Funding boost for early career researchers

More than $7 million has been awarded to 17 early career researchers at Monash University in the latest round of funding announced by the Australian Research Council.

The Federal Minister for Education Dan Tehan announced $84 million for 200 new research projects under the Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRA) scheme. Monash University received $7,076,818 for 17 awards for 2021.

The scheme aims to support researchers in their early careers and each DECRA recipient will receive salary support for three years.

The funding was awarded to diverse projects including research into ice sheet loss in Antarctica, social cohesion, the recovery of threatened ecosystems, and the impact of global trade and financial uncertainty on the Australian economy.

Provost and Senior Vice-President Professor Marc Parlange said the funding recognises Monash University’s constant pursuit to help shape society for the better and create positive impact in communities locally and internationally.

“Our researchers continue to be at the forefront of developing solutions to real-world challenges. This wonderful result demonstrates the ARC’s acknowledgment of that potential,” he said.

“We’re extremely grateful for the ARC’s ongoing support.”

Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Research Council (ARC), Professor Sue Thomas, said researchers in their early careers benefit from the dedicated funding provided by the DECRA scheme which enables research and training in high quality and supportive environments.

“These are world-leading research projects addressing important issues that will make a real difference to every Australian.”

The DECRA scheme supports early-career researchers by providing resources to focus on advancing their research, and the opportunities to build important connections and knowledge.

In addition to the salary support, each DECRA recipient will receive up to $50,000 in  per year for other costs essential to their project.

A full list of the 2021 ARC DECRA recipients and their projects is available on the ARC website.

The 17 successful researchers are:

Monash Business School

  • Dr Rohan Sweeney
    Maximising impacts of aid by incorporating local priorities ($349,127)

    This project aims to increase the effectiveness of Australia’s health aid
    program in the Asia-Pacific region by employing advanced health economics
    methods and working with stellar international collaborators. The project
    expects to generate new knowledge about the benefits from increased
    alignment. Expected outcomes include increased regional research capacity
    and strategies for stakeholders to increase alignment for greater impact. This
    should benefit Australia’s health aid program, so that it meets the expectations
    of the Australian public and improves the health and wellbeing of aid
    beneficiaries.

  • Dr Ayushi Bajaj
    Global economic uncertainty, liquidity and monetary policy in Australia ($347,889)

    This project aims to analyse the impact of global trade and financial uncertainty on the Australian economy and provide quantifiable policy prescriptions. The intended outcomes of the project include offering a new theory with the potential to guide future research and novel quantitative application to Australian macroeconomic data. This should provide significant insights for institutions such as the Reserve Bank of Australia and benefits through the design of policy.

Faculty of Engineering

  • Dr Yaoxin HuMicrostructured nanohybrid films for passive daytime cooling ($433,746)

    This project aims to develop a daytime radiative cooling surface without external energy requirement via novel microstructured nanohybrid film coatings to perpetually dump heat into cold outer space through the atmospheric window. The expected outcome of the project will place Australia in a competitive position in advanced green building infrastructure and highly demanded energy-saving technologies. This should provide benefits, such as significantly decreasing building energy consumption.

  • Dr James Saunderson Realising the potential of hyperbolic programming ($395,775)

    This project aims to develop and analyse new mathematical and algorithmic methods for polynomial optimisation and decision problems. Expected outcomes include more scalable and/or reliable methods for polynomial optimisation and safety verification of dynamical systems, and theory explaining the power and limitations of these methods when compared with existing approaches. Possible benefits include safer and more reliable complex engineered systems, such as the power grid or interacting autonomous vehicles, verified by methods built on those developed in the project.

Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences

  • Dr Michael UckelmannMonash Biomedicine Discovery Institute
    Polycomb Group Proteins – Shaping Chromatin Architecture to Silence Genes ($430,485)

    This project aims to address the fundamental question of how genes are switched off by studying a group of molecular off-switches, the polycomb group proteins. The project is expected to generate new knowledge in the area of gene regulation and epigenetics by combining innovative methods of structural biology and cell biology in an interdisciplinary way.

  • Dr Emma GrantMonash Biomedicine Discovery Institute
    The investigation of an unconventional Human Leukocyte Antigen molecule ($450,958)

    This project aims to characterise a unique and understudied surface molecule (HLA-E). The immune system is activated and regulated by a complex set of molecules including HLA molecules present on the cell surface that inform the immune system of infection. Therefore, this project expects to generate new knowledge in the areas of cellular biology and immunology by utilising a cutting-edge and multi-disciplinary approach.

  • Dr Amy WinshipMonash Biomedicine Discovery Institute
    Defining single-strand DNA break repair capacity in oocytes ($428,191)

    This project aims to investigate fundamental biological mechanisms required for the production of high-quality oocytes, which fortify female fertility and the propagation of all sexually reproducing species. Exploiting unique mouse models, this study will define the importance of single strand DNA break repair capacity in oocytes for the first time, by outlining the role of single strand DNA repair proteins in maintaining genetic integrity of gametes throughout their lifespan.

