While the global pandemic threw a spanner in the works for many of our students, it inspired health and medical sciences student, Kirstee Smith, to return to complete her final year of studies after a mid-degree gap year. In the post-COVID environment, the 2018 study tour to China that Kirstee took to explore the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now proven to be an invaluable experience as she now looks beyond her studies and into the future of health research.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Kirstee and I am in my third and final year of a Bachelor of Health and Medical Sciences. I chose this degree because I love the world of health science. I find it very interesting how things we can’t see (viruses, bacteria etc.) can have such an effect on our bodies and the way we live. I love this degree because there is always something new to learn in the world of science — it’s never boring.
My degree even allowed me to travel to China in 2018 on a public health scholarship to see how the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) functions. I personally think that the real-life work experience from this opportunity has been one of the biggest highlights of my studies so far. Our public health group studied at Jinan University and we were partnered up with a buddy to do a presentation together. My buddy and I did our presentation on smoking and the public health policies in place to prevent smoking. This was a unique learning opportunity for me as if I had done a presentation like this in Adelaide, I would use Google to find articles and references. However, due to the different rules in China, they did not have access to Google, which meant I didn’t either. So, it was interesting to try and use other resources to find information. I quickly became grateful to have the resources we have over here. I think that’s the biggest lesson I learnt on my trip and would help me if I ever got a job somewhere that was not in Adelaide. It definitely helped me realise that, sometimes, you’ve got to adjust and work with what you’ve got.
Why did you choose the University of Adelaide for your studies?
I chose Adelaide because it has a strong reputation in research, which I believe, for myself, will be very beneficial. I also love the wide variety of resources available to students as well as the modern and state-of-the-art facilities, especially the science labs in The Braggs.
What has been your journey to get where you are today?
It has been a long journey. I began my university studies in a Bachelor of Science because I didn’t get into health and medical sciences straight from high school. However, transferring in my second year was not as hard as I thought it would be and the University staff were very understanding and helpful.
My biggest challenges were the end of my third year, where the workload got a bit overwhelming for me. This is when I made the decision to take a gap year for a break and, again, the University was so understanding and supported me through this process. I returned to my studies this year to finish off my final year and doing a health degree during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging but a good learning experience.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently undertaking my final placement at South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI). We are working on examining how cognitive reserve affects executive function through measuring an individual’s alpha oscillations. Diseases like Alzheimer’s are known to be affected by a decline in executive function, so we are trying to determine whether we can potentially use cognitive reserve to prevent such diseases. I’m really enjoying it so far because it’s a good way to see how research conducted outside of University, while still being in a supported environment.
What inspired you to pursue a career in health?
I love to help people. It makes me feel really good seeing other people happy and healthy, so I figured, what better way than helping in the world of health science?
What do you love most about studying at the University of Adelaide?
I love that the University has amazing facilities as well as the flexibility to forge your own path through uni. The best part of my degree is probably how, at the end of it, we are able to undertake a placement where we are able to practise our skills in a real work environment.
One thing that has surprised me about Adelaide Uni is all the opportunities you can gain from the degree — beyond the qualification–such as opportunities to travel, experience research in the real world, and meeting expert lecturers who have tons of experience. All this, I believe, really helps prepare you for life after university.
What do you do in your spare time?
In my spare time I love to either read or dance. I love to find different parks or local cafes to read and study in. If I’m not reading, dance is definitely a go-to for me when I’m bored. I dance weekly for a group called First Position Dance Academy and have been doing so since I was in Year 11. The genres I dance in are jazz and contemporary. I find that dance is a good way to escape the world for a bit and clear my mind, which has helped me get through some of the more demanding times of my studies.
What’s the motto that you live by?
“When one door closes, another door opens.”
This motto is important to me because I am not someone who really likes change but I know that, whenever something changes, even though it is scary, it is always for the best and something new and exciting always happens. So, when University is over, although it’ll be scary, it’ll be so exciting to finally put all the skills I have learnt in to practice.
What TV show are you currently bingeing?
Grey’s Anatomy! In all honesty, I think I’d just recommend it because the drama, the friendships, and the relationships are just so entertaining to watch!
What do you hope to achieve in the next 10 years?
I would love to have made a difference in health research, even if it is something small, any sort of difference in the world of health would make me feel accomplished.