The UNSW Scientia PhD Scholarship Scheme offers scholars of exceptional quality the opportunity to work on research projects aligned with the UNSW 2025 strategy. These prestigious scholarships offer unique benefits, individualised support and guaranteed funding to reach your personal development goals.
The deadline for applicants to contact supervisors is 11:59pm on 20 July 2018.
The Kirby Institute currently has the following scholarships available under this scheme:
Impact of care and support programs following HIV diagnosis
The PhD student will lead academic outputs from a newly funded NHMRC Partnership Project (2018-2022) evaluating interventions involving clinic- and community-based support to enhance HIV treatment and care in a cohort of newly diagnosed people across Australia (n=120 per annum). The aims of the PhD project will be to evaluate: 1) the impact of clinic- and community-based support programs on early uptake of HIV therapy, and ongoing access to HIV specialist care; 2) changes in risk behaviours, onward transmission, and associated factors; and 3) the impact of clinic- and community-based support on ongoing quality of life and well-being.
The PhD student will need strong academic writing and research skills with a sound understanding of and familiarity with research among marginalised populations at risk of HIV in Australia, particularly gay and bisexual men. Prior experience with high-level statistical analysis, including longitudinal analysis, would be essential. Ideally, the candidate should have experience working with community-based and clinic-based health and health promotion services.
Risk factors for long-term chronic disease events in HIV-positive persons
The project will investigate risk factors for serious non-AIDS events (SNAEs), which include cardiovascular disease and cancers, in HIV-positive people. Analyses will be based on the D:A:D Study, the only large HIV-cohort study (49,000 patients) collecting prospective well validated, clinical endpoints. HIV is known to increase the risk of SNAEs, and antiretroviral treatments (ART) have side effects. Understanding how HIV infection, aging and decades of ART interact on the risk of SNAEs will be critical to optimise patient outcomes. The results of this project will have a global impact on management of HIV-positive people.
The ideal candidate would be someone from a biostatistics, epidemiology or public health background, and with experience in infectious diseases/HIV related research desirable. Individuals with clinical experience in infectious diseases, immunology, HIV medicine, or cancer medicine (oncology/haematology), particularly those who have undertaken speciality training in these fields are also encouraged to apply. The potential candidate must be interested in developing complex statistical analysis skills using various statistical software, such as SAS and Stata. Previous experience or application of biostatistical methods will be viewed favourably. The candidate would need to be self-motivated and good written and oral communication skills are essential.
HIV treatment outcomes for children and adults: Asia-Pacific Research Collaboration
In 2014, UNAIDS launched the 90–90–90 targets. The aim is that by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV are accessing sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90% of all people accessing antiretroviral therapy are virally suppressed. The aim of the PhD project will be to examine treatment access and outcomes among children, adolescents and adults living with HIV. The analysis is based on data collected from clinics across 14 countries in Asia-Pacific. The findings help appropriate planning toward reaching the UNAIDS goal ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
We are looking for a domestic or international candidate with research experience, and understanding of statistical methods. The potential candidate must be interested in developing more complex statistical analysis skills using various statistical software, such as SAS and Stata. Good oral and written English communication skills are necessary, not only for the successful completion of the PhD, but to effectively collaborate with investigators across Asia.
Climate change and tropical disease transmission in the Asia-Pacific region
Climate change has the potential to drive global emergence, resurgence and redistribution of infectious diseases. This interdisciplinary project will develop mathematical models to assess the potential impact of climate change on the transmission of tropical diseases in the Asia-Pacific region. These models will incorporate data describing climate change in the region and their effect on pathogens, host/vectors and environmental factors facilitating transmission to forecast the risk of future epidemic outbreaks. The project will involve working with governments and key organisations in the region to ensure results inform strategies to respond, adapt, and prepare for climate change.
The ideal candidate will:
- Hold a first class honours or research master's degree (or equivalent) in mathematics, physics, computer science, epidemiology or a similar quantitative field
- Excellent mathematical and quantitative skills
- Experience using software to develop/run applied mathematical models and perform data analysis
- Excellent written and oral communication skills
- Understanding of infectious disease epidemiology
- Interest in climate change and its potential impact
- Desire to apply mathematical and quantitative analyses to make a difference, inform policy, and improve global health.
The latent HIV-1 reservoir: identifying the key players
The latent reservoir of HIV-1 in patients on fully suppressive anti-retroviral therapy (ART) prevents current therapy from achieving a cure. Identification of the major sources from which HIV-1 can reactivate will allow therapy to specifically target this reservoir. T follicular helper cells (Tfh) are a subset of memory CD4 T cells that reside within secondary lymphoid tissue and may be a major reservoir for HIV-1. These cells are infected with HIV-1 and accumulate during infection despite effective ART. This project will focus on how this reservoir is formed and whether Tfh are the source of recrudescent HIV-1 during ART interruption.
