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Doctoral graduate hopes to continue research journey

25 September 2018
Vonne van Heeswijk

Vonne van Heeswijk graduates from the University of Auckland's Faculty of Engineering with a doctorate this week after coming to New Zealand from the Netherlands.

Although born in Eindhoven, Vonne was raised in a city close to The Hague. It was during high school that she decided to return to Eindhoven to study Biomedical Engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology.

During her university studies, it was a supervisor who showed Vonne a publication which was presented at a conference and that’s how she first heard about the Experimental Tissue Mechanics Laboratory in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering led by Professor Neil Broom and Associate Professor Ashvin Thambyah. The work of the group sounded exciting and was closely aligned with the research area she was interested in, so she decided to ask whether she could do an internship here to complete her Master’s degree.

“It was only afterwards that I realized New Zealand was on the other side of the world,” she says.

Once she completed her Master’s she went on to enrol in her doctoral studies and was awarded a number of prizes during her PhD including the Rob Johnston Award from the Spine Society of Australia for best paper presented by a surgical trainee or junior research scientist and the Australian and New Zealand Orthopaedic Research Society PhD Student Award for best presentation.

Now that she has been awarded her doctorate, Vonne is staying on as a Graduate Teaching Assistant and hopes to continue her research career.

“There is still much to discover about the complex tissue structures of the body and there are so many conditions associated with that, whether as a result of degeneration or trauma,” she says.

“My work is about helping understand and solve some of those complex problems such as lower back pain or sciatica and other conditions that affect a really wide range of people.”

Vonne says she loves living in New Zealand and would like to stay longer.

“I’m not exactly sure what comes next but at the moment I feel like I’m on a really exciting adventure and I’d like to stay here for at least a while longer because the country is beautiful and the people are kind and friendly.”