Frances Theunissen (2010)


Frances Theunissen in Murdoch lab

Graduate set to become a doctor of molecular genetics and improve treatment for MND patients

When Frances Theunissen graduated in 2010, her goals were to take a gap year then go on to study medicine at UWA (Reflections 2010).

However, Frances went straight into university studies, starting her undergraduate degree at UWA in the Bachelor of Science (Human Biology/Psychology). Even after facing some hurdles getting into medical school, Frances persevered and instead started an Honours degree, then converted to a Masters of Biomedical Science. While studying, she volunteered at the Perron Institute, and later was offered a position as a research assistant and enrolled as a PhD student in the Biomedical Science field.

I am now part of the motor neurone disease genetics and therapeutics research group and we focus on the development of genetic markers and tailored therapeutics approaches to find new treatments for [Motor Neurone Disease] patients.

Although I never ended up going to medical school, I am very grateful I have had so many amazing experiences and found another way that I can help people, I never previously thought possible. When I graduate my PhD, I will be a Dr of molecular genetics. Still be a doctor, just not the kind that I thought I would be in high school.

Frances attending the Symposium on ALS /MND (left) neurons Frances grew in the research lab (right)

Frances hopes to continue her work in developing drugs for use in treatments for MND patients. She also says her favourite thing about her job is knowing that with each discovery, medicine is getting closer to helping patients and their families. A decade after graduating, Frances shared the lessons she learnt while at Helena that she believes set her up to do well after leaving school.



When you go to Helena, you are part of a community. The size of the school makes you feel like your education truly matters because you are ‘not just another number’ in a sea of students. This really promotes the development of strong interpersonal skills and communication. In my graduating year there was around 70 students, you knew everyone’s names and even if you had different friendship groups, there was mutual respect. This also meant that students were well equipped with skills for conflict resolution. If there was ever a disagreement, the problem always had to be addressed because there was no-where to hide. I have never liked conflict, but this is a really important skill, and as you move through life it becomes more critical. The ability to build strong relationships and be able to work with anyone is definitely a skill that has helped my career.

In 2021, Frances returned to Helena as the guest speaker at our Graduation Ceremony. Read her Old Helenians Address to the class of 2021. Frances Theunissen – 2021 Graduation Speech

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