Charles Sturt University
Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

Winter 2021

Table of Contents

  • From the Director
  • From Farrer to space: new PhD research investigates characteristics of fast-growing wheat
  • How long does herbicide residue stay in the soil?
  • An eye from the sky: investigating the limitations of remote sensing technologies for detection of weeds.
  • Fact sheets highlight how to entice beneficial insects into a vegetable crop
  • Graham Centre graduates celebrate
  • Congratulations
  • Graham Centre Livestock Forum Friday 30 July
  • In the Limelight: Victoria Brookes
  • In the Limelight: Brianna Maslen

From the Director

The winter chill is here but the days are getting longer and there’s some exciting events on the horizon at the Graham Centre.

We’re looking forward to hosting beef and sheep producers and industry advisors at our annual Livestock Forum on Friday 30 July.

There’s a jam-packed program of research and some thought provoking presentations on environmental sustainability and restocking in a hot livestock market.

We hope you can join us for this flagship event, either online on our interactive conference platform, or in person in Wagga Wagga.

We are monitoring the situation regarding COVID restrictions carefully and if we are not able to hold a physical event, people who have registered to attend in-person will be given a refund and ticket to join the conference online - so you’ll still be able to tap into the Forum.

Emily Blyton, Bonnie Mitchell, India Anderson, Mikayla Green The Centre is pleased to welcome student interns, Emily Blyton, Bonnie Mitchell, India Anderson, Mikayla Green (pictured) and Katharine Charles who will be spending the next few months working with our scientists. It’s also been great to see new Honours students begin their field trials and satisfying to see last year’s students who were disrupted by COVID complete their studies.

We’re beginning new projects including one with the Soil CRC, led by Dr Sosheel Godfrey that aims to develop a framework to examine the economic, social and environmental co-benefits of adaptive regenerative farming management and how this is linked explicitly to healthy soil practices.

There’s also a new project with the Food Agility CRC and tech company TerraCipher that aims to transform the red meat supply chain by developing a data sharing platform called TRAKKA. Led by Jon Medway the research will investigate the data collection systems and formats used across the supply chain and identify opportunities to generate value for producers.

Graham Centre members are working hard to support our agricultural industries. I hope you enjoy reading about their activities in this edition of the Innovator.

Professor Leigh Schmidtke, Acting Graham Centre Director

 

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From Farrer to space: new PhD research investigates characteristics of fast-growing wheat

What does a wheat variety bred by William Farrer more than a hundred years ago have to do with wheat developed to grow in space?

PhD student Tim GreenIt’s all part of new Charles Sturt University PhD research to understand the characteristics needed in fast-growing wheat that can be sown in winter to help farmers in south eastern Australia adjust to a changing climate.

The research by PhD student Timothy Green, through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, will compare modern fast-growing wheat varieties with two supplied by the Australian Grains Genebank, Farrer’s Sunset and a variety called Apogee developed by wheat breeders in Utah  in conjunction with NASA to grow on the space station.

He said along with understanding the characteristics of fast-growing wheats the research will investigate their value as an option for farmers.

“Farmers in the southern wheat growing regions are experiencing hotter, drier starts to the season which means the traditional autumn break is becoming less reliable and is shifting later in the year,” Mr Green said.

“There’s a need for the development of a wheat variety that can be sown mid-winter when it’s more likely to have better soil moisture but one that’s short-cycling so that it flowers at the right time.”

He said there could also be potential benefits in reduced herbicide use.

“The current trend of sowing longer season wheats early in the season can lead to a reliance on selective herbicides applied during the season,” Mr Green said.

“As a result herbicide resistant weed populations continue to develop and spread across growing regions.

“It’s hoped a shorter season variety would leave more time at the start of the season for double knocks with non-selective herbicides or other non-herbicide reliant weed control strategies such as cultivation.”

He said sowing later in the season may also allow more time for soil amelioration activities such as deep ripping, lime and gypsum incorporation, and fertiliser spreading.

Sowing the trial plot photo by Felicity Harris“The addition of a late-sown, short-cycling wheat will not replace traditional varieties, but it will give growers more options, flexibility to double crop and to combat herbicide resistant weeds and other pests and diseases.”

