A passion for Physical Education has led Dr Olivia Faull around the world. From Christchurch to Zurich, via Oxford and Otago. St Margaret’s Old Girl, Commonwealth Scholar and Marie Curie Fellow, Olivia has taken her passion and used it to help others in the field of neuroscience.
The practical side of PE and a desire to study at Otago University first drew Olivia into the field and with some help from her teachers at St Margaret’s she found a career path. “I actually did Neuroscience and PE because Jenny Laney really looked after me while I was at school, she got me in touch with people from Otago who explained the options so I could enrol doing exactly what I wanted from the start.”
You get the feeling when talking to Olivia that she makes the most of every opportunity to come her way. One of her favourite memories of St Margaret’s is the sports she was able to participate in. “I did so much sport at school, the school was incredible for offering us anything we wanted to do. I remember as a Year 9, walking into the gym foyer and it was covered in sign-up sheets. There was even one sheet that said, ‘Any other requests’!!”
And make the most of it, she did. Olivia particularly relished the Wednesday 2.30pm finish so she could make the most of sporting opportunities “I was a rower at school but I can name about 10 other sports that I did as well.”
Near the completion of her double undergraduate degree at Otago (PE specialising in Exercise Physiology and a Neuroscience degree) Olivia began to explore options for post graduate study. Initially the desire to spread her wings and travel was holding Olivia back from considering PhD study, however after attending a scholarship evening run by Otago University she discovered the option of applying for a Commonwealth Scholarship. Her application for scholarship was successful and Olivia went on to complete her DPhil in Clinical Neurosciences at the prestigious Oxford University. Fitting in some travels on the way and working a ski season to recharge her batteries.
Following Oxford were two years of PostDoc research which, as Liv describes, is “When, as an academic, you work on someone else’s research. After that you can either choose to stay on that path and work for someone else or you can do your own research and become your own boss.” The latter was Olivia’s choice and she applied for a Marie Curie European Fellowship which led her to Zurich to begin her Fellowship Project in breathing research.
Neuroscience is the basis for Olivia’s research however she is able to combine it with some of her passion for exercise physiology. Her Fellowship Project is a study of how we control and perceive our breathing. Brain scanners are used to identify how anxiety can affect the networks in our brains to make our breathing unstable or unbalanced and further perpetuate anxiety. Primarily the research will be used for anxiety disorders but could also be extended into sport to help with athletic performance anxiety as well.
The next two years will be busy ones for Olivia, she will complete her research and present her findings at medical conferences and in academic papers and journals. While also finding time to plan, and travel to, both of her weddings – one in Wanaka and a second in the UK for her fiancé’s family and friends.
Her research will add to her Body of Work and help to measure her success as an academic. In the future, she hopes to find a lectureship at a university so she can teach and continue with her research. And when asked what advice she would offer to current St Margaret’s girls she is quick to emphasise the need to think outside the “career box” when considering your tertiary options. “I wasn’t always aware of the opportunities to travel and study. New Zealand academics are so respected all over the world and there are so many opportunities available to us because of that, but you must be listening for them. I hadn’t even considered it for a career but if you love what you are learning you don’t have to stick to traditional professions like a doctor or lawyer.”