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Burnet students showcased the breadth of the Institute’s research — from Australian attitudes towards regulated injecting facilities, to children’s antibody responses toward severe malaria — at the 2023 Student Symposium.

Honours, Masters and PhD students shared their year’s work in three-minute theses and longer presentations in person for the first time since 2020.

Held on R U OK?Day, a national day of action to talk about and support mental health, student coordinator Dr Raffi Gugasyan said, “[the pandemic] had an impact on all of us, for some that impact continues and is very real,” and encouraged the students to think about colleagues who weren’t able to join them.


Image: Student Representatives Annie Tan and Kaitlin Pekin with Honours Award winner Olivia Wilhelm

The annual symposium is one of the highlights of the student calendar as it provides a “safe place” to present the work they have been working on all year.
Student representative Annie Tan, third-year PhD student in public health and life sciences, said it was a chance for students to network with peers across different disciplines.

“It was a success … just how many students were still in the room at the end of the day, supporting their peers sticking around for the presentations for best awards,” she said.

“It really brings back that kind of social networking culture for students … and an opportunity to meet face-to-face.”

Olivia Wilhelm was one of two honours prize winners, alongside Laura Rikard-Bell — both completing their Honours in life sciences.

Ms Rikard-Bell’s honours thesis focus on enhancing apoptosis in macrophages to facilitate HIV cure, and Ms Wilhelm’s looks at targeting HIV-infected macrophages with anti-Env antibodies.

“It's an interesting area because [HIV treatment] can often feel neglected,” Ms Wilhelm said.

“We have treatment and people can live like normal … but there are still these other increased complications [like heart disease, bone disease, and cancer] that I didn't know about before.”

Guest speakers of the day included Associate Professor Sandeep Reddy from Deakin University who spoke about using Artificial Intelligence in the healthcare sector, and EC Australia, Program Manager Troy Combo, who spoke about eliminating Hepatitis C In Aboriginal Communities.

Other award winners:

Best Honours Presentation: 
Irene Roy (Honours, public health) 
An Analysis Of How People Who Inject Drugs In Regional, Rural and Remote Areas Access Healthcare: A mixed methods study 
People’s Choice Honours Presentation: 
Meghna Prasannan Ponganam (Honours, public health) 
Premenstrual Syndrome and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: A Scoping Review of the prevalence, burden, management and barriers to accessing treatment  

Best Three-Minute Thesis Presentation:
Grace Wright (Masters, life sciences) 
Antibody responses to severe malaria in children
People’s Choice Three-Minute Thesis Presentation: 
Samia Aziz (PhD, public health) 
Levels, trends, determinants, outcomes, and facility-level references rates for induction of labour in Victoria, Australia