Mr Green is also excited to compare and contrast a diverse range of wheat varieties to identify the optimum characteristics.

“Over 100 years ago William Farrer developed the very fast-growing Sunset wheat for the marginal areas of NSW,” Mr Green said.

“We’ll be comparing that with wheat lines that are currently commercially available, Chinese lines, and up-and-coming high vigour breeding lines.

“Sunset in particular does not contain the dwarfing genes found in nearly all modern varieties and therefore should present comparatively different and interesting physiology and growth patterns.

“It’s also exciting to be working with something developed by NASA for possible use on space stations.”

Mr Green is supervised by Dr Sergio Moroni and Professor Jim Partley from Charles Sturt, Dr Greg Rebetzke from CSIRO, Dr Felicity Harris from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Dr Daniel Mullan from InterGrain.

The project is jointly funded by an Australian Government Research Training Scholarship (AGRTP) and a Grains Research and Development Corporation Grains Industry Research Scholarship (GRS).

Research partners are Charles Sturt University, the NSW DPI, InterGrain, and CSIRO.

 

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How long does herbicide residue stay in the soil?

Graham Centre research has put new light on the persistence of pre-emergent herbicides in clay loam soil and how it’s impacted by temperature and moisture conditions.

Charles Sturt University PhD student Mr Imtiaz Chowdhury writes it has implications for grain growers in selecting crop rotations.

PhD student Mr Imtiaz Chowdhury Australian growers spend over $1 billion annually on herbicides to control weed populations in farming systems and pre-emergent herbicides play a major role in this context.

However, the increased reliance on herbicides has raised concerns about their ultimate fate in soil.

A recent Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) survey detected 23 herbicide residues persisting in Australian soils with trifluralin and atrazine being frequently detected in NSW soils.

Herbicides may remain in soil for weeks, months or even years depending on its chemical structure and site-specific environmental conditions.

To better understand the persistence of atrazine and trifluralin in soil, separate incubation experiments were carried out under various temperature and moisture conditions at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga. Herbicide free soil was collected from crop fields, classified as clay loam soil and this was then spiked with diluted herbicide concentrations. The moisture content was adjusted to 40, 70 and 100 per cent of field capacity (FC) level and then incubated in different climatic chambers at 10, 20 and 30 °C. Soil samples were collected at regular intervals and analysed by Gas Chromatography-Electron capture detector (GC-ECD). A stochastic gamma model was used to model the dissipation of herbicides from the clay loam soil by incorporating environmental factors as covariates to determine their half-lives and days to complete dissipation from soil.

Key findings

  • The gamma model suggested that atrazine and trifluralin have the potential to persist in clay loam soil for years and may be a concern for the farming community in Australia.
  • Temperature played the greater role on atrazine persistence than soil moisture; while the interaction of temperature and moisture was significant on the persistence of trifluralin over time.
  • Atrazine dissipated more rapidly at 30 °C compared to 10 and 20 °C, with a half-life of 7.50 days and 326.23 days to be completely lost from clay loam soil.
  • Rapid loss of trifluralin was observed at 70 per cent moisture content when incubated at 30 °C, with a half-life of 5.80 days and 182.01 days to be completely lost from clay loam soil.
  • The half-life of both herbicides tended to double with every 10 °C decrease of temperature over the range tested.

What does this mean for the farmers?

  • The persistence of atrazine and trifluralin in clay loam soil may interfere with the subsequent crops in rotation.
  • Growers should remain cautious when selecting crops in rotation, particularly after drought conditions where extremely small concentrations of atrazine and trifluralin residues in soil could compromise the performance of sensitive crops.

The research, ‘Persistence of atrazine and trifluralin in a clay loam soil undergoing different temperature and moisture conditions’by Mr Chowdhury, Dr Greg Doran and Dr Ben Stodart from Charles Sturt, Dr Hanwen Wu and Dr Maheswaran Rohan from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), and Professor Chengrong Chen from Griffith University, has been published in the journal Environmental Pollution by Elsevier. Read the full article here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2021.116687

 

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An eye from the sky: investigating the limitations of remote sensing technologies for detection of weeds.