  • Dr Adam ShahineMonash Biomedicine Discovery Institute
    Defining the structural basis of lipid mediated T cell immunity ($458,120)

    This project aims to undertake discovery research to investigate the molecular mechanisms underpinning the role of lipids in T cell immunity: an emerging area of immense biological significance. The anticipated goal is to generate new knowledge in the areas of the life sciences, by using a multidisciplinary approach that includes structural biology, mass spectrometry, biophysics, and cellular immunology, to gain fundamental insight into molecular determinants that govern lipid mediated immunity.

Faculty of Science

  • Dr Jessica Walsh, School of Biological Sciences
    Road to recovery: evidence-based conservation of threatened ecosystems ($442,638)

    This project aims to develop novel decision-support tools to cost-effectively recover threatened ecosystems, through landscape-scale, evidence-based ecological restoration.

  • Dr Richard Jones, School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment
    The characteristics and controls of ice sheet loss on centennial timescales ($411,073)

    This project aims to unearth the characteristics and controls of Antarctic ice sheet loss on timescales of 100s to 1000s of years. The polar ice sheets are getting smaller at an accelerating rate in response to a warming climate, but modern observations are not yet sufficient to determine whether current ice sheet loss marks the start of irreversible retreat.

  • Dr Felicity McCormack, School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment
    From creeping to sliding: controls on Antarctic Ice Sheet flow processes ($429,043)

    This project aims to provide new insight into how ice flow processes influence Antarctic ice loss – a serious unsolved problem in predicting how much Antarctica will contribute to sea level rise. Using a state-of-the-art ice sheet model and real-world glaciological observations, this project expects to generate new knowledge of the mechanisms, and environmental and climatic conditions that control ice flow.

  • Dr Veronika Chobanova, School of Physics and Astronomy
    Challenging the Standard Model with the LHCb experiment
     ($462,265)

    This project aims to reveal the existence of elementary particles never observed before or of new forces of nature by studying data collected by the LHCb experiment. LHCb is situated at the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider.

Faculty of Information Technology

  • Dr Jiangshan Yu, Monash Blockchain Technology Centre
    A Scalable and Adaptive-Resilient Blockchain ($408,000)

    This project aims to address the security and scalability challenges that limit blockchain adoption. Existing blockchains do not scale and are vulnerable to attacks (e.g. with a total loss of over US$1 billion in 2019). This project expects to improve security by adaptively enforcing the currently broken security assumptions, and to improve scalability by designing blockchains with high concurrency via relaxed criteria on the ordering of transactions. The expected outcomes include foundations and practical solutions for self-adaptive, secure and scalable blockchains. The benefits of this would be improved confidence in and capacity for building blockchain applications, which have a predicted value of over US$3.1 trillion by 2030.

  • Dr Viviane Hessami, Department of Human Centred Computing
    Recordkeeping for empowerment of rural communities in developing countries ($399,429)

    This project aims to enable more effective and culturally-sensitive information dissemination programs and digital preservation programs based on an analysis of the differences between the information needs and preferences of women and men in rural communities in developing countries. This project is expected to develop a theory of gendered recordkeeping and a framework for the application of gender-sensitive and culturally-sensitive information dissemination and information preservation programs. Expected outcomes include economic and social benefits for rural and disadvantaged communities through the empowerment of creating and preserving information in ways that meet personal and community needs and preferences.

Faculty of Arts

  • Dr Susan Carland, School of Languages, Literature, Cultures and Linguistics
    Living well together – Muslim women, social cohesion, and Islamophobia ($404,795)

    This project aims to identify and document the initiatives being used by Muslim women to counter Islamophobia and build social cohesion in the community. It also examines how these initiatives are received by the community. The project expects to generate new knowledge on the role of gender in creating social cohesion and countering Islamophobia through interviews with Muslim women who lead such initiatives. Expected outcomes of this research include improved theoretically-informed approaches for addressing Islamophobia. This should provide significant benefits including a better understanding of what works in addressing Islamophobia and building social cohesion, and clarity for guiding funding aimed at supporting such initiatives.

  • Dr Akane Kanai, School of Media, Film and Journalism
    Young women’s online experiences of learning about gender inequality ($422,044)

    This project aims to investigate how young women engage with socially significant knowledge about gender inequality in social media groups and online discussion forums, and how they use this knowledge. This project expects to generate new knowledge by explaining how online environments shape knowledge acquisition for young people, using an innovative digital ethnographic approach. Expected outcomes include practical guidelines for assessing the positive and negative aspects of online culture as a pedagogical resource. This should provide significant benefits in helping young people to better navigate online cultures and to recognise, negotiate and, wherever possible, overcome gender-based inequality in their lives.

  • Dr Luzhou LiSchool of Media, Film and Journalism
    Outbound Chinese social media platforms and platform governance ($403,250)

    This project aims to investigate outbound Chinese social media platforms such as TikTok and the regulatory issues they raise. Chinese platforms are rapidly expanding in Australia and globally, yet they are poorly regulated, leading to the circulation of inappropriate and illegal content. This project expects to advance policy knowledge of the overseas operations of Chinese platforms, their self-regulatory measures, and external regulatory options. Expected outcomes of the project include improved understanding of the policy and regulatory implications of outbound Chinese platforms. Expected benefits include suitable policy advice on regulation of these platforms in Australia, targeted at reducing public exposure to harmful content.

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