VIEA 2018 winner: ‘I have learnt more than I could ever imagine’

Australia is the country which made me who I am today. An accomplished young scientist, but also a whole different person than I was six years ago, open minded and adventurous.

I first landed on the continent for a six-month Masters internship in January 2013, without knowing really what my career would be afterwards. Almost six years later, I have never been so professionally happy. I have a PhD diploma and one of the most prestigious student awards in the country.

From studying bird behaviour … to mosquito biology! (Image by AAHL – CSIRO)

Making a buzz with my PhD topic

I have always been curious and passionate about wildlife and animal behaviour. After studying birds for my Masters Degree, I had a fantastic opportunity to study another flying animal and also the most hated one on earth … the mosquito!

Although mosquitoes are making quite a buzz in the field of virology, not much is known about the insect – especially what happens after females get infected by a virus. During my PhD, I studied infected African Tiger mosquitoes with diverse viruses, such as Zika and dengue, and investigated the insect behavioural changes. The most exciting part of the thesis was that I developed new methods to study the mosquito brain, where behaviours are controlled, and found out that viruses can also interfere with neuron communication.

My PhD was somewhat unique as it involved different fields in biology. I was enrolled as a PhD student at the Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI) from Deakin University and spent most of my time in the Insectary of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (CSIRO) at Geelong waterfront. Thanks to this first IISRI and CSIRO collaboration, I was able to use modern techniques to record neuron electric activity and develop new tools for complex analysis on top of mosquito infections. At CSIRO, I had the privilege to use high-tech containment facilities to work with imported mosquitoes and dangerous viruses.

My first trip to the Grampians National Park with the Deakin Outdoors Climbing Club in 2013.

Enjoying my Deakin journey

Curiosity has always motivated me to go further in my studies. My journey through my PhD has been a roller coaster of emotions, from failed experiments to surprising results and great satisfaction. Although there were some tough times, I have always enjoyed my multi-disciplinary project.

I have learnt more than I could ever imagine – perhaps because it was an under-explored area of science, or because I had the chance to work with skilled people from different backgrounds, or maybe a combination of both.

What I most enjoyed about being a student at Deakin University was to meet people from so many different countries and cultures. It opened my mind and energized my lust for travelling and exploring new places.

Enjoying the Whitehaven Beach on the Whitsunday Islands.

Exploring incredible Australia

While I was studying, I constantly planned and organized trips all around Australia for my next holidays. Taking time-off is essential for achieving a PhD. And what a chance to explore this wonderful continent!From the deserted outback to isolated beaches and tropical forests, I have seen so many wonderful places. The wildlife in Australia is unique, and I feel privileged to have encountered so many different bird species, weird marsupials and wonderful marine life.

Not only have I travelled in Australia, but I have also discovered outdoors sports and activities. Thanks to the Deakin Outdoor Club I was able to start outdoors climbing. I am still actively practising as much as I can. I even went outside of my comfort zone by trying sky diving, walking on a high line, surfing and running a marathon.

My partner and I during the VIEA ceremony.

Personal connections and professional recognition

Finally, I will be forever grateful to Deakin University for giving me the chance to start my PhD and settle for few years in Geelong. Not only have I tried so many great experiences, but I have made forever friends and met my partner.

Deakin University provided me with the International HDR scholarship, allowing me to stay and study for four years in Australia. The University and IISRI supported me all the way from the start to the completion of the degree. I never felt alone or lost. More importantly, colleagues encouraged me to communicate my research to the public.

I won the People’s choice prize at the Three Minute Thesis competition in 2017. This year I have won the Victorian International Education Award (VIEA) in the Research category.

I decided to apply for the VIEA at the end of my degree, when I was writing down my thesis. I realized how much work I have accomplished the last three years and that my application might have a chance to be selected to be a finalist. However, I never expected to win the award. What a great surprise! I felt overwhelmed with joy and gratitude: my hard work has finally been recognized by higher institutions.

For further information about studying at Deakin and to view the many degrees on offer, visit our international student page.

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