Technical Specialist - LabPlus, ADHB.
Often referring to herself as a “farmer’s daughter,” Pippa Dryland believes it explains her ‘number 8 wire’ approach to life and her affinity to lateral thinking.
Starting out in the Bay of Plenty on a Kiwifruit farm, right next to a cool store and pack house started by her parents and business partners, there were also horses in the back yard and the other usual attractions that make rural life so appealing.
Moving to Auckland when she was 8, after her mother secured a role with the then Kiwifruit Marketing Board (now Zespri), she says her life suddenly took on a new sense of purpose, and disruption.
“Both of my parents studied at university which is where they met. So I never questioned that I too would go to university. As a child I ended up going to many different schools, including a term studying correspondence from Belgium where my mum was working at the time. This taught me how to get along with a wide range of people and to adapt quickly to new environments.”
As a toddler Pippa had been diagnosed with coeliac disease which is a common hereditary autoimmune disorder causing an intolerance to gluten, which fostered a keen interest in science at school and eventually at university.
Opting to study biotechnology which combined a wide range of scientific papers along with papers in management, statistics and a Critical Thinking elective paper, Pippa says she quickly discovered she had found her sweet spot.
“During my undergrad years my favourite lecturer was Assoc. Prof Don Love who happened to teach genetics which I also had a keen interest in. I loved the way that he didn’t expect you to learn by heart a bunch of facts; his teaching style was much more conceptual, taking you on a journey through each lecture. This is a style that really resonated with me.”
So, when Pippa decided on her honours project and needed some help editing her dissertation Don Love was the first person she called.
“On completion of my degree I again went to Don for advice. I had been offered a PhD in Forensic Science by the supervisor of my honours project and I wasn’t really sure what was the right move or what was even available. Don knew I was a Coeliac and suggested that I try looking into Nutrigenomics (the study of nutrition and how it relates to a genetic type, a personalized nutrition approach). So, I took his advice and met with Prof Lynn Ferguson.”
Embarking on a PhD with Nutrigenomics NZ Pippa says the doctorate gave her a rich and varied experience, working with over 60 different scientists across the Nutrigenomics NZ collaborators; Hort Research and Crop and Food (since amalgamated into Plant and Food research), AgResearch and the department of nutrition.
However priorities changed when Pippa and her husband decided to have a baby towards the end of her PhD.
“I used to joke that parenting wasn’t as hard as I expected since I had been nursing a PhD for years! I wasn’t used to having spare time, money or sufficient sleep so I strolled right into parenthood.”
Securing a role at LabPlus after having her second child, Pippa says the role in molecular genetics was able to provide her with the job security that was necessary with two young kids and a mortgage in Auckland, as well as being able to implement new testing protocols and manage the running of them while also writing up academic papers in her spare time.
In 2016 looking for a new challenge at LabPlus, a Technical Specialist position in newborn screening seemed to tick all the boxes. Managing staff, and overseeing the implementation of the first molecular assay for national newborn screening in NZ to test for Severe Combined Immune deficiency, NZ is only the third country in the world to offer national screening for this condition. “We currently run 7 different assays in order to test for rare inherited life-threatening disorders that with early treatment can save the lives or dramatically improve the quality of life for these babies. We test on average 250 baby samples a day and around 60,000 a year so it’s a demanding schedule.”
Pippa says she works with a hugely supportive team that works very well together.
“The work we do supports every baby in New Zealand and it’s very rewarding to be able to make a contribution such as this.”