[Top] Associate Professor Kay Bussey. [Bottom] Dr Miriam Forbes. [Right] Dr Diego Barneche Rosado.
[Top] Associate Professor Kay Bussey. [Bottom] Dr Miriam Forbes. [Right] Dr Diego Barneche Rosado.

Sex, fish and mentoring

Higher degree research, supervision and research leadership had their share of the spotlight at the 2015 Research Excellence Awards.

Excellence in Higher Degree Research
The Excellence in Higher Degree Research category recognises excellence in higher degree scholarly research, the creation and application of research outcomes, the discovery of new knowledge or the use of existing knowledge in a new and creative way to generate new concepts, methodologies and understanding.

And the winners are:

Dr Miriam Forbes
Excellence in Higher Degree Research – Business, Humanities and Social Sciences
“I’m surprised and delighted to have won. It’s my first award, but I’m going to build a trophy cabinet anyway…just in case.”

About Miriam’s work
More than half of the Australian population will experience sexual difficulties, low mood and anxiety at clinically significant levels, and often at the same time. When sexual dysfunctions occur at the same time as anxiety or depression they have a profoundly negative impact on quality of life. Surprisingly, sexual dysfunctions are underrepresented in mainstream psychology research and there had been no research on the broad relationships between depression, anxiety and sexual dysfunction before Miriam’s PhD research.

Miriam aimed to understand how and why these disorders were related to each other. Rather than causing one another, they were found to have shared vulnerabilities, and were in the same ‘family’ of disorders. This finding is important in order to diagnose and treat them effectively.

Miriam’s research also led her to argue that the two most widely used measures of sexual dysfunction have limitations such that researchers and clinicians should avoid their use altogether. This argument has had significant impact and clarified the path to deeper understanding and more accurate measurement of sexual dysfunctions.

Dr Diego Barneche Rosado
Excellence in Higher Degree Research – Engineering, Medicine and Science

“Receiving such a prestigious award was a great honour. This type of recognition not only serves as encouragement for my future career, but also certainly helps boost my curriculum for future job applications. Furthermore, through this award the University has recognised the value of theoretical science in biology which is fundamental to improve our understanding of an ever changing climate, and how it is likely to affect the world’s biota.”

About Deigo’s work
Modelling ecological phenomena on the basis of energy and materials available in the environment provides a deeper understanding of the environmental constraints to life. Reef fishes represent the most species-rich group of vertebrates and occupy diverse habitats that vary substantially in temperature across the globe. Diego produced models that found growth and metabolic rates of reef fishes were determined by body mass and temperature.

Diego developed and implemented innovative techniques for modelling that are important to understanding how the marine world is likely to change. Modelling techniques greatly improve forecasting the effects of a changing world on marine fishes, which is fundamental to understanding the structure and dynamics of marine ecosystems. Marine fishes comprise the largest single source of protein for human consumption.

Diego discovered that many tropical fish are already approaching a heat ceiling in respect to their metabolic rates. This finding suggests that ocean warming may have a substantial impact on wild fish stocks if species are unable to adapt quickly. Diego showed that the number of species present in a community is the primary driver of population abundance. Because tropical communities have considerably more species, there is a strong suggestion that tropical species are at a generally higher risk of extinction due to lower population abundances as compared to temperate species.

Excellence in Higher Degree Research Supervision
This category recognises our outstanding Higher Degree Research supervisors who enable our higher degree research candidates to achieve their highest potential.

And the winner is: Associate Professor Kay Bussey
“I am honoured to receive this award. It is a joy to work with HDR students and to facilitate the growth of their research skills and competencies as they master the research process. This process is not just an intellectual one, it involves social elements as well. Learning to collaborate with a team is an important aspect of the research process. The research environment provided by the Department of Psychology and the Centre for Emotional Health provides the opportunity for learning this collaborative process. I am hopeful this award will enable future students to benefit from this apprenticeship type model of supervision (based on Bandura’s social cognitive theory) that builds on students’ research skills and competencies. Most importantly, it is hoped by adopting such an approach, students are able to achieve their maximum potential which benefits themselves, the Department, the University, and most of all the public who fund research training.”

About Kay’s work
Kay provides enabling research mentoring in a way that flows through the entire research ecosystem. From recently appointed postdoctoral researchers, to higher degree research candidates, through to final year undergraduate students – Kay doesn’t leave anyone out.

Her approach to research mentoring ensures a long-term pipeline of enhanced research capability. Training is provided to higher degree research candidates in the supervision of final-year undergraduate research volunteers during fieldwork. These volunteers assist the higher degree research candidates in studies and the collection of research data. The higher degree research candidates gain expertise in supervising a research team and the undergraduate students gain a snapshot of what it is like to conduct research. This approach creates a system where everyone gains from the experience while the underpinning research continues to develop.

Kay also mentors staff members who are supervising a PhD student to completion for the first time. This mentoring encompasses the whole process of how to select examiners and prepare the relevant paperwork, how to select the most appropriate manner to provide feedback to the candidate, and how to respond to examiners reports.

Jim Piper Award for Excellence in Research Leadership
This award is to recognise, encourage and reward those researchers who are on a path to becoming research leaders at Macquarie. Outstanding and inspiring research leaders engage with a broad research agenda: they attract, motivate, develop and lead fellow researchers and research students; and, attract significant external funding support in order to build research capacity.

And the winner is: Professor Amanda Barnier

In her thank you speech Amanda dedicated her award to Associate Professor Doris McIlwain who passed away from cancer earlier this year.

“I’d also like to thank the other wonderful women I’ve been privileged to work with, to be mentored by and to have as role models for my own leadership. My former Dean, Janet Greeley, my former Head of Department, Anne Castles, my current Head of Department, Gen McArthur and the other wonderful women I work with: Celia Harris, Jennie Hudson and Lesley Hughes. And not to forget the magnificent men! Not least of which is my long-time collaborator, dear friend and Doris’ partner, John Sutton. Finally I would like to thank the University because it’s not that common in our sector to receive the kind of support and scaffolding that Macquarie provides to its women, whether it is return from parental leave grants, leadership training courses, or just all the senior women in leadership roles that we can look up to. It’s such a good news story what Macquarie does for its women so please keep doing it. It makes a big difference to us.”

About Amanda’s work
Amanda has earned an international reputation for innovative, interdisciplinary research in cognitive science and psychology that addresses important real-world problems. Amanda has put hypnosis to work investigating puzzling psychological phenomena and pioneered the use of hypnosis to develop compelling laboratory versions of a large catalogue of clinical delusions. Her research has allowed the testing of ideas about the birth and maintenance of delusional beliefs and how to challenge them.

In the field of memory, Amanda has focused on the possible benefits of remembering with others. She has found that elderly married couples often remember better when they are together than when they are alone. Her research suggests that remembering with a long-term partner may compensate for age-related memory loss or even reduce the risk of disease-related cognitive decline and is at the forefront of new memory research looking for ways to predict and protect people from the effects of dementia.

Congratulations to all our award winners.