Q&A with Ms Vanessa Gysbers

April, 2011

Vanessa Gysbers

Ms Vanessa Gysbers was appointed Associate Lecturer in the School of Molecular Bioscience in 2006 in the areas of biology and molecular biology under the guidance of current Head of School, Professor Iain Campbell.
Ms Gysbers was awarded Honours Class I and the University Medal after Honours in the Discipline of Immunology at the University of Sydney. She went on to complete her Masters of Science (Medicine) in the Gene Therapy Research Unit of the Centenary Institute. She was awarded the APA (Australian Postgraduate Award) in 2000.
In more recent years, Ms Gysbers was the recipient of the Faculty of Science Citation for Excellence in Teaching for the School of Molecular Bioscience in 2008, acknowledging the contribution of staff in the Faculty to high quality teaching and enhancing the student learning environment. Vanessa was also elected as a member of the Excellence in Learning, Assessment, Teaching & Evaluation Committee who endeavor to underpin and support excellence within SMB. The ELATE Committee was awarded one of three Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Systems that Achieve Collective Excellence in Teaching and Learning in 2010.

Do you remember when the idea first crystallized that you would become an academic?

When I was a student, I was very inspired by the Academics that taught me here at SMB. They seemed so excited about the work they did, and I thought it would be great to have a job where one could be that passionate.

Who do you think has been your most influential mentor(s) during your scientific career?

Dr Dale Hancock, Mrs Jill Johnston and Associate Professor Gareth Denyer in my teaching. We all work really well as a team, bouncing new ideas off each other. We’re all dedicated to students having the best experience they can, so we’re on the same wavelength. In Science, Professor Iain Campbell. Despite my teaching load, he has given me an opportunity to make some interesting findings about cell signaling mechanisms.

What do you think is the most pressing and exciting question in your field?

In my research, I use modified viruses to deliver new genes to cells, techniques similar to those used in gene therapy. Gene therapy has great potential to permanently cure debilitating and life-limiting genetic dieases, like cystic fibrosis and haemophilia. However, there are currently a number of obstacles to its success, including targeting the gene to the affected cells, maintaining sustained gene expression, insertional mutagenesis and overcoming the host immune responses. If these could be conquered, it could change the face of medicine - I think that would be a Nobel Prize worthy achievement!

What are the most exciting things happening in your lab at the moment?

We’re looking at the role of a number of transcription factors in determining the lineage of myeloid cells, like microglia. These cells are key players in the brain’s immune system. We’ve just published a paper showing that adding a single transcription factor, PU.1, to a non-myeloid cell can force it to take on a number of myeloid characteristics. We’re now starting to look at interactions of other ‘master regulators’ of microglial function that have an impact on immunity to pathogens.

What do you enjoy most about being in academia?

I like the variety. Each day in the lab is something different. And the thrill… when you get the results of your experiment, and for a moment, you know something no one else in the world knows – nothing can beat it!! I also really enjoy it when I can help my students see that science is an exciting journey to discover the unknown, rather than regurgitating facts from the text book!

My colleagues and I are currently conducting research around the parts of teaching that engage students and keeps them coming to and participating in the lectures; it is interesting to see that once students were passive listeners and now they have become more of ‘doers’ and are actively engaging in their learning.

What would you do differently in your academic career if you had your time over?

Perhaps start earlier in my life! Before science, I traveled a lot, and was a Naturopath. But I think my experiences enhance who I am and how I do my job so I really have no regrets. This is my dream job.

What are you most passionate about outside the laboratory?

My nephews. The two most delightful, interesting people on earth! When I get the chance I love to go climbing. In the last few years I’ve moved away from rock climbing and got into ice climbing and mountaineering. Totally terrifying at times, but completely addictive. I’m also into photography, but as my Dad and sister are professionals, my efforts usually come a poor third.

What achievement outside science are you most proud of?

I recently sat a Korean government language proficiency test, and I was awarded the highest grade! Seeing I’m mostly self taught, I was really proud of this.