1. What inspired you towards neuroscience? 

"One of the big unknowns in the world is how does the brain actually work. We know so little about this organ yet it controls everything we think, say, do. Discovering new phenomena associated with brain function makes neuroscience so exciting. That is why when I began research within neuroscience."

2. Why stroke?

"The lab that I completed my Honours and PhD theses in predominantly worked on how various inflammatory pathways were involved in the wound healing process (Dr Ian Appleton, University of Otago). We decided to apply those same principles to the brain by investigating inflammatory pathways after stroke. I always had an interest in stroke and what happens to the brain after a stroke. My grandfather died very suddenly after a stroke and so when I began researching the brain, my family history enticed me to study this devastating condition."

3. What have been the highs so far?

"Completing a PhD is a massive achievement and was such a relief to get through. Doing a post-doc at the University of Oxford was an amazing experience and has opened so many doors subsequently. Also, being involved in a Fondation Leducq Transatlantic Network of Excellence during my time in Oxford allowed me to meet and collaborate with some of the world’s leading neuroscientists which continue to this day. These collaborations resulted in a Nature paper looking at the role of pericytes, a specialised cell localised on capillaries, in controlling blood flow in the brain and how this is affected by stroke."

4. What have been the lows?

"A research career is always full of highs and lows. I think everyone thinks 'why bother' when you miss out on a grant or get a paper rejected but that is part and parcel of being a researcher. While I always feel disappointed when an experiment doesn’t work, I see it as an opportunity to move forward with that knowledge in mind by approaching the problem in a different way.

"My grandfather died very suddenly after a stroke and so when I began researching the brain, my family history enticed me to study this devastating condition."
5. How do you balance work life with the needs of home life?

"An academic career is always a challenge to balance work life with home life. But keeping that work/life balance is extremely important. Once I get home from work, I tend to forget about work and enjoy family time for a few hours. And you can always continue work later if needed. Also, having hobbies is critical as this allows exercise, getting out of the house as well as enjoying activities with families and friends."

6. Who are your most important mentors and how did you find them?

"My most important mentor has been Prof Alastair Buchan from the University of Oxford. I spent seven years working in Oxford with Alastair and I learnt so much from him, and through him I have made so many connections with leaders in the stroke and neuroscience fields. I met him by visiting him and his lab in Oxford which led to being able to do a post-doc in his lab. Recently, I have been working with Prof David Howells (Florey Institute and University of Tasmania) who is helping me further my stroke research career."

7. What are your most important collaborations and how have you built them?

"During my time in Oxford, I was in the very fortunate position of being a part of a Fondation Leducq Transatlantic Network of Excellence. This involved our lab collaborating with multiple leaders in the Neuroscience field including Profs Brian MacVicar (University of British Columbia), David Attwell (University College London), Martin Lauritzen (University of Copenhagen), Eric Newman (University of Minnesota) and Serge Charpak (INSERM) looking at energy supply in the brain and how this is disrupted following stroke. This work led to very fruitful collaborations, a number of discoveries, multiple papers and life-long friendships with researchers from these labs."

Are you interested in following in Dr Sutherland's footsteps and studying stroke?

There is an exciting PhD opportunity available to study Pericyte Regulation of Blood Flow in the Brain and its Dysfunction Following Stroke under the guidance of Dr Sutherland. Find out more about this opportunity here.