Meet our Scientists

If you are considering joining the Riddet Institute, here are some of our scientists talking about why they like it and the advantages it brings

Dr Caroline Giezenaar, Postdoctoral Fellow

“I recently joined the Riddet Institute after completing my PhD at the University of Adelaide Medical School. I really like the international profile of the Riddet Institute – it has researchers from all over the world. I was welcomed here from day one and have found people in New Zealand to be relaxed and friendly. Palmerston North is a smaller town, which makes it a convenient place to live and its central location is ideal for getting away at the weekend.
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The change for me has been the multi-disciplinary teams that we work in. It has been interesting to work with researchers from different backgrounds, and I was introduced to research that I have not been exposed to before. For example, I am now working with food technologists, which means my clinical findings can be translated into products, that are feasible for consumers on the market. My background in clinical research means I have been able to help scientists without this expertise, to help them, give advice, and conduct clinical trials.

At the Riddet Institute, I have the freedom to show initiative in my research and the support to develop useful skills for my future career. I am a project leader and I have been able to develop a strong network with both researchers and industry partners. This has been a steep learning curve but the skills I am developing will be very useful for my future career. I have a passion for research but I do like to see applicable results. I can see myself moving into industrial R&D where I can work on projects that are going to deliver products to the market to improve human health. The Riddet Institute collaboration with industry is a great pathway to get there.”

Dr Caroline Giezenaar completed her PhD at the University of Adelaide, Australia, in May 2018. Her research focused on the effects of ageing on whey protein digestion, metabolism and energy intake regulation, with the goal to optimise protein supplementation strategies for older malnourished adults. During her PhD, she published several articles in high-impact nutrition and geriatrics journals, and she received of multiple awards, including a research medal for academic excellence.

Caroline joined the Riddet Institute in September 2018, where she focusses on the digestion, absorption and metabolism of the amino acid tryptophan following ingestion of different protein sources. Tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin and melatonin, which regulate mood, sleep, and cognitive function. With her research, Caroline aims to investigate whether tryptophan-rich protein has the ability to increase brain serotonin and melatonin production.

Laura Payling, PhD Student

“I was working in the UK for DuPont and I listened to a talk about Protein for Animal and Human Nutrition, organised by an employee who had done his PhD at the Riddet Institute. I heard that the Riddet Institute was a great place to be and I had seen some of the interesting research first hand. The Institute has a family friendly feel to it, even though it has large numbers of students and staff – currently the Institute has over 100 PhD students. Within the first few weeks of arriving, you meet many people, and get to know everyone very quickly.
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My first year at the Riddet Institute has gone very well. There is a strong network between the scientists so peer support is high. For someone looking for a more practical side to their PhD, there are good connections with industry available at the Riddet Institute. I like the Institute because there are many different opportunities for students outside of research. I am currently president of the student society, and that has given me, and many others’ leadership opportunities, and the chance to show initiative. We organise seminars to help educate other students and staff, for example.The Riddet Institute can provide more than just an education. The career progression is varied and so students coming from the Riddet Institute are of interest to both other academic institutions and industry. For students looking longer term to go into industry, a new opportunity under discussion presently is internships. This provides some experience and new networks, before you finish your PhD. As I already have a background in industry, I am not sure yet, whether I will remain in academia or return to an industrial role. But I certainly feel I have the opportunities to do both with a qualification through the Riddet Institute.

Laura started her PhD with the Riddet Institute just over 1 year ago. Laura is not new to industrial science and research having spent nearly 4 years working as a scientist in the Innovation Team at DuPont Industrial Biosciences in the UK. During that time, she worked on global research and development projects.

With a first class honours degree in animal sciences from the University of Reading, she has now transferred her skills to studying human nutrition. Her PhD is entitled ‘Dissecting the impacts of food structure on gastrointestinal microbial signalling networks to optimise nutrient uptake in human”. With experience in immunology, endocrinology, genetics, chemistry, physiology, nutrition, dairy production and practical work, Laura combines her scientific role with a love of horses, running and volunteering to support her peers and community.

