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Last week, the Vineyard of the Future had three PhD candidates – with topics on beer, wine, and chocolate – narrate their journey, background, motivations, and how their findings would be applied in the real-world. And this week, we present to you our second instalment with PhD candidates exploring our choices in chocolates, drought tolerance in lentils, and non-invasive stress detection technologies in beef cattle.


Thejani Gunaratne
Sensory Science
Development and implementation of new tools in sensory evaluation of chocolates based on human emotions, biometrics, and machine learning

In narrating her journey into a PhD…
pp_thejani1.jpgI cast my mind back to about two years ago when I was overwhelmed upon receiving an email confirming that I was offered a scholarship to start a PhD at The University of Melbourne, together with my twin sister. Doing well in Academics since primary school initiated my mother to drive me through to the path of starting a PhD. It was my passion to conduct research in the field of food science and I am glad that my research is on what I love to do, especially in my favourite University and the country I wished to study in!!

On how her background shaped her choice…
I passed BSc (Special) in Food Science and Technology with First Class Honours in Sri Lanka and was awarded the 2nd best student in the University graduating list with a GPA of 3.94 out 4.0. This achievement encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to start a PhD in Australia. The educational background I had at home since childhood due to my mother’s and father’s academic professions also helped me in following this pathway. Also, I saw that there were opportunities in the field I conducted my undergraduate degree in, which motivated me even more in applying for a PhD.

On how her motivations have evolved since taking on her PhD…
I always had a passion in doing a PhD. Therefore, I was highly motivated since I got the great opportunity in starting it in one of the world’s most prestigious universities. With time, I realised the importance of my study for future researchers as well as in the commercial field, especially food companies interested in implementing novel sensory techniques prior to market introduction of new food products. My motivations have been high since I started my PhD till today, and I am planning to continue doing so until I complete it successfully.

And the real-world applications of her research work…
My findings can be used in the academic field as well as in the commercial field. I am developing novel tools for sensory evaluation of food products based on human emotions, biometrics, and machine learning algorithms. This will help future researchers conducting studies on sensory analysis and also benefit the food sector.

Thejani is currently completing her 2nd year of candidature, and will be finishing in February 2019.
Connect with her on LinkedIn, Research Gate, and UoM.


Sajitha Biju
Plant Science
Physiological and biochemical responses of lentil to silicon mediated drought tolerance

In narrating the story of her journey into a PhD…
PP_Sajitha
My research journey started two years ago at UoM. My research is focuses on exploring the physiological and biochemical mechanisms behind silicon-mediated drought stress tolerance in lentils. I owe this unique opportunity of studying at UoM, to the rigorous and nurturing experiences that I had as a student at the University of Kerala, India.  My mentor, Dr K Murugan, who taught me during my Masters in Botany inspired me a lot and planted the seeds of passion and curiosity about the field of ‘plant stress biology’ in me. And this journey would not have been possible without the support of my family.

On how her background played a role in influencing her pathway choice…
My experience as a student of Botany for five years – three in Bachelors and two in Masters – and as a college lecturer and researcher for four years in India, was academically stimulating and furthered my passion for academia both personally and professionally.

On how her motivations have been shaped…
My research journey started with excitement, surprises, and challenges. When I arrived on UoM’s campus, I was a bit nervous. But once I sat down for my first meeting with my supervisors, I relaxed. My passion for research has improved over the years due to the opportunities I have been blessed with here at UoM. I learned so many new things within and outside my research area. I feel that I have gained many skills that will be invaluable to the future career I will pursue. These include the ability to investigate and think critically, communicate effectively, and have good time management and multi-tasking skills. Attending international conferences also helped me in networking, sharing, and learning new ideas. My confidence was again boosted when I got the prestigious GRDC (Grain Research Development Corporation, Victoria) scholarship, best presentation award in the post-graduate symposium and inter-drought travel grant from the University of Western Australia. I must add that it is a privilege for me to learn from my experienced and dedicated supervisors, namely Dr. Dorin Gupta and Dr. Sigfredo Fuentes, who greatly influence my love for research.

And the real-world applications of her research….
Drought stress is a major stress affecting crop production in Australia and overseas that is expected to worsen in the coming years. In this scenario, my research is highly relevant as it illustrates the complex mechanisms behind drought stress in lentils, a nutritious legume rich in protein, and explains how the mineral element silicon can be used as a tool for enhancing the drought stress tolerance in this crop. The findings will definitely ensure a step towards global food security in this era of climate change.

Sajitha will be completing her research in February 2019 and plans to pursue post doctoral research whilst maintaining her career as a scientist/lecturer in the future.
Connect with her on Research Gate, Loop, and ORCID.


Maria Fernanda Jorquera
Animal Science
Implementing non-invasive methods to assess physiological responses of cattle during slaughter and the relationship with the quality of beef

In narrating the story of her journey into a PhD…
PP_MariaMy journey into a PhD started with the thesis of my Masters at UoM. When my thesis project was in the planning stage I met Dr Sigfredo Fuentes, who mentioned the biometric technology he was implementing in humans and this gave me the idea of trying it out during my project, which was performed on a dairy farm. During this project, I discovered that I enjoyed research, and that I would see myself as a researcher in the future. With this, the idea of a PhD came to my mind. After this project successfully showed possible applications in cattle, Dr Sigfredo Fuentes and Ellen Jongman gave me the opportunity of continuing my research as a PhD student. Later, Robyn Warner and Frank Dunshea came on board with a MLA project that was interested on using this non-invasive methods to assess physiological responses to stress in beef cattle. As such, I hope to be able to contribute with this research.

On how her background played a role in influencing her pathway choice…
My background has totally influenced my pathway. Since I decided to go for the veterinarian degree, I knew I wanted to have a future career related to animals. In addition, during my Masters, I confirmed this “joy” for researching areas related to animal wellbeing and animal production.

On whether her motivations have evolved since taking on her PhD…
My motivation at the beginning was basically to be involved in research and keep learning about animals and animal production. Upon starting my second year of PhD, my motivation has evolved and become clearer. My motivation is still related to increase my knowledge in these areas, but now it also involves the idea of being able to contribute with innovative techniques that could improve animal management. 

And the real-world applications of her research….
I really hope the findings of this research can help introduce non-invasive technologies that will be useful tools for farmers and animal producers.

Maria is aiming to conclude her PhD in her 3rd year.
Connect with her via LinkedIn and email.

And stay tune for our final instalment next week on what “maketh” a PhD candidate!