Elizabeth Murray Profile

Elizabeth Murray (Tasmania & New 2011) is completing her DPhil in Neuroscience at the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Oxford. She is currently doing research on the effect of fetal growth restriction on neurodevelopment in childhood. Elizabeth holds an MSc in Neuroscience from the University of Oxford as well as a Bachelor of Psychology from the University of Tasmania.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Elizabeth Murray: Tasmania, Australia is home for me, specifically Launceston. It’s where I grew up and where all of my family and friends are. I lived there until I was twenty. I absolutely love going back and spending time in Launceston. It will always be home no matter where I am. I don’t think enough people travel to Tasmania. It’s such a wonderful destination and so unique. I’ve done quite a bit of travelling and have never really found another place like it.

Rhodes Project: What is a book you have recently read for pleasure?

Elizabeth Murray: I’m currently reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and I am loving it. It’s an epic read. Unfortunately, I tend not to get as much time to read as I would like to. I read more in fits and spurts when I have holidays, but I do love reading. During holidays, I tend to devour book after book. I’m reading Les Miserables in English, although I do have the French versions. I bought them when I was in Paris as a memento although my French skills leave quite a bit to be desired. As for the movie, I think it brought the story to a lot of people who may not have gone to see it on the stage.

Rhodes Project: When did you first become passionate about neuroscience?

Elizabeth Murray: I wouldn’t say there were specific moments. During my education, it was a slow realization of where my interests lie. I had originally started my undergrad in psychology. I really enjoyed the psychology degree, but I found that it was the neuroscience aspect of psychology that I found most interesting. In my third year of the degree, a close friend acquired a serious brain injury. It really sparked my interest in neuroscience; the power and intricacies of the brain, the way that it works and how it can heal itself after injury.

Rhodes Project: What is your favorite part about doing research at Oxford?

Elizabeth Murray: My favorite part about doing research is the brilliant minds all around you, and the wonderful resources that are at your disposal. I think that Oxford is one of the leading institutions in the world simply for the breadth of exposure. Even within the DPhil program, it really instils the value of a broad education. Although my research area is neuroscience, I’m encouraged to go to different seminars. Even though they aren’t directly related to what I am doing, I think they help create a broader picture. I can locate where my own research fits, and better understand how that impacts the academic world as a whole. And it’s not just in the academic programs. Being at dinner at the hall in New College, I often sit next to people who will talk about their research, and the potential implications. It’s just fascinating to hear about what other people are doing from all walks of academic life. It’s amazing.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me a little bit about your research?

Elizabeth Murray: I am looking at the effects of fetal growth restriction; when something happens in utero and a baby doesn’t reach its growth potential. Specifically, I’m studying the way fetal growth restriction affects the neurodevelopment of that person in childhood. Fetal growth restriction can lead to a range of outcomes, including difficulties in the child’s cognitive and behavioural development.  I am currently examining these outcomes in two year olds. Of course, their assessments have to be framed within games, and we try to make it very fun and engaging. We have a great deal of prenatal data on these children and records of their growth throughout pregnancy.  I’m looking at the relationship between cognitive and behavioural outcomes and their growth trajectories during different periods. It’s fun and it’s challenging.

Rhodes Project: Have you ever had a teacher who particularly inspired you?

Elizabeth Murray: My honours supervisor from my undergraduate university, Raimondo Bruno, was so passionate about what he did in his research and was so dynamic in his approach. He was also extremely talented in terms of statistical analysis. He showed me how important it is to be able to teach and guide other people. He really had a huge impact on my life as an undergraduate and in helping me improve my research skills.

Rhodes Project: If you weren’t doing neuroscience, what do you think you might be doing?

Elizabeth Murray: I did my undergraduate in psychology, so obviously I have a very strong interest in mental health. If I wasn’t doing neuroscience, I might have gone down the root of psychology or psychiatry. I am working with the Department of Psychiatry here at the Oxford Warneford hospital. I go to all of the psychiatry seminars, and I find the science of mental health really fascinating.

If I wasn’t in the field at all, and I wasn’t in academia, I would love to be a travel writer. I love travelling, meeting new people and reflecting upon it. I really value people getting off the beaten track for real experiences instead of the cookie cutter tourist routes that people tend to do. I think you get such a sense of self-fulfilment if you can do that.

Rhodes Project: If you had unlimited resources to address one issue, global or local, what would it be and why?

Elizabeth Murray: One of the major things, globally, that I would address is the education of girls, particularly in developing countries. The education of young women is something that can really benefit developing countries in such a range of ways. I think there are so many creative, young, enthusiastic women out there that have so much potential. Unfortunately, they’re very often prevented from receiving adequate education. I think it empowers young women to take control of their destiny, and be able to contribute to their society and shape their future. I think that is one of the greatest things that could be done.

Also, I would educate men about the value in educating women. Having a wife or a partner who is educated can have such an impact on a family and a home-life. It seems that educating men to really value their daughters’ and their wives’ education is one of the preliminary steps in this process. I think educating women is the major outcome, but accomplishing that involves educating everyone on the importance of it.

Rhodes Project: What are some of your hobbies and why do you like them?

Elizabeth Murray: I love being outdoors, especially at the moment since the weather is so nice. I play quite a few sports. I play netball with the university and I love it. I also play with a club which means I get to meet with people outside of the university network. I like to keep fit in other ways too – running, swimming, cycling. I also really enjoy social sports and getting together with friends to organize a game of cricket on a sunny afternoon. I went punting just last weekend and I’m getting better! I used to be horrific. Now I manage to sometimes go in a straight line, but I still do punt into the trees quite often. I also enjoy just getting out and experiencing Oxford. There’s so much to do here like croquet, fun little festivals or county cricket matches. I also read a lot. I’m a bit of a sucker for the newspapers. My favorite thing to do on Sunday morning is to sit down, grab coffee and read the newspaper front to back.

Rhodes Project: What is something you are looking forward to right now?

Elizabeth Murray: Next week, I’m travelling to Brazil to do some research with a group that is looking at the effects of earlier life experience on childhood development. I’ll be working with them in Pelotas, which is quite close to the Uruguay border. I’m really looking forward to that. On the way over, I am doing a little bit of additional travelling. I’m going to spend some time in Rio and in Buenos Aires. I haven’t been travelling for a while, so I’m looking forward to getting back into that for a few weeks before settling down in Pelotas to do some research.

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