Having completed a Bachelor of Science (Honours) majoring in mathematics and statistics at Massey University, New Zealand, Lyndal is currently researching her PhD at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.
When I was about 15 I wanted to be a weather reporter. To do this, I was told I would need to become a meteorologist, which meant studying maths at university. From then on that was my goal.
One of the hardest things I’ve done is complete my Bachelor of Science majoring in mathematics and statistics. I almost dropped out in first year because I didn’t think I was smart enough. Initially, I struggled with the work and really didn’t think I could do it. If it weren’t for a lot of encouragement and ‘sticking with it’ I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today.
As I progressed though university I discovered a world of new things that interested me, particularly medical data. Weather reporting quickly gave way to a new way of helping people and I decided to study a PhD at a medical research institute.
My research focuses on finding relatedness between people. Using an algorithm I developed, I have created a software tool to determine if two individuals are related to each other. It has a number of applications, including verifying the identity of people’s relatives. Most importantly, we are able to find regions of the genome inherited from the same ancestor that might contain disease-causing mutations that run in families. For example by finding relatedness between four Italian families with epilepsy, we have narrowed where to look for the epilepsy-causing mutation in their genomes. I’m hoping one day my work may help scientists develop a cure or stop the genome in its tracks for future generations.
I was never the best maths student or the quickest to get the answer, but I enjoyed it and pushed myself. My advice would be to work hard! If you really want something, you’ll surprise yourself with how far a bit of hard work and passion can get you.
Lyndal Henden is an ambassador for the Choose Maths Careers Awareness Campaign