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Our new PhD student - Eloise Stephenson, working on Ross River virus!

We would like to enthusiastically welcome Eloise (Elle) Stephenson as a new PhD student to our team! Elle will be working on Ross River virus. Read her story below!

Eloise Stephenson

"I always wanted to work with wild animals. I was going to be the next Steve Irwin. That was of course, until Bindi came along. Who could compete with that?"

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My fearless self, rescuing a water dragon that was happier at the bottom of our pool

"Still, I was never deterred. At school I ticked off all the prerequisites to get into Science at the University of Queensland. At university I majored in Zoology but found myself enjoying Ecology so much that I graduated with a double major. Equipped with this bit of paper, I felt confident that I could do anything. I was ready for the big bad world. Fuelled by this enthusiasm, I accepted a nine month research assistant position in Madagascar. As it turns out, no bit of paper could have prepared me for that strange and wonderful place. If I knew what I know now, I am not sure I would have gone to Madagascar, but I am thankful that I was naïve enough to accept."

"I spent the nine months living in a tent, collecting behavioural data on an endangered species – the Greater bamboo lemur Prolemur simus. During that time, I managed to fall off a 30m drop, lose all my possessions to the police, ride out two cyclones in my tent and lose my cool when offered the usual rice meal on our only pasta night of the week. Each of these lows however, were matched or exceed by the high times. I learnt invaluable lessons about field work, team work and my own boundaries. I gained an independence and drive to keep going…somewhere... I didn’t know where exactly I was going, I would be lying if I said I did. I think that it is fair to say that my immediate goals have always changed, but the theme will forever remain the same – animals and science."

Caught up in the daily Madagascan grind. Thankfully the vines broke my fall.

"Returning to Australia from the jungle, I was ready to get that ‘perfect’ job. Now I not only had a bit of paper, I also had the scars of field work. As it turns out, there were no such ecology jobs in which Madagascar was a pre-requisite. I applied to keep studying, and in the interim got a job as a veterinary nurse. I loved it. Understanding the ailments and treatments for different species was very rewarding. I learnt a lot about different procedures and medical terminologies. Whilst veterinary nursing was never part of my plan, it was one of the most beneficial things I have done. My Masters was offered through the Royal Veterinary College of London and the Zoological Society of London. Half the class were vets, and the other half were biologists. The Masters focussed on wild animal health and biology – it was a perfect marriage of my studies and work experience. I gained a comprehensive understanding of emerging infectious diseases, epidemiology and zoo medicine. The course also gave me the opportunity to meet experts in the field and build a network."

Measuring up during my Masters in London

"As part of the requirements of my Masters I had to complete an independent research project and thesis. My opportunity came when I was told there were between 30-50 Asian elephant Elephas maximus skulls in Sri Lanka. I developed a project that assessed the accuracy of aging techniques using anatomical markers. The project was unique as there are only a handful of studies that have looked at techniques to age Asian elephants post-mortem. The result of this project was a developed protocol for people to use in the field that highlighted new markers and measurements. There is still much to be done in this area. If we can’t estimate the age of elephants that are dying we can’t accurately identify and conserve the vulnerable age groups that are living."

Many of the remains I worked with were a result of human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka. You can see the gun-shot in this elephant skull.

"Coming home from London’s concrete jungle, I was able to secure a job as a Research Technician with CSIRO and over the past year have been planning my PhD. I head hunted Hamish at a conference in France and met with his group to discuss potential projects. I then met with Simon Reid at UQ, an epidemiologist and veterinarian, to co-supervise the project and enlighten us on public health. The PhD will focus on better understanding the transmission dynamics of Ross River virus, Australia’s most common and widespread arbovirus. As the disease system is complex, I am going to be drawing on expert knowledge from entomologists, biosecurity scientists, veterinarians and public health scientists."

"From this PhD I hope to contribute to management decisions to reduce the risk of Ross River virus infection in people. We often underestimate the impact wild animals have on our daily lives, and understanding the spread of zoonoses is just one thing that helps us to appreciate the ecosystems we live in."

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