By Shreya Gupta
As a leading university in research and innovation, The University of Queensland is home to many researchers and change makers. While on a path to discovering a cure for Motor Neurone Disease (MND), Dr Shyuan Ngo found herself a partner for life at UQ. This is the love story of two UQ researchers who are making efforts to change the lives of people living with MND.
Tell us a bit about how you and your husband met at UQ.
“We met at the School of Biomedical Sciences (SBMS) in 2008. I was in the last year of my PhD and I was also Chair of the SBMS social club. I noticed that a new person had started working down the hall from the lab I was in. Initially, I thought he was a bit awkward since he never really spoke much. Also, he seemed somewhat unapproachable as he would always sit in the tea room by himself at lunch, hiding under his cap, eating a sandwich, reading the paper, and not really interacting. I thought to myself…sheesh…this guy is way too serious! He needs to have a bit of fun!
I asked around the School about what he was like, and those I spoke to said he was an alright guy. So I eventually approached him to say hello and to ask him if he would like to get involved in the social club events. I initially asked if he would like to help with a SBMS BBQ by being our sausage sizzler for the day. He responded that he was vegetarian…and so it was a bit of a ‘whoops’ moment for me. Having said that, he still offered to do it….and he sizzled a lot of sausages!
Over the course of a few weeks, we both realised that we were going through a bit of a rough patch in our lives because both of our mothers were very unwell. It was something we could talk to each other about – I guess in a way, we were offering each other some sort of support, and someone to talk to.
It turns out that he also seemed to be a very good scientist (hahaha!) so on occasion, I would ask for a bit of help in the lab with some of the work I was doing – it’s so much easier to get through some things in the lab with two sets of hands. In time, it just became a “thing”. I don’t actually know when we officially started dating. I think if you asked us, we would have different answers!”
What was the experience of getting married at UQ like?
“Initially, we looked at a lot of places for our ceremony. We knew that we wanted a lawn, but we also wanted something low key and relaxed. South Bank was an option…but all the rules and regulations made my head spin! One day, we had a Eureka moment. We had seen people getting their photos taken at UQ, so surely we could have a ceremony at UQ??!! I thought that getting married at UQ would be special for us because it was the place where we met, and we had a lot of conversations on campus about our mothers, who passed away within months of each other. In a way, it would be nice to get married at the place where it all started.
So, I contacted Schonell Events. They were extremely helpful, very accommodating, and highly professional. They were really great at helping us with what we wanted and so it ended up being a bit of a no brainer. We also knew that UQ is a beautiful campus. Also, most of our circle of friends were from UQ, so it was convenient for them to find the location! We even had friends come out for a break during their lab experiments that day!”
You did your PhD at UQ, and work here as a researcher. Do you feel that there’s a lot of potential in the UQ community when it comes to helping others and changing the future?
“At UQ, the potential to help others and to change the future is just immense. The undergraduate courses I took really helped to drive my passion for Science. The research support that I received (through infrastructure, mentorship, and leadership) during my PhD and early postdoctoral years at SBMS really laid the foundation for my research career.
When I transitioned to a joint position between SBMS and Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), the infrastructure support, mentorship, and leadership just continued to grow in line with my career development. I don’t think it could have been more perfect. Now that I am in a joint position with AIBN and QBI, the support has increased again. Prof Rowan has been absolutely amazing in supporting me as a woman in Science, and my colleagues at the AIBN are equally supportive. The QBI have also been remarkable in supporting my career in the field of motor neurone disease (MND) research.
The links that UQ has with clinician researchers at hospitals like the Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital (RBWH) is another key reason for why I have stayed at UQ. Through these connections, I have been afforded the opportunity to build a translational research program in MND. I split my time between RBWH/UQCCR and AIBN and get to work with patients 4 days a week. The interactions I have with patients is what really helps to drive the research. They tell us what is important to them. We do the research to address their questions. We strive to improve quality of life for people living with MND, and to find that cure.
Finally, the wider UQ community that is made up of the students. The students at UQ are really driven and ambitious. I came across quite a few of them during my guest lectures, and I see many of them now as they search for undergraduate research projects, honours projects, and PhD projects. I really enjoy being able to teach this next generation of Scientists. They have really good ideas, and many of them are not afraid to express their ideas. With the support that UQ offers them, I am sure that many of them will go on to positively influence change in the world. “
Do you find that giving back to the MND community through volunteering and getting students involved in it, helps forward your research?
“Most definitely! To cure MND, we need to get to know MND. What better way to get to know it than to work and talk directly with the people who are living with the disease? When I went through my PhD, I didn’t have much interaction with a group of people who were affected by a disease. Having now experienced working with people living with MND, I know that there is just so much more to gain from it and so I want students have this experience. It’s a side of science that people don’t usually get to become involved with. I hope that the students can really take something positive away from it – when you meet someone living with a disease that you are studying, it becomes very clear to you what Science can achieve and how Science can change lives. I want all the students to achieve great things, for themselves, and for the world.
Giving back to the community is really important to me and my husband Derik, who is also in MND research. I am the Scott Sullivan MND Research Fellow. I met Scott in 2011. He was an amazing man and one of the most inspirational people I have ever met in my life. Living with MND, he set up the MND and Me Foundation so that he could support others who were also living with MND. His work and legacy are an example of what the power of a community can achieve.
Our patients give up their time to be involved in research so that they can contribute to a cure. They raise awareness for MND and fundraise for our research! They are out there talking to people, they ride, run, swim, jump, swing, walk…they do everything! And so, we do what we can do too. We fundraise with them, and we often attend events to provide updates on what we are doing, what we have achieved, and what else is going on in MND research around the world. Derik and I feel very honoured to be doing research for this community. The MND community really is a family. We are in it together. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”