Meet the Finalists 2019: Faculty of Human Sciences


In the lead up to the Academic Staff Awards, we will be profiling the amazing achievements of all of the finalists over the coming weeks.

This week, we take a look at staff members from the Faculty of Human Sciences. 



2019-08-26-cristiana-fiorini-61Associate Professor Paul Sowman
The Jim Piper Award for Excellence in Research Leadership

Over the last 10 years, Associate Professor Sowman has established an independent research program which uses cutting-edge neuroimaging methods to study neurodevelopment. The group has developed an international reputation for using Magnetoencephalography (MEG) to understand the developing brain.

“Our work, in both neurotypical and diverse groups, has defied the conventional wisdom that it is too difficult to do functional neuroimaging in pre-schoolers and with specific populations,” Paul says. “This program is making critical inroads into what has been referred to as the ‘missing neurobiology of development’.”

In acknowledgment of this expertise, Paul has secured over $1.5 million in research funding from ARC and NHMRC since 2009.

“I have been awarded both an NHMRC Fellowship and NHMRC Grant to investigate the neural mechanisms of disordered speech development in children. I have also secured an ARC Fellowship to examine the neural mechanisms of executive control in speech motor control.”

2019-08-28-cristiana-fiorini-18Dr Celia Harris
Excellence in Research: Five Future-shaping Research Priorities

 Dr Harris explains that we experience and reminisce about the events of our lives as part of social groups, within couples, families, groups of friends and colleagues. Such shared remembering may have benefits for cognition, relationships and wellbeing – especially when individuals need additional cognitive support.

“The possible ‘extended’ nature of cognition has been the subject of philosophical theory,” Celia says. “Within cognitive psychology however, the social nature of memory has received little attention, with a focus instead on single individuals.”

In her research, inspired by philosophical theory, Celia has extended experiential methods from cognitive psychology to study memory within its social context to look for evidence for benefits of shared remembering.

“Most impactful has been a series of studies with older couples that shows couples can remember more together than separately, especially for more personally-relevant information. This helps us to understand how memory can be supported as we age.”

2019-09-02-cristiana-fiorini-15Professor Jennie Hudson
Excellence in Higher Degree Research Supervisor of the Year Award

 Professor Hudson has supervised 26 Macquarie PhD and Masters of research students to completion – 16 as primary supervisor – as well as 21 honours students, and 14 Masters of Clinical Psychology students. In addition, she is currently supervising an international Joint PhD student.

“I have introduced a number of strategies that have improved mentoring capacity within the Centre for Emotional Health and the Department,” Jennie says. “These include an international early career prize; student publication prize; regular meetings in which students are invited to present their work and practice conference presentations; as well as writing enhancement events for students and Faculty.”

Jennie’s supervision practice involves a regular, yet flexible schedule of contact that is aligned to the student’s needs and preferences. She works with the student to understand and develop their career aspirations and to develop realistic timelines and plans for how they can achieve their short-term and long-term goals.

“I provide support to allow them to develop independently as a researcher.”

2019-08-26-cristiana-fiorini-10Dr Miriam Forbes
Macquarie University Early Career Researcher of the Year (HASS)

Research on the empirical structure of psychopathology has been a growing field over the past 20 years as the limitations of our current methods for diagnosing and classifying mental disorders have become increasingly clear.

Dr Forbes explains that by statistically analysing the patterns in which mental disorders co-occur, robust dimensions of mental illness have emerged that cut across traditional diagnostic boundaries.

“For example, an individual who is depressed is likely to also experience symptoms of nervousness, worry, and/or panic,” Miri says. “Rather than labelling this individual with several traditional diagnoses to capture their symptoms (such as major depression, generalised anxiety, and panic disorder), we can represent their propensity to experience negative emotion and distress on an empirically derived dimension of ‘internalizing psychopathology’. This dimension does a better job than the diagnostic categories at predicting important outcomes like treatment utilisation and response.

