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Ruth’s scientific success

A Nambour mum’s scientific endeavours are an inspiration, and a reminder that it’s never too late to study and follow your path to achieve great results.

by Rebecca Mugridge“Most people are aware of some of the health challenges that an individual with Down Syndrome may face, but early onset osteoporosis is not well known or well understood,” says Ruth Duong, an inspirational Nambour mum making real strides in science, and a successful mature-aged university student.  

“I'm originally from Vietnam but an Aussie for a few years now. I'm a single mom to two amazing primary school-age kids, and they're my biggest motivation. I am currently working toward my honours degree in medical science with a focus on bone health. 

“My research is about investigating early onset osteoporosis (EOO) in Down Syndrome using a human stem cell model.

“We still do not understand how bone health is impacted in people with Down Syndrome. This is a critical area of research in the field. As individuals with Down Syndrome live longer, ageing-associated bone disorders such as osteoporosis and osteopenia (which greatly increase the fracture risk from minimal trauma) are more likely to occur. Therefore, complications such as fractures will likely rise in occurrence. 

“We aim to investigate the mechanistic drivers for early-onset osteoporosis-associated phenotypes in people with Down Syndrome. We hope that this will inform the development of effective treatment and prevention strategies. 

“I am really hoping to continue with this project into a doctorate,” Ruth admits, “however, I have little children and I really need to consider financial responsibilities because it is a four-year commitment.

“It does put a strain on our family with me doing research full time and not having a full time income. It is a common dilemma in academia. I really hope to receive a full PhD scholarship to continue with this exciting and important work.”

Ruth says her children, friends and family and also the Nambour Rotary Club and the University of the Sunshine Coast have all supported and helped her reach her dream and it is not an easy feat undertaking a university degree while raising children.

“Indeed, it can be a bit of a juggling act. Imagine having these little ones who rely on you for everything, and they sometimes have this uncanny timing of needing your attention just when you're hitting the books. It means less convenient study hours, more late nights, early mornings, and the occasional schedule clash. It might even put a bit of a strain on the budget.”

A mantra Ruth knows well is ‘Study, learn more, learn forever!’  

“But I also remind myself that ‘you can have more than one chance with most things, but you only have one chance with your family. Make it count.’

“But you know what? Despite the challenges, it's all worth it.”

Ruth says universities are making a real effort now to make study more accessible for mature-aged students with parental responsibilities.

“I truly appreciate the equitable opportunities provided to students like me who are balancing the responsibilities of parenthood with their academic pursuits.” 

Ruth is part of a cohort of mothers returning to or starting study for the first time as mature-aged students. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2023 the number of women over 40 enrolling in university study across Australia was 127,900. A number that has grown from 54,800 in 2003 and 85,400 in 2017, showing a growing trend of women wanting to pursue higher education.

“I aspire to see even more comprehensive support for women with children and mature-aged students over 30. This stage in life often entails responsibilities beyond ourselves, and additional support can make a significant difference in our academic and personal journeys,” says Ruth.

“I wholeheartedly advocate for more women and mothers to explore the path of education and self-improvement, not only in science but in any field of their choosing. A fulfilled and contented mother is empowered to make a significant difference in the lives of her children, as her own needs and aspirations are fulfilled.

“I encourage all mothers to actively seek opportunities to ignite their passion in their chosen areas of interest. Your dreams and pursuits can lead to a brighter future for both you and your family,” Ruth says.

Ruth recently graduated from UniSC with not just a degree, but also a university medal for academic excellence.

“I am deeply aware that achieving this milestone would not have been possible without the invaluable support of my family and friends. I consider myself very fortunate to have had their unwavering encouragement and support throughout this journey.

“Taking the leap back into education after a hiatus over 16 years was a significant step for me. Initially, I grappled with a lack of confidence in my abilities and the fear of handling academic pressure. 

“To build my confidence, I undertook various endeavours, including completing a Cert IV in physio assistance at TAFE, a Pilates teacher training course, Zenthai Shiatsu, and even exploring Interior Design and Decoration at Open Colleges, having my own floral arrangement exhibition at Nambour library. After a lot of encouragement from friends, I took a leap into studying Biomed.

“My hope is that my future efforts can make a positive impact on those facing health challenges.”

For those who may have thought study was a missed boat Ruth is here to inspire. 

“Mature-aged students and graduates bring a wealth of valuable life experiences to the table. We have come to a point where we aspire to bring about change in our lives and careers. 

“Our journeys have been enriched by real-life experiences,” Ruth says with a big smile.



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