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Diana Sarfati

Diana is a public health doctor and cancer researcher working at the University of Otago, and also with international groups to improve cancer outcomes especially in low and middle income countries.

diana sarfati

What do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?

No two days are the same for me, which makes my job really exciting and interesting. Research is a big part of what I do. The research I do is really about trying to create new knowledge which will help people with cancer, or will stop people developing cancer in the first place. My work is focused on health care systems and how we can make them better, so I don’t spend time in a laboratory. I work with fantastic groups of people around New Zealand who come from different backgrounds, and we work to try and solve problems together. I am also lucky enough to travel a lot, working with international groups to improve cancer outcomes especially in low and middle income countries around the world.

What did you study at school? And after high school? I ako koe i te aha i te kura? I aha koe whai muri i te kura tuarua?

At school, I knew I wanted to be a doctor so I did the subjects that I needed for that, including maths, chemistry and biology. I also studied French and English, which was quite a nice balance. In my first year at University, before I went into Medical school, I studied sciences as well as anthropology and psychology which were so interesting! I have also done Masters and PhD degrees which gave me experience in research.

Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei?

Yes, all the studies I have done have helped me to get the knowledge and skills that I need in my job now.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? He aha āu kupu hei āwhina i ngā rangatahi wahine e whakaaro ana ki tā rātou mahi mō te wā kei mua i te aroaro?

My advice would be to keep as many doors open to yourself as you can. Don’t panic if you are not sure exactly what you want to do. Many of the most successful people I know spent years working out what they wanted to do. Take as many opportunities as you can, and keep your eyes open for them. Life is such an interesting journey and you never quite know what direction you might end up travelling in. That’s the beauty of it.

diana sarfati 2

What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?

There are so many! I am lucky to really love my job, and there are so many different aspects to it. Recently, I was asked to do some work to look at how we can improve cancer outcomes in small island developing states, like those in the Pacific and the Caribbean. I have been working with people all around the world on this, and it is really exciting to see the ideas of so many people coming together in ways that will hopefully save lives. Last year I spent most of the year on sabbatical in London and Lyon (France). It was such an amazing time, and definitely a career highlight.

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand? He aha a STEM (pūtaiao, hangarau, pūkaha, pāngarau) e whai take ana ki Aotearoa?

Technology and scientific progress is moving at a fantastic rate, and having such an impact on all aspects of our lives so I think having some understanding of its importance and how it works is critical. Perhaps particularly now, when there is a strong anti-science movement in many parts of the world. Our planet literally depends on people understanding and trusting good science so we can take the steps we need to to make the planet sustainable for our children and their children.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?

STEM involves identifying and solving problems of all types. Women bring their own perspective to those problems and to the solutions. Diversity adds strength, so we all gain if everyone is involved in STEM.

Diana is a public health doctor and cancer researcher working at the University of Otago. 

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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