Gene-ius mum of four proves perseverance is in her DNA | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Gene-ius mum of four proves perseverance is in her DNA

In early 2020, Ruth Kinard arrived at UniSC for her first day of orientation, pushing a double pram laden with textbooks, a nappy bag, and her two little ones.

Fast forward a few years and a couple more babies, and Ruth crossed the graduation stage in April 2024 with a Bachelor of Biomedical Science, wearing a cap, gown, and six-week-old baby Chief in a sling.

Cheering her on was her proud husband Eddie and their other children — six-year-old Ariella, five-year-old Yoella and two-year-old Negasi.

"It's crazy to think I started with two little babies and I’m finishing uni with four kids under six," she laughs.

“I loved that I could share my graduation with my family, because my biggest motivation are my children… I want to show them dreams can come true after some hard work and perseverance, to never give up.”

Her children may be her biggest motivation, but when it came to choosing her study focus, Ruth had many motivators behind wanting to understand—and make a difference in—the fields of health and science, specifically in genetics.

Growing up as a “biracial kid in a predominantly white space” was one of these factors. Born in New Zealand to an Ethiopian father and a Kiwi mother of Irish and English descent, Ruth's biracial heritage ignited her passion for genetics and related interests in law, politics and human rights.

Bachelor of Biomedical Science

Gain a comprehensive understanding of how the human body works and what happens when diseases, infections and clinical disorders occur.

"As a child, I didn’t see many people who looked or acted like us culturally," Ruth says.

"I remember going back to Ethiopia, and I was too white to be considered black, but in New Zealand I was too black to be white… it was confusing."

Her husband Eddie is also biracial—African American and Native American—making their gorgeous children "a little bit of everything."

Not long after they were married, Eddie suffered a severe brain injury from a crane accident at work, causing memory loss and frightening 15-minute seizures.

"It was really scary for a time; he wasn't given very long to live… we were in and out of the hospital a lot," Ruth says.

Over time, Eddie began to recover from the injury, which was diagnosed as post-concussive syndrome. And as Ruth watched the “fascinating” way his body began to heal, she was reminded how much she’d wanted to do something in the medical or science fields, even from a young age.

Ruth had planned to go to uni after high school and had already been accepted into a Bachelor of Health Science program at a different university. But at the time, New Zealanders weren't eligible for HECS-HELP loans, so she decided it was out of reach financially and instead focused on working a fulltime job at Red Rooster, and travelling.

“It was being Eddie’s support person and helping him through the health struggles that I remembered my lifelong interest in medicine and science, and I knew it was my time to pursue it,” she says.

Ruth soon enrolled at UniSC, not sure of herself or her study abilities or how she would make it all work with a young family, but with Eddie’s steadfast support, she was determined to try.

“Eddie’s been my biggest support and without him, I definitely wouldn't have been able to finish my uni studies,” Ruth says.

Eddie worked two jobs to support their family while Ruth studied full-time. She also received bursary scholarships that helped with her studies.

Her mother, Maria, who battled mental illness, further fuelled Ruth's interest in genetics and the desire to destigmatise mental health.

“Schizophrenia is close to my heart as my mother and her fraternal twin Juliette both have it, which is where my passion for genetics originated," Ruth says.

“I would often go into psychiatric hospitals with mum, it was normal for me, I was never afraid."

Baby Ruth with her parents, Maria and Elias at her baptism.

“From a young age, I remember thinking of mum as just my mother, so mental illness was never something I viewed negatively… in fact, some of the kindest, most loving people I have met in my life are people affected by mental illness.”

Despite now having a gorgeous brood of four, Ruth struggled with several infertility challenges, including an ectopic pregnancy and a miscarriage, before the successful births of her first two children.

Ruth had nearly completed a semester of university when she suffered a miscarriage at 11 weeks pregnant. “Luckily, I had finished all my final exams, but I did have one final assessment to do that was worth 40 percent of my grade,” she says.

“I had an amazing, supportive lecturer who gave me that final push to finish the subject and continue with my studies, because I was quite depressed for some time… but it kept me going.”

Towards the end of her second year of uni, Ruth once again had an ectopic pregnancy and surgery to have her left fallopian tube removed – which left her devastated.

“I couldn't find my focus, it was a really depressing stage for me… but it was the final push of my final year, so I knew I had to get it together and finish what I'd started.”

Soon after, Ruth conceived her youngest baby, Chief. Throughout the pregnancy there was a niggling anxiety that something was going to go wrong, which added an extra element of stress, but she found support in UniSC’s “inclusive, baby-friendly environment” and various student success services, including a psychologist through UniSC’s wellbeing team who gave her “strategies to cope.”

Ruth with baby Chief at UniSC Moreton Bay, on graduation day

"I can't tell you how much time I spent in the parent’s room, even on graduation day I spent most of the ceremony breastfeeding," Ruth laughs.

“Many of the friends I made at uni were also mums of young kids, and not having ‘the village’ or any extended family to help at home, I’m so grateful for the support of my supervisors and community I found.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Michael Wilmore said UniSC’s Student Wellbeing team were dedicated to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of students.

“Our team offer a range of facilities, evidence-based services and resources to help students at uni and in their personal life,” Professor Wilmore said.

“Whether it’s identifying suitable spaces for students to use, or helping to deal with issues relating to stress, imposter syndrome, relationships, or personal health – our team work with students to find the help most-suitable help for their specific situation.”

Ruth completed an Undergraduate Research Fellowship and two Special Research Projects, earning a High Distinction and solidifying her love for genetics and research.

“I didn’t know you could do research as an undergraduate, but I got a real taste of what it would be like to do a PhD and what postgraduate research is like,” she says.

A week before giving birth, Ruth submitted her final assessments.

“It was a close call,” she laughs, “but I had no excuses… if I didn’t finish, I couldn’t graduate.”

Ruth’s next step is a graduate certificate in cybersecurity, which she and Eddie are doing together. She also hopes to do an Honours and PhD and integrate the study of law to advocate for victims of pharmaceutical and medical negligence, and intellectual property for vaccines and biomedical discoveries.

Ruth hopes her story encourages other mums to never give up on their dreams.

“Family comes first, but don't forget about you,” she says.

“There’s so much joy in studying, and when I walked onstage at graduation it was overwhelming, because I couldn't believe I’d done it… so keep persevering.
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