“My current research focuses on analysing the detailed patterns of co-occurrence among individual symptoms of mental illness. This approach will extend our current model of the structure of psychopathology into a comprehensive and detailed empirical classification system, which is necessary for its application in translational research and clinical practice. My hope is that this work will pave the way for more robust and replicable research on the causes and treatment of mental illness.”

2019-08-27-cristiana-fiorini-7Dr Milena Gandy
Macquarie University Early Career Researcher of the Year (HASS)

Dr Gandy is a clinical psychologist, a Macquarie University Research Fellow (MQRF) and a senior member of the eCentreClinic at Macquarie University. The primary objective of her research program is to improve the mental health and psychological care of adults with neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and acquired brain injury.

“These disorders require ongoing self-management, have a considerable impact on health service utilisation, and result in significant disability,” she explains. “Two of the most common and problematic psychological co-morbidities experienced across neurological disorders are poor mental health and poor cognitive function. However, there continue to be numerous barriers preventing the adequate detection and management of these co-morbidities.”

The primary focus of Milena’s MQRF is the development and evaluation of a comprehensive treatment program, known as the Wellbeing Neuro Course, which innovatively tackles these barriers to improve patient care.

“The Wellbeing Neuro Course is the world’s first transdiagnostic internet-delivered treatment program that combines components of treatment for mental health difficulties with components of cognitive rehabilitation and can be delivered to people with various neurological disorders.”

2019-08-26-cristiana-fiorini-6Mr Nicholas Everett
Excellence in Higher Degree Research (HASS)

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive psychostimulant which potently activates the brain reward system. Mr Everett explains that individuals who use methamphetamine recreationally may transition to an addicted pattern of drug use, characterised by escalated, motivated, and compulsive drug seeking despite experiencing adverse consequences to their social, psychological, and physical health.

“Sadly, relapse to drug taking is the norm in 90 per cent of individuals despite seeking treatment,” he says. “Australia has the highest rates of methamphetamine addiction in the world, costing $54 billion per year. As such, there is clearly a need for treatments for these treatment-seeking individuals to prevent relapse and enable them to re-engage with society.”

Unlike for other drugs of abuse, there are no approved pharmacotherapies for treating methamphetamine addiction. Using translatable rodent models of methamphetamine addiction, it has been identified that the brain peptide oxytocin may be an effective addiction pharmacotherapy.

“However, oxytocin is rapidly metabolised by the body, and poorly penetrates the blood-brain barrier, making it less than ideal for human clinical use.

“Therefore, the objectives of my PhD were to uncover the brain mechanisms by which oxytocin exerts its anti-addiction effects, and to better understand the therapeutic potential of oxytocin, to inform the clinical utility of oxytocin as an addiction therapy, and to guide the development and discovery of novel oxytocin like drugs.”

2019-08-27-cristiana-fiorini-43Ms Cathleen Taylor-Rubin
Excellence in Higher Degree Research (HASS)

Being able to speak is something we take for granted, but an unusual dementia syndrome – Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA) – insidiously robs individuals of their ability to speak.

Ms Taylor-Rubin explains that in the early years, the brain diseases that cause the syndrome, almost exclusively affect the parts of the brain that support speech and language. “Other brain functions such as memory, reasoning and judgement, personality and ability to focus and pay attention remain relatively unaffected. PPA often commences when people are less than 65 years of age.”

The baby boomer bulge in the population has resulted in growing numbers of individuals presenting with PPA. Unfortunately, there are currently no drugs to slow or stop the condition. There is, however, evidence that behavioural treatment can help people with PPA.

“My research aims to further the evidence base for effective behavioural treatments and thereby help people with PPA, and their families, maintain the best quality of life for as long as possible.”

2019-09-02-cristiana-fiorini-61Dr Lina Teichmann
Excellence in Higher Degree Research (HASS)

In everyday life, our senses are bombarded with information from the world around us. Dr Teichmann explains that to perceive all of this information in a meaningful way, we have to be able to integrate stored knowledge with incoming sensory input.