Researchers and weed management experts from across agricultural and environmental fields are working together to understand how to better use remote sensing technologies for weed detection.

Part of the team researching remote sensing technologies for weed detectionThe aim is to test the limits of current technology to find the best available methods to detect weeds in diverse ecosystems to improve remote mapping and achieve more effective on-ground management.

Graham Centre and Charles Sturt University researcher Dr Jane Kelly (pictured above with some of the research team) is leading the multi-disciplinary team.

“The project will use three ‘model’ weed systems to test the limitations of high-resolution colour (RGB), multispectral (MS) and hyperspectral (HS) technologies across various airborne platforms (drones, planes, satellites) and apply machine learning tools to detect weeds in complex ecological landscapes,” Dr Kelly said.

“Machine learning will model relationships between low-resolution satellite imagery and corresponding high-resolution HS/MS/RGB images, potentially enhancing the use of satellite imagery to detect weeds.”

Dr Kelly said the outcomes of the project will inform development of a ‘Weed Managers Guide to Remote Detection’ and an online portal to share information.

The project will also develop a ‘community of practice’ to improve interactions between researchers, governments and end-users to share learnings, provide advice and develop further research into remote weed detection.

Study activities will occur in three different landscapes across NSW where each of the model species are found:

1) Kosciusko National Park and the Monaro – hawkweeds (the herb system)

2) Snowy Monaro region – African lovegrass (the grass system).

3) North, Central and South Coasts of NSW – bitou bush (the shrub system).

The project is supported by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of the Established Pest Animals and Weeds Management Pipeline Program.

It brings together researchers and weed experts from Charles Sturt, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE).

Other partners include South East, North Coast and Murray Local Land Services, Mid Coast, Eurobodalla and Bega Valley Shire Councils, the Illawarra District Weeds Authority and XAg Australia.

 

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Fact sheets highlight how to entice beneficial insects into a vegetable crop

Vegetable growers can tap into practical information about how to encourage beneficial insects for pest suppression in new fact sheets developed by Graham Centre researchers.

Professor Geoff Gurr and Dr Syed RizviThe Hort Innovation research, led by Charles Sturt University Professor of Ecology Geoff Gurr, has examined both the impact of the existing landscape and what growers can do to change it.

He said a survey of nearly 500 vegetable paddocks found the type of surrounding landscape influences beneficial insects and invertebrates in the crop, in-turn affecting the pests that reduce production.

“Beneficial insects and other invertebrates provide a range of ecosystem services, including pest control,” Professor Gurr said.

“The research found across all crop types surveyed, beneficial numbers were significantly greater in areas of crop adjacent to shelterbelts and riparian vegetation.

“In addition, crop areas adjacent to these land uses had lower pest numbers than the crop centre.”

Professor Gurr said the fact sheets provide insight for brassica, sweetcorn, lettuce, capsicum, carrot and French bean growers.

“The information can help growers decide what crop types are best planted adjacent to one another,” Professor Gurr said.

“It can also feed into decisions about which crops would benefit most from being planted near shelter belts or riparian vegetation.”

Professor Gurr said the research showed taking the time to create suitable habitat close to crop rows using fast-growing, nectar-producing species, can increase beneficial activity and lead to economic benefits.

“To improve the activity of beneficial insects and invertebrates in the crop growers can establish strips of flowering, nectar-producing plants approximately 30 metres apart,” Professor Gurr said.

“These can be planted in sprinkler rows so no crop production is sacrificed and their benefit further enhanced by pairing with strips of trap crop.”

The fact sheets provide vegetable growers with more information about the use of flowering planting strips such as cornflower, sweet alyssum, and buckwheat in different climates.

Research project partners include Charles Sturt, the NSW Department of Primary Industries, the University of Queensland, cesar and IPM Technologies.

This research has been  funded by Hort Innovation using the Hort Innovation Vegetable Industry Levy. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit, research and development corporation for Australian Horticulture.

