Medical physics graduate motivated by a desire to help people

Madeline Carr always knew she wanted to help people. She had a talent for mathematics and science, and when her life was touched by cancer in her late teens, she decided to choose a path that would combine her passions.

“A few members of my family were diagnosed with cancer around the time that I was choosing a university degree, so I decided to try medical physics,” Madeline said.

“I wanted to help people. I’ve seen first-hand the effects that cancer can have on families. And I’ve always loved mathematics and science. Numbers make sense to me.”

Today (Wednesday 12 December), Madeline graduated from the University of Wollongong (UOW) with an Advanced Bachelor of Medical and Radiation Physics (Honours). She finished at the top of her degree with first-class honours, a reflection of her passion for the course but also her sheer hard work in the classroom and the laboratory.

“It was a really tough degree,” Madeline said. “I went from achieving 100 per cent in high school, to achieving 40 per cent in my first university exam. That was a big reality check for me! The drop-off rate in the second year is very high.

“It has been difficult at times, but it was all worth it to get here.”

During her time at UOW, Madeline became a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Ambassador, a role that saw her spend time with high school students and open their eyes to the potential of a career in these fields.

It is clearly a job she loves. Every year she runs the STEM Camp for Girls at UOW, which gives her the chance to mentor young girls in Years 9 and 10.

“Being a STEM Ambassador is where I feel I’ve made the biggest impact,” said Madeline, the only Physics Ambassador at UOW. “You can teach students about how great STEM is, but often they just think they’re going to be writing equations on a blackboard. But you show them the application of mathematics or physics, through games or activities, and it opens their mind. It’s really rewarding.”

As one of the only women in her degree, Madeline said she has been aware of the importance of increasing numbers of young girls in STEM-related fields.

“There are a lot of scholarships available for girls. It is really easy for girls to take advantage of the amazing opportunities that are out there.”

Those opportunities include travelling to Japan and Malaysia, where Madeline, with her fellow students, was given the chance to tour new research facilities.

The past year has been both rewarding and challenging for Madeline.

In addition to her Ambassadorial duties, she has juggled completing her Honours Thesis, with a clinical research project at Liverpool Hospital and a scholarship at the Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research.

Through it all, she has relied on the support of her family and friends, as well as the lecturers in Centre for Medical Radiation Physics, to get her through.

But she also believes in the importance of being active to help students achieve a semblance of balance in their studies and work.

“I go to the gym, or for a surf or a swim every day, and if I didn’t do that, I think I would go crazy,” she said, with a laugh.

She is well on her way to her goal way of helping people, but for Madeline, one of the most poignant moments of her degree came when she delivered her thesis findings.

Her work had focused on the distortion of MRI images for potential aid in treating lung cancer – “when you’re pointing a laser beam of radiation at a tumour, you want to make sure it’s the right spot”. The findings were delivered the day after her aunt passed away from lung cancer.

“Every family has been touched by cancer,” Madeline said. “If my research can help treat someone, then I will feel like I have done my little part to help make someone’s life better.”

Words by India Glyde. Originally published on UOW Newsroom