From Hadston to Harvard: Mariska makes her mark

Mariska Simpson, holding her Best MSc Biology Thesis 2017 award, will soon complete her masters degree at Utrecht University.
Mariska Simpson, holding her Best MSc Biology Thesis 2017 award, will soon complete her masters degree at Utrecht University.

After making her mark during a six-month research period at a prestigious university in the USA, a Hadston resident has thanked all those who helped her raise the required funds for the internship.

Mariska Simpson, who went to King Edward VI School in Morpeth for Sixth Form and left in 2012 with three A grades, took a different university path than most as she enrolled on the science programme at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

She decided to stay in the country following completion of her Bachelor of Science degree in 2105 and started a Master of Science degree at Utrecht University – molecular and cellular life science – later in the same year.

The 24-year-old was also selected for the life sciences honours programme at Utrecht for the top performing students in all fields of the life sciences.

This includes a research internship abroad and her first choice was Harvard University in the USA at its medical school lab run by Dr Wayne Lencer. However, she needed to get $15,000 into her account to prove she could reside in the country for six months for academic purposes and participate in the internship.

Mariska said: “It was a very stressful period as I was constantly looking to see what grants I could apply for and I set-up a Go Fund Me page online.

“I’m very grateful to the people in my home area and the Netherlands who made a donation. I would also like to thank KEVI, which provides grants to former students in situations like this, and Morpeth Rotary Club for their support after being contacted.

“I also earned money myself and received grants from organisations and associations in the Netherlands. It was fantastic to raise the funds I needed and I’m delighted to tell all those who supported me that it was a great six months.

“The research we were doing into an aspect of the process known as protein folding is important because greater understanding of the IRE1Beta sensor could throw light on various human diseases associated with ER (endoplasmic reticulum) stress, including cancer and diabetes.

“I am joint first author of a publication that is in the process of being published and I would particularly like to thank Dr Michael Grey, my supervisor at Harvard, for his support.”

She is currently putting the finishing touches to her writing thesis at home and will then be moving on to a PhD course later this year.

Success includes rowing medals

Mariska received an award from the National Consultation Biology Students in the Netherlands for the Best MSc Biology Thesis 2017.

She joined a university rowing club soon after starting at Maastricht and took part in national and international competitions.

She achieved victory in some prestigious races in a crew of four and was among those finishing second in the women’s eight event at a Netherlands student rowing championship.

At Utrecht University, her nine-month masters internship was at Cellular Protein Chemistry unit (Prof Ineke Braakman’s group) looking at aspects of ER stress.

Of studying abroad, Mariska said: “There were 47 different nationalities in the faculty at Maastricht and I learned a lot from how differently we approached our studies.”