The ideal candidate will possess a Bachelor degree in Science with honours or equivalent. Ideally the candidate will have some prior work experience in biomedical research or industry. Although not essential, experience working within biological containment facilities such as PC2/PC3 is desirable. A good background and understanding in immunology and molecular biology theory and techniques including but not limited to, multi-parameter flow cytometry analysis and fluorescence-activated cell sorting, isolation of DNA/RNA from sorted cells, experience with real-time PCR, sequence data analysis and R programming is desirable. Excellent written and oral communication skills and strong organisational skills are essential.
Elimination of HCV from the HIV positive population within Australia
Recent advances in HCV therapies have led to the real hope of elimination of HCV infections from targeted populations. This idea of ‘micro-elimination’ is an exciting future challenge. The Control and Elimination of HCV from HIV people within Australia (CEASE) project aims to evaluate progress towards this goal within a large Australian cohort of HIV-HCV individuals (n=500) followed through provision of universal HCV treatment access. CEASE will provide data to influence global elimination policy. The PhD student will lead academic outputs relating to treatment uptake and outcomes, reinfection incidence, remaining barriers to treatment access and changes in risk behaviour.
- Excellent written and spoken English
- Basic data analysis skills
- Basic understanding of concepts in clinical medicine (preferably from medical/health background)
- Experience in publication (minimum 1 author publication)
- Demonstration of and/or willingness to work as part of team
- Experience and/or interest in working with marginalized populations
Novel initiatives to enhance Indigenous people’s engagement in sexual health services
Indigenous people living in remote communities continue to experience curable STIs that occur at rates among the highest in the world and have a significant impact on health and wellbeing. The PhD student will evaluate the impact and acceptability of innovative strategies for increasing sexual health service engagement of Indigenous people in community-based, culturally-appropriate and safe settings. Research will be undertaken in places including the Northern Territory, Far North Queensland and New South Wales. Study outcomes will be readily transferrable to other remote communities with endemic STIs and are likely to be adaptable to other settings of high prevalence.
The ideal PhD candidate would be Indigenous and someone with a public health, epidemiology or social science post graduate qualifications. The candidate would need to demonstrate previous research or equivalent work experience in the field of infectious diseases and have significant experience with Indigenous community engagement. The candidate would benefit from having experience leading projects, working in complex research environments, be self-motivated and able to work as part of an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural team.
RNA-Directed Gene Therapy for a Functional HIV Cure
This research project focuses on developing a novel way to control HIV-1 infection using promoter-targeted short interfering (si)RNAs to induce epigenetic silencing or transcriptional gene silencing (TGS). Essential questions to solve prior to clinical trials of the anti-HIV siRNA therapeutics include: determining siRNA combinations that provide the broadest coverage of HIV subtypes, optimising delivery using lentivirus or nanoparticle platforms, then in vivo humanised mouse model assessment. Results from this project will provide essential pre-clinical data and pave the path towards a functional HIV gene therapy cure.
The ideal candidate must meet UNSW PhD entry requirements; have a Bachelor degree with Honours class I or a Master degree in a related field, with a 1 year full-time research component.
The successful candidate will have laboratory technical skills including; good laboratory practice, tissue culture, Personal Containment Level 2 (PC2) or Level 3 (PC3) training.
Experience in industry and/or government in a related field will be advantageous.
The candidate will have experience preparing data for publication and have a track record of high quality publications.
Optimizing deworming programs for control of soil-transmitted helminths
Soil transmitted helminths (STHs) remain a public health problem, with high-intensity infections contributing to malnutrition, anaemia and poor growth. Our ongoing NHMRC-funded trial in the Philippines compares the impact of community-wide vs school-targeted deworming on STH reinfection; to demonstrate that community-wide programs further reduce STH burden in school-age children. This PhD project will complement the current trial and will be essential for research translation. It consists of cost-effectiveness analyses and social sciences research exploring the economic impact and programmatic barriers to community-based programs and to drug compliance. Results will support a shift towards more effective STH control policies.
The ideal candidate would be someone from an epidemiology/public health or health economics/social sciences background.
Individuals with experience in infectious diseases, particularly neglected tropical diseases, namely those who have participated or led field work from a research or programmatic perspective are encouraged to apply.
Familiarity with cost-effectiveness analysis or with mixed methods approaches will be viewed favourably.
The candidate will be self-motivated and must have good written and oral communication skills.
