The dream destination of many travellers, New Zealand is the country where I have been working within the context of an FWF Erwin-Schrödinger Fellowship in Christchurch at the University of Otago since January 2009. The contact to the internationally renowned Centre for Free Radical Research under the leadership of Christine Winterbourn and Anthony Kettle was already established when I wrote my diploma thesis at the Department of Biochemistry at the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences. After completing my thesis I had a short-term postdoc position at the Department of Biochemistry. When our third child was born it seemed appropriate to devote more time to family life, and I went on maternity leave for three years and a half. After this baby break, the fellowship not only offered a wonderful re-entry option into my scientific career but also an opportunity to gather a great deal of valuable experience abroad. As any working mother will be able to confirm, it is not always easy to reconcile work and family needs. It is tremendously important to get support from your partner and family plus flexible working hours; I could always count myself very lucky in all these respects.
The thematic focus of the Free Radical Research Group lies on oxidative stress, the reactivity of oxygen radicals and the impact of antioxidants. The individual projects within the group cover many related issues, as for instance the production of oxidising agents by neutrophil leukocytes with a focus on myeloperoxidase enzymology, mechanisms and consequences of protein oxidation, cell redox regulation, apoptosis and the development of specific biomarkers to identify oxidatively modified proteins and their influence on the progression of various diseases. As part of the Medschool the laboratory is located not on the university campus but in the public hospital, which simplifies access to clinical samples and the execution of clinically relevant projects. The wide range of themes I encounter every day is very inspiring and opens new perspectives and ideas with a view to future research projects and co-operation.
In general, research in New Zealand is very much geared towards applied research. Funding is limited and so this means less basic research. The group is very international, the working climate is supportive, motivating and affable, which made me feel at home right from the start. Due to the isolated geographic location, it is sometimes frustrating that the ordering of material or maintenance and repair of machinery may involve long waiting periods.
People and nature
I would call the New Zealanders’ rhythm of life quite relaxed and positive. Leisure activities and family life rank high on the list of priorities next to work. As reflected by its epithet “Garden City”, Christchurch offers a high quality of life, and its countless green areas and parks make it ideal for families with children. For our three children, now aged five, seven and nine, moving to Christchurch was more like a long holiday, which is not over yet. Being close to their parents is the most important thing for pre-school children, and a new language is not a big obstacle as soon as they meet other children through kindergarten or school.
I am delighted by the great diversity of nature in New Zealand. One finds everything here, from fjords, rain forests, mountain ranges and glaciers to volcanoes and hot springs, and, of course, beaches and oceans as far as the eye can see. The fauna and flora are incredibly diverse and unique. From this point of view, I can only confirm that New Zealand is a dream island, even if the earth is prone to shaking without forewarning, which may disrupt everyday life for quite some time.
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