Promiscuity, disgust, anxiety and sex: prizes for postgrad research

Detail from Alex Jordan's poster
Friday, 27 August, 2010
Bob Beale

Why aren't males more promiscuous? Why are feelings of disgust so hard to get over? Why do some bad memories make you feel like a failure?  How long will you live if you're small, hungry and lonely?

That intriguing mix of topics featured among the prize-winning submissions from the next generation of bright young researchers in the Faculty's first Postgraduate Research Competition.

Entries flowed fast and strong, with 86 postgraduate students from within the Faculty vying for almost $25,000 in prizes to support travel linked to their research projects.

Entrants had to produce a poster explaining their project, write a formal scientific abstract summarising it, and make a personal one-minute presentation about it to an audience and a panel of judges draw from the ranks of the Faculty's senior academics.

The research themes were: Science and Society; Cutting Edge Discovery Science; Living Well and Aging Well; Climate, Environment and Sustainability; and Energy and Materials Technologies. Download the winning abstracts (PDF 277 KB).

As it turned out, students from the School of Psychology took out four of the six prizes, while the other two went to students from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES).

The overall winner, as the student with the highest score from the judges, was:
Jill Newby

Jill Newby (Psychology)

Jill is a PhD candidate supervised by Associate Professor Michelle Moulds. Her research interests are psychopathology, depression and intrusive memories. Her project compared examined intrusive memories and how cognitive behaviour therapy may be successfully used to help people with depression cope better with such unwanted thoughts. Jill's prize was valued at $5,000.

Download Jill Newby's poster (PDF 442 KB).

Two other students also rated very highly with the judges, also winning a prize to the value of $5,000. They were:
Elizabeth Mason

Elizabeth Mason (Psychology)

Elizabeth is a PhD candidate supervised by Professor Rick Richardson. Her research interests are related to gaining a better understanding of the processes involved in anxiety and improving the treatment of anxiety disorders. Her presentation was on the role of disgust in anxiety disorders, in which she proposed that, unlike fear, disgust responses do not reduce in response to extinction, a laboratory model of exposure therapy.

Download Elizabeth Mason's poster (PDF 591 KB).

Alex Jordan

Alex Jordan (BEES)

Alex is a PhD candidate supervised by Professor Rob Brooks, of the Evolution and Ecology Research Centre. He is interested in the investment made by individuals into social and reproductive behaviours. His poster was an innovative Batman cartoon-style account of how he used tropical fish to show that promiscuous males will forgo essential life tasks in favour of sexual effort: the trade-off was that they grew more slowly and to a smaller adult size, and died younger.

Download Alex Jordan's poster (PDF 3.98 MB).

Three students were awarded prizes to the value of $3,000. They were:
Margo Adler

Margo Adler (BEES)

Margo is a PhD student co-supervised by Dr Russell Bonduriansky and Professor Rob Brooks. She is interested in ageing and sexual selection - how males and females shape each other's life histories. Her project investigated the interaction of diet and socialisation on the longevity and reproduction of neriid flies. Both males and females housed individually live longer than flies housed in groups, suggesting a cost to social interaction. But the sexes were different: males housed with other males had their lifespan reduced more than those housed with females, while for females the sex ratio unexpectedly had no effect on lifespan. Well-nourished flies were shown to live longer than flies in poor condition, but they deteriorated more rapidly in the same amount of time, providing evidence for trade-offs in resource allocation.

Download Margot Adler's poster (PDF 1.19 MB).

Stella Li

Stella Li (Psychology)

Stella is a PhD candidate supervised by Professor Rick Richardson. Her research interests involve looking at the neural processes underlying forgetting in rats. Her presentation was on the topic of cutting-edge scientific discoveries, in which she proposed that even though a memory may no longer be retrieved or expressed, there is still physical evidence of that memory in the brain. This research is exciting  as it suggests that, at least in some circumstances, memories may be forgotten but not gone.

Download Stella Li's poster (PDF 562 KB).

Bridget Callaghan

Bridget Callaghan (Psychology)

Bridget is also a PhD and Clinical Masters candidate supervised by Professor Rick Richardson. Her research interests are developmental psychopathology, early-life trauma and fear inhibition. Her presentation was on the topic of living well and ageing well where she presented preclinical research showing that early-life trauma led to increased relapse following treatment for anxiety disorders. Her research suggests that a child’s early-life environment may be a critical determinant of the efficacy of anxiety disorder treatment.

Download Bridget Callaghan's poster (PDF 144 KB).

Media contact:
UNSW Faculty of Science – Bob Beale 0411 705 435