Susana Vaz Nery, Medicine, Kirby Institute
Virginia Wiseman, Medicine, Kirby Institute
David MacLaren, James Cook University, Anton Breinl Research Centre for Health Systems Strengthening
Protecting the blood supply through improved risk estimation
Australia has a well-deserved reputation for blood safety, which must be maintained through optimal strategies for data collection and analysis. This project will support blood safety in Australia, through mixed methods. It can include surveys of risk factors for infection in populations of current and potential donors, and qualitative research methods to gain deeper insights into attitudes about donation from stakeholders and potential donors. Further, it may make use of mathematical models to predict infection risk under various policies, and monitor blood donor screening data to assess the impact of changes in donor selection and screening policies.
The project forms part of a large, funded NHMRC grant, and offers candidates considerable variety in the areas of research to be conducted. The ideal candidate for this project will have skills in both quantitative epidemiological analysis and qualitative research methods. An ability to understand and apply simple mathematical models will also be an asset for the candidate, as will an understanding of health policy and the role of evidence in guiding policy.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis against HIV infection in homosexual men
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is fundamentally changing HIV prevention globally. In 2016, NSW was the first jurisdiction worldwide to quickly implement PrEP at scale through the EPIC-NSW study of almost 10,000 mainly gay and bisexual men at high-risk of HIV. In 2018, PrEP was listed on Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and EPIC-NSW participants will transition to publicly-funded PrEP during 2018-19. This project will be based on EPIC-NSW participants, and their post-study follow-up. It will examine HIV and sexually transmitted infection incidence, ongoing PrEP use and adherence, and HIV risk behaviours, as well as inequalities in PrEP access.
Due to the breadth of the project, this project could suit strong candidates from a range of disciplinary backgrounds including: public health, epidemiology, social science, medicine, and social psychology. The candidate should have some experience with statistics and knowledge and skills in quantitative data analysis. The project will involve both cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis. An interest and understanding of working with marginalised communities is required.
Second study of Sexual Health and Attitudes of Australian Prisoners
Prisoners are a priority population in several National Communicable Diseases Strategies but excluded from household surveys leaving a significant knowledge gap for this marginalised population. The first Sexual Health Survey of Australian prisoners (SHAAP-1) was conducted 10 years ago. This NHMRC-funded project updates and expands on SHAAP-1 to become the world’s largest and most comprehensive population-based survey of prisoners’ sexual health and covers: sexually transmissible infections and risk, contraception, condom use, sex attitudes, sexual violence and sex work. It will also collect data on key marginalised and vulnerable prisoner groups (Indigenous women, LGBTIQ prisoners, childhood sexual abuse survivors).
- Master’s degree in public health, psychology, or criminology
- Demonstrated ability to conduct high quality research utilising a combination of research methods (quantitative and qualitative, as the project has a qualitative arm)
- Demonstrated interest in addressing health and/or justice disparities
- Understanding of public health issues, particularly in relation to sexual health and behaviours.
- Interest in the intersection between public health and criminology.
Understanding the socio-cultural dimensions of TB in Papua New Guinea: Knowledge to optimise public health solutions
Tuberculosis (TB) is preventable and curable, yet remains the leading infectious cause of death globally. Past strategies have repeatedly failed and Papua Bew Guinea (PNG) has one of the highest burdens on TB in the world. The PhD student will lead academic outputs from a NHMRC Project Grant to investigate the socio-cultural beliefs, behaviours and environmental issues that sustain and enhance the transmission of TB in two high burden sites: Daru, Western Province and Port Moresby, National Capital District. The candidate will also assess the accessibility and acceptability of current and future socio-cultural and biomedical interventions for TB control.
The ideal PhD candidate would be someone with a social science (such as anthropology, sociology or human geography) or public health background. Experience in qualitative health research, including participatory methods, in low-middle income countries is highly desirable. The candidate would need to demonstrate previous research or equivalent work experience in the field of infectious diseases, not necessarily TB, and have experience with community engagement. Knowledge of Papua New Guinea is not essential but would be viewed favourably. The candidate would benefit from having experience leading projects, working in complex research environments, be self-motivated and able to work as part of an interdisciplinary and cross-country team.
Gene delivery into resting immune cells
Genetically modified immune cells have extraordinary potential to be utilised in various immunotherapies (eg. curing HIV, untreatable malignancies and recalcitrant chronic infections). Lentiviral delivery platforms hold great promise for genetic modification, yet current platforms fail as delivery vectors due to dominant host-restrictions in resting immune cells, which have the greatest capacity for engraftment, differentiation and effector capacity. In researching known lentiviral restrictions and utilising viral evolution platforms to circumvent unknown restriction pathways, this project will be instrumental in developing new generation of lentiviral delivery platforms to resting immune cells that will be eventually used to transform the care of many recalcitrant diseases.
