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17 September, 2021

Mareeba prodigy attains PhD

A FORMER Mareeba student prodigy has put the latest exclamation point on an already highly successful and fulfilling academic career after recently attaining her PhD in Brisbane.

By Michael Warren

Former student Laura Mareeba Leighton recently attained her PhD.

A FORMER Mareeba student prodigy has put the latest exclamation point on an already highly successful and fulfilling academic career after recently attaining her PhD in Brisbane. 

Laura Leighton graduated from Mareeba State High School in 2010 having collected a swathe of awards during her senior education years prior to moving down south to start a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in genetics at the University of Queensland. 

Some of those accolades included the 2010 Pete Doherty outstanding senior science student award for being among the top 10 science students in the state, a 2010 Order of Australia Association student citizenship award and the Tablelands Regional Council Young Citizen of the year in 2011. 

Ms Leighton started her PhD at the Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland (Bredy lab) in 2017 and submitted her thesis in January. Her PhD was conferred on August 16 this year. 

“A PhD is a higher degree by research which requires three to four years of full-time laboratory work and a signifi - cant contribution to new knowledge,” Ms Leighton explained. 

“Our particular laboratory group is interested in the molecular mechanisms of learning and memory. 

“Basically, we want to know how molecules that are present in brain cells for hours to days can give rise to memories that last for a lifetime. 

“I have worked with mice, cultured mouse neurons (mouse brain cells in a dish), and lots and lots of isolated biomolecules. 

“I'm especially interested in small noncoding RNAs and RNA modifi cation. My thesis was about 50,000 words and 136 pages. 

“My PhD has also taken me all over the world and included attending conferences and meetings in China, the USA (California), Italy (Venice) and the Bahamas.” 

As it stands the science whiz is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the same lab in which she completed her PhD. At present she continues to work on that same project plus the development of new methodology and creation of datasets for the lab. 

While she may be well entrenched in her academia career the former Far North resident remains grounded and grateful to those who initially helped along her journey. 

“I'm so lucky to have grown up on a farm surrounded by nature and open space, and I think this upbringing is the reason for my interest in biology,” she said. 

“I was a weird nerdy little kid and I had fantastic parents and several great teachers who weren't afraid of my questions and who would always help me find new things to read and learn about. 

“By the time I got to high school I felt really supported by my community, and like I was part of the community and that people knew who I was and wanted me to succeed. 

“My first major exposure to research labs was the national youth science forum in 2010, and the Mareeba Rotary Club supported my application. 

“Cedric Davies actually invited me and my mum to his house to talk about why I wanted to go before he decided to support it. 

“I’m forever grateful for all of the support I’ve received and continue to receive from everyone in Mareeba.”

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