pathogens,” she says. “The MRC Laboratory at the University of Cambridge produces leading research in cell autonomous immunity and innate defences against bacterial infection…Infectious disease and immunity is a field I plan to continue to study after my doctorate has been completed, as a scientist and a clinician.”

Sam Frengley is completing his BSc (Hons) at the University of Canterbury, with his honours project focusing on the arithmetic of elliptic curves.  In his first year at the University of Cambridge he will attend lectures in   Part III of the Mathematical Tripos, reputed to be one of the hardest examinations in the world.  He will need to pass with distinction  to gain admission to the 3-year Mathematics PhD programme.  His interest is in number theory, a vast and fascinating field of mathematics which studies the properties of whole numbers.  Because of the great difficulty in proving simple results, it has been called “the queen of mathematics”.

Sam’s interest in scientific research is longstanding. While at St Peter’s School in Cambridge NZ, he took part in the NZ Young Physicists Tournament, Auckland University Engineering Scientist Competition (he was in the top ten), Science Fair, Waikato Analytical Chemistry, and Chemistry Olympiad (in which he came 5th). He pushed himself at university, entering straight into second year courses in chemistry, physics and maths and looks set to graduate with Honours after only three years. He has also won many prizes including the UC Mathematics and Statistics Scholarship (twice), the UC Mathematics Page Memorial Prize, and the UC Senior Scholarship.

The chance for an active sporting and outdoor life, including tennis, tramping, skiing and cricket was part of Sam’s reason for studying in the South Island—and part of the attraction of studying at Cambridge.

Last year Sam started tutoring fellow students at Rochester and Rutherford Hall. “I must admit that I was slightly surprised t find teaching to be both fulfilling and fun…I find the challenge of personalising the way I communicate maths particularly rewarding, and I know it has helped me improve my own understanding…After completing a doctoral degree it is my dream to return to a New Zealand university and be a part of our mathematical community, and teaching is an integral part of that.”

Stephanie McGimpsey is studying a Master of Science in biochemistry at the University of Otago, after having completed her bachelor’s degree and a postgraduate diploma in biological sciences at the University of Canterbury. She plans to do a PhD in bioinformatics at the University of Cambridge.  She will carry out her research at the Wellcome Sanger Institute,  a world - leading bioinformatics centre on the outskirts of Cambridge.

Bioinformatics is a unique intersection between maths, computer science and biology that uses algorithms to find patterns or behaviours in biology that could take years of lab work or manual checking to work out.

Stephanie’s move into this field happened almost by chance, as she decided to add mathematics to her subject list in her second year of biology study. Stephanie went on to join in two summers of bioinformatics research as part of a summer scholarship programme. “…this was when I realised how much I loved bioinformatics research. You build up a maths and coding skill set that an be applied to any type of biological problem. One day you could be helping annotate a genome sequence, the next you could be looking for disease-causing variants in a gene, or designing your own molecules,” she says.

“This variety is one of the things I love most about it. The other is the computer coding. It’s like solving hundreds of tiny puzzles that all add up to help you solve your overall problem or question. You are constantly learning to do different processes better or faster…I know I was incredibly lucky to find something I want to do for the rest of my life at such a young age.”

Another passion Stephanie holds dear is Irish dancing, which has taken her all over the world to compete in competitions. “It’s taught me a lot of valuable lessons and skills that are important for everyday life. You must be confident, work hard and play to your strengths to get what you want. A competitive drive is important to help keep you motivated but with it you need humility and integrity, especially when you face defeat…Of all the things I’ve achieved with dancing, the thing I’m most proud of is that I never gave up until I was ready to retire, even when the going was tough.

“That’s pretty much how I want to live my life, giving it 100% so I can follow my dreams and never have any regrets.”

Universities New Zealand acknowledged the work of the Woolf Fisher Trust, and their investment in young New Zealanders and in academic research and innovation.

Sir Woolf Fisher (1912-1975), co-founder of Fisher and Paykel, set up his Trust in 1960 to recognise and reward excellence in education. The Scholarship selects young New Zealanders based on their outstanding academic ability, leadership potential as well as their integrity, vision and capacity for work.

Universities New Zealand administers around 40 nationally available school-leaver and postgraduate awards, worth nearly $2 million a year.

The closing date for the next round of applications is 1 August 2019. Details are available on Universities New Zealand’s website.

Sir Woolf Fisher

Sir Woolf Fisher