This project requires an individual that has great attention to detail and in meticulous in their approach to experiments at the bench. The majority of this project will be developing highly novel and unique genetic delivery platforms with high therapeutic and commercial potential. A candidate with future ambition to move into industry or academia would benefit from this PhD program and having supervisors and mentors that that span academia and industry. Previous students who have research in this field and under this team have indeed excelled at both. Finally, students that are also willing to learn new and diverse techniques and liase with a diverse range of future potential collaborators would also find this project very rewarding.
Obviously a candidate with an interest and/or training in molecular biology, virology and immunology would fit well with this project.
Stuart Turville, Medicine, Kirby Institute
Robert Nordon, Engineering, Biomedical Engineering
Geoff Symonds, CSL/Cal-Immune, Other
Computational and statistical models for single-cell multi-omics data in immunology
Genomics and single cell technologies are revolutionising modern biomedical research, including understanding how immune systems protect the body from pathogens and cancer. These technologies generate very large and complex data sets comprising gene, protein and function information at the single cell level. However, an inability to adequately analyse these data is currently limiting the progress in this field. This project will develop cutting-edge statistical and computational models to learn the molecular pathways driving immune cells to a successful immune response against pathogens and cancer. This knowledge will inform novel immunotherapies for cancer and vaccines against significant pathogens affecting marginalised communities.
The success of this proposal is very much dependent on an interdisciplinary team, including ambitious and talented students with a background in quantitative disciplines (e.g. Mathematics, Statistics, Bioinformatics, Theoretical Biology). The quantitative skills required should include computational statistics and statistical or machine learning, Bayesian inference techniques, stochastic simulation methods and very good coding skills in R and other bioinformatics-oriented languages such as Python, C, Matlab or Julia. Experience in biological problem solving is very helpful but not necessary. Candidates with a mathematical/statistical background should demonstrate a strong interest in learning the basis of immunology and genomics. The candidate should have outstanding communication skills, as this project will rely on interactions with multiple researchers across different fields of research. These are key position requirements for the successful development of novel computational and statistical models to understand very large and complex multi-omics data sets. The candidate should genuinely enjoy problem solving using quantitative methods and be willing to learn and work across disciplines. The supporting research group will offer a unique opportunity to work closely with successful experimental, clinical and quantitative researchers, as well as provide close interactions with a larger team of PhD students working on related topics.
Automated rapid epidemic intelligence for early outbreak response
Rapid epidemic intelligence is critical for early response and mitigation of pandemics and epidemics. This research builds on an epidemic observatory, Epiwatch, developed already within MacIntyre’s program. The PhD research will focus on automation of Epiwatch through monitoring and data mining of public data sources, and creation of novel syndromic surveillance using advanced algorithms and machine learning techniques. This will lead to automated rapid alert systems for epidemics, which can be provided to users in the field through an App. The outcome of this project will be novel and practical data gathering and analysis techniques for rapid intelligence that can be used in the field for epidemic response.
- Masters in public health, informatics or computing or equivalent
- Experience in applied bioinformatics, computing or data science
- Good quantitative skills
- Research publications
- 1–2 years relevant working experience in research/academic environment
- Understanding programming in python
- An interest in surveillance systems and outbreak control.
Raina MacIntyre, Medicine, Kirby Institute
Fethi Rahbi, Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering
Abrar Chughtai, Medicine, Public Health & Community Medicine
Modelling the genomic epidemiology of antimicrobial resistant gonorrhoea
Until recently, gonorrhoea has been a readily treatable infection. However, expanding resistance to relevant antibiotics has led to requirements for dual-therapy and raised the potential for untreatable infections. This project seeks to understand the epidemiology of gonorrhoea resistance in Australia drawing on genotypic and epidemiological data collection through two associated NHMRC grant using mathematical models that combine evolutionary and epidemiological processes. Specific aims of the project include understanding the diversity of observed gonorrhoea genotypes, the frequency of importation and to identify potential population health mechanisms for slowing geographic spread of resistant strains.
The ideal candidate would have strong mathematical and/or statistical skills combined with scientific insight and an interest in population health/biology. In terms of technical skills, in particular the candidate should meet the following criteria:
- At least an undergraduate qualification in a quantitative science (e.g mathematics, engineering, physics, statistics) including knowledge and understanding of differential equations and stochastic processes;
- Strong programming skills, particularly in high-level languages such as R or Matlab;
- Strong data analysis skills;
- Experience in computational experimentation (e.g. conducting simulation studies, comparing model-related hypotheses with data etc.);
- Excellent written and oral communication skills including the capacity to communicate with scientists from other disciplines such as microbiology and genetics
James Wood, Medicine, Public Health & Community Medicine
David Regan, Medicine, Kirby Institute
Mark Tanaka, Science, Biotechnology & Biomolecular Sciences