Top bird study student overcomes big challenge to graduate PhD

01 May 2017
Josie Glabraith posing for a photograph with her family
Josie Galbraith with her family.

Completing a doctorate is a major achievement for anyone but for University of Auckland ecologist Josie Galbraith, graduating with a PhD today has special significance.

Josie’s research involved an investigation into the effects of backyard bird-feeding on native and introduced birds including whether our habit of throwing bread on the back lawn helps spread disease.

It was one of the first studies in the world to look at the science of bird feeding. The study findings – including the fact that New Zealanders feed wild birds more than 5 million loaves of bread each year – were published in top international science journals and generated media coverage around the world.

But the countless hours spent in the field capturing and screening wild birds was particularly tough for Josie who suffers from a rare form of peripheral neuropathy. The condition means she has difficulty completing everyday tasks, has ongoing loss of motor function and some sensory loss in her hands and feet.

First diagnosed at the age of 12, Josie’s condition has been resistant to therapy and despite a trip to the Mayo Clinic in the United States last year to seek specialist help, an effective treatment has proven elusive.

The condition is among a group of chronic inflammatory neuropathies that are typically progressive and incurable. Completing her research was particularly tough during her participation in new drug trials which caused severe fatigue.

She credits a large support network with helping her get through.

“I was just very lucky to have a huge amount of support from a small army of volunteers including my fellow postgraduate students and also my research supervisors and disability support services,” she says.

“It was amazing to have that level of support and I just can’t thank them enough. I also had an inspirational mentor at the University from the very beginning of my career.”

Josie’s Graduation ceremony will also have special significance for her family, who have not only supported her through her physical challenges but all of whom are graduates of the University of Auckland.

“My parents both studied Zoology.  It’s thanks to the Auckland University Field Club that they met and that my sisters and I are here today. Though we’ve all studied different disciplines, we share a passion for science, conservation and the natural world.”

For more information contact

Anne Beston
Media Relations Adviser
University of Auckland

Tel: +64 9 923 3258
Mobile: + 64 (0) 21 970 089