The University of Wollongong (UOW) has so many high achieving PhD students, working towards solving real world problems. Each month we will meet one and hear their story

Ezinne Igwe started her undergraduate journey in Nigeria, and then Malaysia and finally found herself settled at UOW. Her PhD investigated how a compound found in dark red to purple fruits and vegetables, on cognitive functions and blood pressure

Year you commenced in HDR study?

2014

Year you were awarded Doctorate (or plan to be)?

2019

Working title of Thesis?

Effect of fruit anthocyanin consumption on cognition, blood pressure and other health parameters in older adults

Please give a broad description of the topic or question you investigated as part of your research.

My research looked at the impact of anthocyanins, a compound found in dark red to purple fruits and vegetables, on cognitive functions and blood pressure in young and older adults in short (acute) and longer-term (8 weeks) settings.

Can you provide some background on how you came to HDR research (e.g. undergrad degree & university studied at – honours project – PhD + any breaks in between)?

I completed an honours degree in Biochemistry in 2007 at Abia State University Uturu, Nigeria, where my father also retired as a Vice-Chancellor. My honours project was on the effect of glycopeptide antibiotics on blood parameters - an animal study. Soon after my Honours degree, I had my daughter, Amanda, which meant I had to reassess my plans for the future.

I had earlier intended to pursue a medical degree but having Amanda slowed the chase. However, 4 years later, I realised I wanted more, for my father too, (every Nigerian would understand this!), so I went on to get a Masters degree. At this point, we were living in Kuala Lumpur, so I enrolled for a masters by research in community health and epidemiology at the University Putra Malaysia. It wasn’t a MBBS but at the time it was what I wanted and was passionate about too.

My Masters research project explored the association between Insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) and cancer among patients of a diagnostic nuclear imaging centre. I completed my MSc in 2013 but before then I was already planning on embarking on a PhD, following in my father’s footsteps- I would get to my planned destination in the end. Australia was a first choice for me even though family and friends felt it was “too far from home.” I’d done my research on the potential universities and supervisors (trained in research now) and there was no stopping at that point. Professor Karen Charlton was friendly and welcoming from our initial correspondence and agreed to be my PhD supervisor. I was made an offer after I applied to UOW and moved to Australia in July 2014.

In one sentence, describe the ‘journey’ of your PhD study at UOW?

The journey of my PhD study at UOW has been eye-opening, challenging, wonderful and at the same time exposed me to opportunities and perspectives I probably would not have experienced otherwise.

How did you and/or your approach change over that time (how you imagined it would be when you began, how it actually was, and how you view it now you’ve finished)?

I had an open mind about embarking on a PhD. I did not think it was going to be easy. The few people I spoke to before and soon after I started never stopped emphasising on the stress and possible depression that came doing a PhD. I went in expecting the worst but in the end, it was all bearable and doable. Nothing over the top.

What were some highlights of your HDR study?

I conducted a total of five projects, including clinical trials and secondary analysis. Some of my highlights were the completion of projects, acceptance of articles by journals for publication and even better, being awarded an International Postgraduate Student Tuition Award.

What were the lowlights?

In line with the highlights the corollary were some of my lowlights- journal rejections which I have learned overtime to not take personally and the obstacles in completing projects. For me that was the slow recruitment of participants and some inconsistencies around the use of research facilities. Another lowlight would be the financial commitment, being an international student and the inability to find external work to support my finances. However, these all came good in the end!

Describe the most important things for PhD study (e.g. supervisor support / library resources / peer support / holidays)?

The utmost important thing for PhD study is supervisory support. I was lucky to find that in Prof. Karen Charlton who supported me both within and outside the university. She was a supervisor and also a friend. And just below that is a strong support system, be it family, friends or a belief oriented group of people. The library resources cannot be overemphasised. It makes the workload easier to handle. Finally, taking a break is always a good idea to keep some of the stress and pressure at bay.

What advice do you (or would you give) to those considering HDR study or currently studying?

Go for it, anything is possible! Like everything, nothing comes easy but the achievement and feeling in the end makes up for it. For those already at it give it your all, take on new skills even if it seems overwhelming initially you will be proud of yourself and grateful for newly acquired skills, I know I will always be. Finally, the PhD path does not have to feel lonely, if you feel the need to speak to someone, make an appointment with the counsellors at Uni, it certainly was a benefit for me to be able to use the free counselling services at Uni.

What are you doing now (current role?) and/or how do you plan to utilise your research degree in future? What has it given you that will help in your future career?

I currently work as a Clinical Research Analyst at the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) and a Research Associate at the University of Wollongong. These two jobs have been made possible by some of the newly acquired skills from my PhD study.

I am currently utilising some of the transferable skills I acquired in the course of my PhD; as a Clinical Research Analyst, I work on big datasets, applying research and analytical skills in order to scope options for best practice medical strategies. I also conduct comprehensive quality control over research outputs for accuracy and alignment with requirements among other tasks.

How do you think your research can change the world?

Research continues to change the world. Thanks to research we are living longer and finding cures and adjunctive therapies for chronic diseases. With research we can bridge the gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged. The more we invest in research the more we invest in our better future!


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