Chris Rodley, Ngati Koata

Gene Scientist

Working on a cure for cancer. It’s no clichéd scientific dream, but a reality for gene scientist Chris Rodley.

It was a love of science and asking questions that have never been asked before that led him from teen truant to top Maori scholar at Massey.

Today Chris is a long way from home – doing research on cancer cell research in Switzerland as part of an international team at the University of Geneva.

His successful academic career is a far cry from his days as a teenager who left Long Bay College aged 16, with no qualifications. “I got in with the wrong crowd. I was bored,” he said when he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biosciences with First Class Honours in 2008.

But his lifelong fascination with science, especially genetics, always remained with him. After a spell of apple picking in the South Island and then several years as a bank teller in Auckland, restlessness and boredom compelled him to pursue his dream of becoming a medical researcher.

Encouragement from one of his former schoolteachers also helped to spur him on, he says. “I had to do a lot of independent study to fill in the gaps in my knowledge base. I made a lot of sacrifices to do well. I didn’t have much of a social life – I had to study ten to 12 hours a day.”

The hard work and dedication paid off. Mr Rodley was named top Massey Maori student for 2007, and was awarded a Purehuroa Maori Postgraduate Award in 2007 for excellence and achievement. He also won a Health Research Council of New Zealand Mäori PhD scholarship worth $105,000 for three years.

One of the highlights of his time at Massey was being a finalist in the MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year competition, as well as publishing three papers in international journals, which he says helped him obtain his current position. “I really love science and asking questions that have never been asked before.”

Today he is the only English speaker among a team of 12 international researchers at the University of Geneva’s Department of Cellular Biology. He is investigating the behaviour of cervical cancer cells to better understand the disease mechanisms.