CHOOSEMATHS Grant recipient profile: Marina Masioti

CHOOSEMATHS Grant recipient profile: Marina Masioti

Georgie Samaha

The University of Sydney

Georgina is currently a PhD candidate at The University of Sydney. Using next generation sequencing technologies and genomics, she is creating tools for the conservation of threatened species and management of inherited genetic diseases within domestic and wild felid populations. In her research, she has applied genome-based strategies to two scenarios affecting feline health. The first of which is revealing the genetic mechanisms underlying feline diabetes mellitus in domestic cats, which serve as a novel disease model for type 2 diabetes in humans. The second scenario is directed toward the conservation and genetic disorder management of four species of wild felids that are listed as either threatened or endangered.

Can you give me a quick overview of the type of mathematics you are studying and its potential impacts for the broader community

I am applying genome-based strategies to two scenarios affecting feline health. I’m using statistical genetics to expose the inherited factors that underlie diabetes, a complex disease, in domestic cats. The domestic cat serves as a useful animal model for type 2 diabetes in humans. I’m also applying mathematical genetics and computational biology to the development of a conservation management tool for threatened and endangered wild felid species. We’re using statistical modelling to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms in four species of felids and develop a variant database and genotyping assay.

How important was receiving a CHOOSEMATHS grant in terms of your ability to attend and fully participate in the AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017 sessions throughout the week?

I’m very grateful for being a recipient of the CHOOSEMATHS Grant in attending AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017. Being reimbursed for the costs of my registration, flights from Sydney to Melbourne and my accommodation for the week will be helpful to me as a PhD student. As a PhD student on a fixed scholarship, living week to week, I don’t always have access to the money required for the costs associated attending events such as this.

How important are initiatives such as the CHOOSEMATHS Grants in terms of fostering the participation and achievement of women in mathematics, particularly in terms of access to networking opportunities and further training opportunities?

I welcome the opportunity to benefit from the effort to overcome the cultural and organisational factors that discourage women from engaging in pursuing STEM careers. I believe in valuable roles played by specialist women’s services, such as this Grant. Again, I am grateful for the funding. Being given choice is important to me and essential to my participation, as a woman, in my industry.

The conference was a great opportunity to network with and learn from women who’s careers I admire and I’m glad to have been able to participate in it.

In what ways has the experience impacted your maths studies? Has it influenced the direction of your research?

I am new to the field of bioinformatics, and the AMSI conference introduced me to areas of computational mathematics that I have not yet encountered in my studies so far. I also learned a lot about bioinformatics tools that are publicly available and how to access them. Some of the tools I came across during the conference, I intend to access in my own work.

What was the most valuable part of AMSI BioInfoSummer 2017 for you in terms of furthering your career in mathematical sciences?

I found many of the talks to be very useful, I am new to the industry and the talks provided me with a useful introduction to many areas of research I was not aware of. I think I can apply a lot of what I learned over the week to my own research and collaborative efforts with others.

A presentation on the AMSI Intern program was included as part of the Careers Session. One of the aims of the AMSI Intern program is to maximise employability and help prepare research graduates to drive industry/private sector research. Are you hoping to work with industry? How important is this experience for researchers? Particularly in terms of offering career flexibility for women?

Whether I continue a career in academia or hold a public or private sector position I will be working with industry partners.

The CHOOSEMATHS Grants are part of a broader program being delivered by AMSI Schools with support from BHP Billiton to turn the tide on Australia’s maths deficit and strengthen maths education and participation of women across the discipline. What do you see as the big challenges facing maths in Australia, particularly for women?

So far, I have been fortunate enough to have studied in an immediate environment that is dominated by women. The research group I am a part of and my academic supervisors are all women and as such I have not experienced much sexism or discrimination in my immediate workplace or learning environment. I am a white woman, who is surrounded by supportive women who have established careers and take me very seriously as a student. My experience probably isn’t a very good reflection of the broader experience of women in STEM, as I come from such a privileged position.

Did you always want to pursue a career in maths? Were you encouraged to study these subjects at school? Do any particular mentors come to mind? Any outstanding teachers?

No, this has been something I have fallen into.

Where do you see yourself in five or ten years time?

I would like to continue working in the broader area of medical genetics research, if possible but am very open to whatever comes my way over the next few years and where my PhD takes me.

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