“Throughout my HDR candidature, I worked on understanding how this integration process works,” Lina says. “There is evidence that our brain stores concepts of things around us that contain multiple features. For example, the concept of a banana contains information about its colour, shape, texture, and taste. In my work I focused on visual conceptual features – such as the yellow of a banana – and tested whether activating them from memory involves neural mechanisms similar to those evoked when seeing those features.

Using brain imaging methods, paired with novel analysis techniques, Lina’s work gives important insights into how knowledge about the world dynamically interacts with what we see.

Learning and Teaching


2019-08-27-cristiana-fiorini-56Associate Professor Tiffany Jones
Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Student Nominated Award

Associate Professor Jones is the convenor for EDST100, a new unit introducing the sociology of education. Tiffany’s unit challenges students to consider all four orientations to social issues in education: conservative, liberal, critical and post-modern.

“To engage students in these stimulating debates, my lectures use statistical findings, thematic analyses and vocal recordings from my 2018 survey of 2,500 Australians on their schooling experiences of the four education orientations,” she says.

“I provide consistent online and offline motivation aid, FAQs and assessment scaffolds, extensive webpages of public advice and quick turnaround on private advice via ilearn. To inspire understanding, I use different methods for different learners (instructions, modelling, analogies, visuals) and maintained warm, non-judgemental enthusiasm.”

2019-08-27-cristiana-fiorini-59Associate Professor Naomi Sweller
Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Student Nominated Award

 It is no secret that statistics classes in psychology are rarely popular, explains Associate Professor Sweller. To overcome this challenge, Naomi has adopted a collaborative, student-focused approach to enhance her students’ statistical engagement and learning.

“To empower students to learn, simply presenting information is insufficient,” she says. “Rather, we must effectively engage students, producing graduates with excellent critical thinking, research and communication skills, who have a firm foundation of discipline-relevant expertise. My teaching philosophy revolves around the key goal of collaboratively empowering my students to take control of their learning, with the ultimate ambition of guiding them towards appreciating the importance of statistics to psychologists.”

Naomi acknowledges that while statistics is crucial for psychological thinking, few students enter psychology with intrinsic interest in statistics.

“My ability to convey my fascination with the topic is therefore crucial, and students are highly receptive to my enthusiasm. By making the content accessible and enjoyable, students regularly report that I have empowered them to navigate very complex subject matter.”

2019-08-27-cristiana-fiorini-79Ms Lauren Ehrenfeld
Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Sessional Staff Award

Ms Ehrenfeld believes that to be the best support to students, one must be compassionate and approachable. Understanding that some students require additional assistance, Lauren implemented one-on-one 15-45-minute consultations for students.

“In Session 1 2019, I conducted over 60 consultations for PSY348 students,” she says. “These are open to all students, with genuine care placed towards equity, and supporting the individual student needs. This additional contribution of time was particularly important for one student who, after withdrawing from COGS101 three times due to personal circumstances, was able to complete the unit and received an outstanding grade.

“I have a profound belief in making myself available to students, and in fostering attempts or desires of students to actively engage with the material. If a student is willing to put in additional time and effort, this is something I am always willing to match.”

2019-09-05-cristiana-fiorini-10Associate Professor Matt Bower
Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence

Associate Professor Bower successfully utilises technology to motivate the pre-service teachers under his instruction. Using cutting edge learning activities involving augmented reality, 3D printing, mobile technologies, virtual reality and robotics, he provides a curriculum that is connected to the latest trends and techniques.

“I use technology to create innovative spaces that enable connected experiences for students from any location,” Matt says. “For instance, I created the world’s first ‘Blended Reality’ tutorial class where students in a virtual world interacted with students in the face-to-face class to conduct real-time collaborative activities.

“My innovative learning designs have been selected to feature in a NSW Educational Standards Authority review of technologies in initial teacher education, and on the website of other universities such as Drexler University. The quality of my learning design scholarship was recognised with the 2018 The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) Design and Development Outstanding Book Award.”

Celebrate with your colleagues
Don’t forget to register your attendance for the event today!

The Academic Staff Awards will be held on Monday 18 November from 3pm to 5.30pm in the Graduation Hall (14 Sir Christopher Ondaatje Avenue).







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