Master's student wins emerging talent award

From left: Mike Atkinson, director of Bellingham Wallace, Andrea Davies, Auckland campus registrar and chair of the AIMES Awards judging panel, Courtney Davies, winner of the Emerging Talent Award, Aidan Bennett, president of the North Harbour Club and Phil Brosnan, vice-president of the North Harbour Club.

Masters of Natural Sciences student and AIMES Award
winner Courtney Davies.

Master of Natural Sciences student Courtney Davies was recently awarded the North Harbour Club AIMES Emerging Talent Award  ­– the latest honour for the 21-year-old.

The $7500 cash grant, sponsored by Auckland chartered accountants Bellingham Wallace, was announced at a time when the final-year Massey student’s research has been showcased at other New Zealand universities and on the world stage.

The former Long Bay College student has a passion for applied microbiology and virology which researchers outside of the University are beginning to hear about. Earlier this year, she won the University’s Three-Minute Thesis competition, and went on to represent Massey at the New Zealand competition, which she also won. Last year she was selected as a Sir Peter Blake Trust NIWA Freshwater Ambassador, which resulted in an internship at the NIWA base in Christchurch. 

"My main goal within the foreseeable future is to become a qualified microbiologist allowing me to conduct further research within my field of bacteriophage genomics and their applications.”

Bacteriophages are simple viruses with a host range of specific bacteria – as opposed to antibiotics with a broader host range. Ms Davies’ master’s thesis looked at the mechanisms within these viruses that enable them to infect bacterial pathogens and isolating these from a viral database to then be expressed into biodegradable nanobeads. These can be used as a treatment option against many Mycobacterial pathogens – including Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) which kills 10.4 million people a year globally, as well as Mycobacterium bovus (TB in cattle) which can have disastrous implications for the New Zealand dairy industry.

"I have always had a passion for agriculture and throughout my undergraduate degree have researched many of the threats facing New Zealand’s dairy industry including mastitis, increased usage of prophylactic antibiotics as well as viral outbreaks in milk fermentation units and bovine tuberculosis,” she says.

“It was from my involvement in agriculture that I began to look beyond the traditional realms of farming to preserve and promote the industry – both from an environmental and economic approach – which lead me into microbiology."

Ms Davies was invited as the top student to attend the international SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science) Symposium held at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s prestigious Janelia Research Campus in the United States last year. From 80 universities, she was the first and only participant invited outside of the US.

In November 2016, Ms Davies was selected to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Voices of the Future Youth Conference in Lima, Peru. This was a “phenomenal” experience she says, meeting other young leaders from 21 APEC nations with the ability to also attend the APEC CEO Conference held concurrently, listening to influential speakers such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde.

Her immediate goal is to graduate with her Masters in 2018, then apply for a position to study an MBA at the University of Oxford. Beyond this, she would love the opportunity to go into further post-graduate study exploring viruses and their impact on our current world in a more extended sense for her PhD within the next 10 years.

"Everything I do is for a better tomorrow. Whether it be helping to find a preventative treatment for tuberculosis, helping furnish young New Zealanders with the tools and ability to be successful in agriculture and science through to getting involved in conservation projects that reiterate the importance of protecting our natural resources. I am a firm believer that leadership and change starts not only tomorrow, but today," she says.

Auckland campus registrar Andrea Davies is a North Harbour Club trustee and chair of the AIMES Awards judging panel that rewards success in the arts, innovation, music, education, sport and services to the community. She says it is always fantastic to see Massey students represented at the awards. “I love celebrating the success of our students, outside of their achievements here at Massey. They are inspirational young people achieving excellence with drive and purpose, and they are contributing so much towards the community. It never ceases to amaze me how many wonderful up and comers are out there, ready to tackle the big issues.”

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