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Caitlin Shepperson: Chemist Extraordinaire

ACG Parnell prepares students to become positive and productive global citizens – and high-achieving alumna Caitlin Shepperson is a perfect case in point.


Caitlin Shepperson in lab

Since graduating from ACG Parnell in 2015, Caitlin Shepperson has been breaking new ground. Not only has she completed a master’s degree in chemistry at Oxford University (where she explored new methods to modify proteins), but she’s now involved in pioneering research with Prof Dame Margaret Brimble at the University of Sydney.

Making an impact

As part of her PhD Caitlin is currently homing in on a treatment for a condition that affects over 1.5 billion people worldwide – so it’s research that’s potentially life-changing.

“Currently there are no pharmaceutical treatments for this specific disease, and we’re hoping that the drugs I’m developing will help,” explains Caitlin. 

“This project is exciting because it provides an opportunity to make a real world difference, whether by creating a pharmaceutical treatment or simply contributing to scientific knowledge.”

Caitlin received a Barry and Joy Lambert Cannabinoid Research Scholarship to conduct her PhD research, and has also been awarded a John A Lamberton top-up scholarship and a sports scholarship from Sydney University Sport and Fitness. Together these scholarships play a pivotal role in supporting Caitlin throughout her PhD studies.

Laying the foundations

Caitlin’s love of chemistry was sparked during her time at ACG Parnell, nurtured by inspirational teachers and support that went ‘above and beyond’.

She started doing chemistry in Year 9, but it wasn’t until she took part in the chemistry olympiad in Year 13 that Caitlin realised she actually wanted to study chemistry at tertiary level.

“My chemistry teacher Ms McLennan was amazing. She always made time for us when we needed help – whether it be in her breaks, after class or teaching chemistry scholarship before school in the morning. She thoroughly supported me in everything I wanted to do, even writing me a late night last minute reference for Oxford.”

Caitlin on campus

Oxford Bound

Caitlin always knew she wanted to study abroad, and ACG supported her aspirations every step of the way. ACG Parnell was also recently recognised as the leading New Zealand school for giving students the best chance of getting into top universities, such as Stanford, Harvard and Oxford. 

“Mr Coup spent hours sorting out my transcripts and helping me with applications, along with all of my teachers who wrote me multiple references and allowed me to take time out of school for interviews.”

At Oxford she thrived, graduating with first class honours as well as gaining a Gibbs prize for the top organic chemistry performance in her year group – one of her proudest achievements.

“I really struggled with organic chemistry at first. In my first-ever mock exam at Oxford I only got 50%, so it was exceptionally rewarding to improve to the point where I was achieving a university prize for organic chemistry. I still have that exam sitting on my desk at home with me, here in Sydney, to remind me of how far I’ve come.”

Caitlin outside campus

Embracing University Life

Although studying at Oxford didn’t come without its challenges (“I struggled a lot in my first year and probably put in at least 60 hours per week towards my studies”), Caitlin looks back on her time there with great fondness.

“I loved studying at Oxford. It's a very insular place, and you aren't actually allowed to leave during term time. Everyone lives in a college - there are around 30 or so undergraduate colleges. You live there, take your meals, classes and tutorials from there, and remain a member of the college for the rest of your life. As a result, college is where you make your friends, and you tend to get very close to the other members of your college who study your subject. 

“I think it’s that insular environment that makes Oxford colleges so unique – some people hated that, but I loved it!”

Caitlin next to bicycle

The top school for getting into the world’s best universities

ACG Parnell’s focus on learning, and specialist teachers who share their passion and enthusiasm with students, makes all the difference. The school is recognised as giving students in New Zealand the best chance at getting into the world’s top universities.

“I really loved going to ACG. I think it was the focus on learning and the passion of the teachers that made it so special. Every teacher I had would always make time for their students outside of their scheduled classes. I genuinely enjoyed going to school each day and loved the positive learning environment that was created for us.”