Two University of Queensland post graduate students have been recognised among the nation’s brightest, named as 2019 Westpac Future Leaders Scholars.
Sachithrani Umanda Madugalle, Matthew Page and 15 other students across Australia will share $2 million to support their work to find solutions to some of the nation’s most complex issues.
Ms Madugalle is striving to understand the genetics behind the brain’s response to fear.
“We’re interested in neuroplasticity – how the brain learns from experience – in particular, fear learning,” she said.
“When you have a fearful experience, the brain learns to associate that experience with an environmental cue.
“To abolish that fear, the brain must be repeatedly exposed to that cue without any negative consequences.
“My project involves developing innovative techniques that do not exist anywhere in the world to enable us to study how fear learning occurs in the brain at the level of our genes.
“It’s important fundamental research that will not only provide insights into how our brain functions, but could also form the basis of treatments for fear-related disorders.”
Ms Madugalle is the third scholar in three years from the UQ Queensland Brain Institute’s Bredy lab to win the coveted scholarship, joining fellow PhD students Laura Leighton and Esmi Zajaczkowksi.
UQ International Relations student Mr Page aims to direct his passion for world politics, diplomacy and policy to better connect Australian businesses, communities and government to what he describes as tremendous opportunities throughout Asia.
“I firmly believe that further engagement with the region will not only yield economic benefits but help Australia become a more cohesive and prosperous multicultural nation,” he said.
“The scholarship is an opportunity for me to pursue my passion for international relations in the Asia-Pacific and gain an academic and professional background in foreign policy development.”
Mr Page said the funding would allow him to concentrate on his studies after years of financial struggle.
“Throughout my undergraduate degree and since I’ve graduated I have been working part-time in hospitality, often struggling to balance study, work and extra-curricular commitments,” he said.
“For me, this scholarship provides the financial support to focus solely on my Masters and relevant internships with Asialink Business, AIIA QLD, and the Australian High Commission in Malaysia.”
Each scholarship recipient will get up to $120,000 to cover their postgraduate studies, along with a nine-month leadership development program and the opportunity to study abroad.
Westpac Scholars Trust CEO Susan Bannigan said all 17 recipients were inspiring individuals, who would also gain access to the Westpac 100 Scholars Network.
“Amongst our 2019 recipients we have doctors, teachers, engineers and an aspiring neuroscientist – all working on research projects that have the potential to shape our future,” Ms Bannigan said.
“With lifelong access to professional development and unlimited networking opportunities, scholars have the power to transform big ideas into real solutions.”