Dr Anant Dave, Affiliated Researcher

“I have always been interested in research, and learnt about the Riddet Institute from my ex-colleague at Nestle India Ltd. who came here for her doctoral studies. I chose the Riddet Institute to do my PhD primarily because of the research being undertaken at the Institute at the time. I have enjoyed working at the Riddet Institute both during my PhD and Postdoctoral projects. The multicultural environment at the Institute makes you feel very warm and closer to home.
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One of the key things that the Riddet Institute provides is opportunities to collaborate with researchers across different institutions. This is vital for early career researchers like me. Being involved in the Riddet Institute’s research programme is a great step on your career path as the Institute not only inspires you to develop your expertise further, but also encourages you to diversify your research interests. For example, our research at Riddet resulted in the development of an iron fortification ingredient FerriProTM that is now being transferred to industry. Scientific work like this has the potential to make a real difference by helping improve the health of millions of people.Dr Anant Dave comes from Bilimora, a township in the western state of Gujarat in India. He completed his B. Tech. (Dairy Technology) and M.Sc. (Food Technology) in India.

After completing his Ph.D. (Food Technology) at the Riddet Institute, Massey University (2017), he worked at the Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ireland as a Postdoctoral Researcher for a year. Prior to joining Massey University, he worked with DuPont Nutrition and Health as an Application Specialist in the Dairy Applications Team. He has also worked with Unilever, Nestle and Amul in different technical functions and roles.

In his current role, Dr Dave is leading the technology transfer of iron fortification ingredient FerriProTM, to Nestle. His other research interests include understanding the structure of lipid/oil bodies in plants, their breakdown in the human gastrointestinal tract, and the relationship between structural assemblies from milks of different species and their impact on nutrient delivery.

Nick Smith, PhD Fellow

“I was busy in a gap year, taking some time off and guiding tourists around the Abel Tasman National Park, but very much wanting to come back to study and research in particular. I knew nothing about the Riddet Institute before I started my PhD as I did my undergraduate degree in the UK, at Swansea University. I saw my post advertised with Riddet Institute and AgResearch and it did not really look like it was my area.
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I had some good conversations with Riddet Institute scientists about what they did and how I could contribute to that. They talked me round from being reluctant to undertaking a PhD in this area, to being keen to get started. I saw the potential for the application of the work I had done on infectious disease modelling, in the context of the human gut. I now use a similar mathematical structure in this area, as it is a quick and easy way of doing something that would be difficult, or impossible, in a lab. My skills transfer quite well.

One of my favourite parts of completing my PhD at the Riddet Institute is the student community. With things like the Riddet Institute conferences, we all get together regularly. It very much feels like I immediately clicked into a group of people doing similar work to me. At AgResearch in Hamilton, I am the only nutrition scientist in the building and one of very few on the campus. The high number of students at the Institute is an advantage and even though we are working on diverse topics, we all have similar ground to cover and we support each other.

I have met many different scientists, within or through the Riddet Institute and this is the main benefit of being here. I have been lucky to attend many overseas conferences and labs and I know I get a great many opportunities with the Riddet Institute that you do not get in other institutions. I have visited many overseas institutions and met numerous people that will be important to my future career. I really enjoy telling other people about my research, getting up in front of people and explaining what it is. You stand up and tell people you are mathematical modeller and they fall asleep! However, getting them from that point through to “Oh I get it, that makes sense” is exciting. I am now halfway through my PhD and I would certainly be happy to stay in research in New Zealand. I enjoy what I am doing now, I have a great lifestyle and I am in a great place both with my research and within New Zealand.”

Nick is a PhD Fellow of the Riddet Institute, based at AgResearch Ruakura in Hamilton. Previously, he studied Mathematics at Swansea University in Wales, where he focussed on the mathematical modelling of infectious disease spread. He now uses mathematical modelling to analyse metabolite exchange between members of the human gut microbiota. The extent to which these cross-feeding interactions occur can change the profile of metabolites produced by the microbiota. Using mathematical modelling for the analysis of these complex interactions allows for inference not possible or practical to gain experimentally.
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