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Health research is a winner for RTP scholarships

Published:19 August 2020

(TOP) Janice Mani and (BOTTOM) Melissa Chalada were awarded Research Training Program (RTP) Stipend Scholarships.

Two CQUniversity Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) students have received Research Training Program (RTP) Stipend Scholarships on behalf of the Department of Education, Skills and Employment to support their pursuits in health and medical research.

The School of Graduate Research received over 15 high-quality applications in its latest research higher degree selection round, with Rockhampton residents Janice Mani and Melissa Chalada being awarded the scholarships currently valued at $28,092 per year.

With extensive laboratory and teaching assistant experience as well as several published journal articles, Janice Mani was a worthy recipient of an International PhD stipend scholarship and International Excellence Award (full tuition waiver) to support her project on the potential health benefits of medicinal extracts from Australian plants.

“I have always been intrigued by organic chemistry and this scholarship will financially sustain me and ensure I have enough time to dedicate on my research project,” Ms Mani said.

“There is a wide array of opportunities natural plant-based compounds have in terms of their medicinal properties.

“We hope the outcome of this research will lead to the discovery of a novel effective plant-based compound against common disease types such as cancer, viruses, inflammations and diabetes.”

The domestic scholarship recipient Melissa Chalada was grateful to be able to pursue her passion for medical science to explore the use of gene therapies to treat melanoma of the eye. Her stipend award is combined with a tuition offset scholarship, helping her to overcome the financial and geographical constraints that impacted on her previous PhD opportunities.

“After I completed my Bachelor of Science (Honours) in 2016, I waited years for the right opportunity to pursue my PhD while working full-time at a diagnostic pathology laboratory on a continuous shift roster.

“I wanted to get back into the field of medical research, preferably in the fields of molecular science, microbiology, or immunology. My supervisor Dr Jason Steel had a project on gene therapy in which we use viruses as vectors to alter DNA. This has applications across a wide variety of diseases from genetic disorders, cancers, and even infectious diseases,” she explained.

“I discovered that the research protocols are time-intensive, and cell culturing means that I need to be available which is not manageable with an unpredictable continuous shift roster, nor for part-time study. My wife would not be able to support us financially if I had not received this scholarship.”

School of Graduate Research Dean Professor Susan Kinnear explained that scholarships are critical to attract the best-quality candidates to come and work with CQUniversity’s research-active academic staff.

“Having access to the living support provided by the scholarship helps enable candidates to focus on their research rather than juggling work and study.

“For international students such as Janice, a scholarship often provides the opportunity to participate in the Australian education system. The tuition waiver gives financial support to make it possible to join our university, which some recipients could not hope to achieve based on their resources alone."

While it is coincidental that both recipients from this round will specialise in medical focused research, Professor Kinnear explained that health and healthy behaviours are only one of CQU’s research strengths areas.

“The research of both these scholarship recipients will contribute to positive health outcomes. This has always been an area of research activity for CQU, with all our research priorities focussing on rural and regional settings in order to serve the communities that our campus footprint covers.”