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In conversation: Rakshanya Sekar’s journey in the ANU College of Health and Medicine 3MT Competition and JCSMR student conference.

Following her success last week, we sat down with Clear Vison Research PhD student Rakshanya Sekar to talk about her experience at the 3MT and the JCSMR student conference.

Winning three awards in one day is a monumental achievement, and for Rakshanya Sekar, it was a moment of immense excitement and gratitude.

"I am incredibly grateful for the recognition and the platform to showcase our work within the school and the college. This achievement is a testament to the collective effort and support from my mentors, colleagues, and the community. I am truly honoured by this opportunity."

Rakshanya recieving the people's choice award at the JCSMR student conference

Rakshanya recently won the College of Health and Medicine 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition (both people's choice and overall best presentation) and the Students’ Choice Award at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) Student Conference.

Her presentations surrounded her ground-breaking PhD research with Dr. Yvette Wooff, focusing on using extracellular vesicles as treatments for Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). Visual decline is a critical area of research in Australia, as over 13 million Australians have one or more self-reported chronic eye conditions (AIHW; 2017-2018). The total annual economic cost of vision loss in Australia is estimated to be $16.6 billion, or $28,905 per person with vision loss aged over 40 (Vision 2020). Further, ~1 in 7 people over the age of 50 will develop AMD. These staggering statistics highlight the importance and potential impact of Rakshanya's research. She noted it was these potential impacts that drove her to pursue research in the first place.

"Addressing large-scale problems that affect millions of people, like AMD, climate change, or famine, requires research-led solutions. By systematically studying these issues, I can help develop solutions that actually make a meaningful difference in people's lives."

One of the key skills to achieve high impact in research is ensuring that the information is being communicated to those who need it. For Rakshanya, a desire to make her research accessible to a broader audience was one of the leading motivations to participate in the 3MT competition and JCSMR student conference.

"I have always had a goal to make our research accessible to a wider audience. The 3MT and JCSMR Student Conference offer fantastic platforms to present our work in an engaging and understandable way."

With numerous students presenting their data, and engaging in friendly discussions about their research, Rakshanya expressed her enthusiasm for learning about the ongoing research projects within the College. She particularly commended Sasanan Trakansuebkul, the 3MT runner-up, whose research explored the complexities of Cryptic unspliced transcripts (CUTs) and their potential role in identifying pathological RNAs. Additionally, she noted the profound impact of personal connections that participants had with their research, such as Raquel Hernandez's touching story that drew parallels between knitting with her grandmother and her research on actin fibres.

"It was inspiring to see so many individuals connecting their personal experiences to their research. These connections clearly spark new and exciting ideas, driving innovation forward."
ANU College of Health and Medicine 2024 3MT participants. Photo by Arash Araghi

When asked if there was anyone she would like to acknowledge, Rakshanya praised the efforts of everyone who put the events together and supported her along the way. Particularly, she highlighted the unsung heroes behind the scenes of the events, including the countless hours of labour put in by the organisers of the JCSMR student conference and CHM 3MT final, and Dr Arash Araghi, the (HDR Strategy Manager at SDCRI), who arranged the school's 3MT practice sessions. She also noted how valuable it was to receive positive criticisms, noting the helpful feedback from Dr Cynthia Turnbull and the support from Clear Vision lab members, particularly fellow PhD student Nicholas Barriesheff (ANU 3MT runner-up in 2023).

Looking ahead to the ANU 3MT final, Rakshanya is excited to present her work at the university level and share it with the wider ANU community.

"My true motivation comes from the long-term positive impact that research can have. During the PhD research phase, it can be challenging to make meaningful connections with the end-users.
However, events like the university 3MT competition and the student conference provide a valuable opportunity to connect with those who might benefit from the research in the future or those who can help turn it into a reality. This connection is truly wonderful."
Rakshanya presenting at the ANU College of Health and Medicine 3MT - Photo by Arash Araghi (edited)

If you would like to support Rakshanya, please join us in attending the final for the 3MT competition on the 25th of July. Tickets are available through Humanitix here.


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