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 A Tale of Persistence and Dedication
Charles
 Posted: Feb 11 2018, 08:58 AM
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'But I persisted': Angelina Lay didn't start school until 12 but now she's a doctor helping to cure liver cancer

By Mary Lloyd

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Photo: Dr Lay was lucky to graduate from school. Now, she's a leading liver cancer researcher at the Centenary Institute. (ABC: Mary Lloyd)

In an unassuming laboratory in Sydney, a scientist is shining a light on cirrhosis and liver cancer — the cancer killing Australians at the fastest growing rate.

Dr Angelina Lay is a well-published scientist who is proud that she's helping advance treatments for liver disease, but that she even got through school is something of a miracle.

Dr Lay didn't see the inside of a classroom until she was 12 years old, and she twice joined schools that taught in a language she barely understood.

"I could have given up long ago, but I persisted and knew that I had a lot of opportunity in front of me and I needed to take advantage of that," she says.

Dr Lay was born in East Timor in the early 1970s just a few years before Indonesian forces invaded and Jakarta declared the former colony one of its provinces.


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Photo: Angelina first put on a school uniform at 12, six years after most children. (Supplied)

Schools shut down during the turmoil and when they re-opened, Dr Lay's parents were too afraid of the ongoing conflict to allow their daughter out of their home.

"During the war families lived in groups — you just played with your friends, that's all we knew. Not what school is like, what it's like sitting in a classroom and being taught about things around you."

She was six years older than most kids when she put on a uniform for the first time.

"It was a very exciting day for me — meeting fellow students and learning and being in a class. That was gold," she says.

But not only was she significantly behind, she was also in a school that taught in a language she did not speak.

At home, her family spoke Haka, a Chinese dialect, and Dr Lay had also picked up Tetum, the language of Timor. But under Indonesian occupation, schools could only teach in Bahasa.

When the conflict in East Timor worsened in the early 1990s Dr Lay's family fled to Sydney, where she started over in a new school, this time at 19, with only a six-month crash course in English behind her.

She remembers having to study a novel for her HSC: by the time she had finished, almost every word had an Indonesian translation pencilled in above it.

"I don't know how I managed to understand a whole book. That was the toughest year I had yet," she says.

It was also a battle socially. The other students in her class were two or three years younger, with firmly formed friend groups that she struggled to break into.

But she knew she was being offered a great opportunity that many of her friends and family back home did not have.

"I knew if I study harder than anyone else, I will make it. So that's what I did," she says.

It paid off: she achieved excellent marks and was accepted into the advanced science program at UNSW. She went on to do an honours year that focused on research.

"That's when I decided that this is what I'll do for the rest of my life — be a medical scientist," she says.


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Photo: Dr Angelina Lay with her husband and children on holiday in Kyoto. (Supplied)

Next stop a PhD, producing not just new research that advanced understanding of cancer treatment, but also a thesis that was accepted for publication in the prestigious science magazine Nature.

"For me to be the first member of my family to have a PhD was a big deal — 17 years later my Dad still talks about it," says Dr Lay.

With that her career was made, and the doors to laboratories the world over were opened to her.

After eight years of postdoctoral work in the US, Dr Lay returned to Sydney with a few more publications to her name, as well as a husband and a son, and took up her current position as a researcher at the Centenary Institute.
Another battle

But even with all her achievements behind her, she still finds science a difficult field to work in as a woman.

"When you come into science, it is a very male dominated field, but that doesn't mean there is no opportunity for women," she says.

"If I can do it, anyone can do it.

"I'm forever telling my daughter to be a scientist — there's so much fun stuff you can do with science and it's so applicable to everything we do everyday."


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Photo: Dr Angelina Lay is a well-published scientist who is proud that she's helping advance potential treatments for liver disease. (ABC: Mary Lloyd)

Despite the challenges Dr Lay faces raising two kids while undertaking advanced research, she cannot envision a career outside the science lab.

"Imagine the impact of it," she says.

"That one day you can understand disease, how it happens and how we can stop it from happening. That is the driving force for me."


http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-11/angelina-lay-liver-cancer-research-women-science/9417428

The ABC posted this story to mark "February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science" but I believe Angelina Lay's story transcends a special day for a specific group. She is an inspiration to all - regardless of gender.

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"The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be." - Socrates
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Alicia
 Posted: Feb 11 2018, 09:30 AM
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I am in awe of people who do things like this, they really value an aducation and when they get the education they seek, they really do something worthwhile with it.
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Flin
 Posted: Feb 11 2018, 10:41 AM
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This type of persistence is not conducive to the "She'll be right" mindset.
Dreaming doesn't get you anywhere unless you work to achieve your dreams.
Well done Angelina

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charka
 Posted: Feb 11 2018, 03:07 PM
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What an outstanding achievment
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scepo
 Posted: Feb 11 2018, 06:29 PM
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Persistence and dedication pretty much sums it up perfectly I think.

She thoroughly deserves her success.

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Everybody is Willing:
Some are willing to work, the rest are willing to let them!

The older I get, the better I was.
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