Download the fact sheet How does the surrounding landscape affect beneficials on your farm?

Download the fact sheet Boosting beneficials in your vegetable crop

 

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Graham Centre graduates celebrate

It’s been a long wait for some of our Graham Centre PhD graduates to be able to don the cap and gown, after COVID postponed 2020 graduation ceremonies.

Dr Sajid Latif, Dr Jane Kelly, Dr Cara Wilson and Dr Thomas WilsonSo the when Dr Cara Wilson, Dr Thomas Williams, Dr Sajid Latif, Dr Jane Kelly and Dr Annie Riaz were presented with their awards by Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga in June, it was a graduation worth waiting for.

Dr Latif’s research has given new insight on how annual pasture legumes can be used to suppress weeds in south eastern Australian farming systems.

His research examined legumes species such as biserrula, serradella, gland, bladder and arrow-leaf clover established as monocultures and as mixed stands.

Looking at both the above-ground competitive traits and the chemical interactions in the soil rhizosphere Dr Latif looked at the suppression of common annual weeds.

He found the choice of pasture species impacted stand establishment, yearly regeneration and weed suppression in pastures, with arrow-leaf clover and biserrula suppressing annual weeds effectively.

“Biomass accumulation in pasture species was found to contribute significantly to the reduction of weed biomass for the majority of species followed by light interception at the base of the canopy,” Dr Latif said.

“The results also suggest that plant produced chemical interference is one of the key mechanisms of weed suppression in some of those species, including biserrula and serradella,” he said.

Dr Kelly has been awarded her PhD for research examining the prevalence, management and economic impact of seed contamination in sheep carcasses by barley grass.

The findings show the value of proactive and accurately timed integrated weed management strategies for influencing legume pasture composition, reducing barley grass populations and mitigating losses associated with seed contamination in grazing sheep in southern Australia.

Dr Riaz’s PhD research through the Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Functional Grains at Charles Sturt University, has bridged the gap between what happens in the wheat paddock and the kitchen.

Her study looked at the changes in protein composition and baking characteristics of Australian wheat varieties over the past 150 years.

Denise Pleming NSW DPI, Professor Chris Blanchard Charles Sturt University, PhD graduate Dr Annie Riaz, and Dr Russell Eastwood AGTDr Riaz said the findings suggest that the typical grain protein content of varieties decreased over time due to a dilution effect caused by genetic selection for increased yields.

“Grain quality was assessed in terms of grain physical quality parameters, protein content and composition, dough rheology and baking quality traits,” Dr Riaz said.

“The selection of superior grain quality traits has compensated for the decrease in grain protein, leading to improved bread making quality.”

Dr Riaz said there’s also potential to further improve protein content to meet market demands.

“Modern Australian wheat varieties have unique quality in terms of colour and protein content and composition which can meet the needs of international markets.

“Old varieties with high grain protein content such as Festiguay, Gabo and Timgalen have shown significant association with overlapping genes that can be used in future breeding programs to develop new varieties with higher protein content, to meet the demands of domestic and export markets,” Dr Riaz said.

Dr Wilson’s research examined the impact of hydatid disease on the beef industry in eastern Australia.

As part of her research, Dr Wilson examined data from 1,178,329 cattle slaughtered at a focus abattoir from 2010 to 2018.

Dr Cara Wilson receives her award photo by GFP eventsShe found the geographic distribution of hydatid-infected cattle was wider than previously thought, with losses to the abattoir from 2011 to 2017 of more than $650,000 in downgraded carcases.

“Hydatid disease in beef cattle has important epidemiological and economic impacts on the Australian beef industry,” she said.

“Improved knowledge and awareness of hydatid disease among Australian beef producers is required, and practical and cost-effective control measures need to be identified.”

Dr William’s PhD research was focused on gastrointestinal nematodes in water buffalo, comparing production systems in Australia and Pakistan.

“Globally, water buffalo are a significant dairy production species, producing 10 per cent of the world’s milk,” Dr Williams said.

“However, the impacts of gastrointestinal nematodes in water buffalo production systems were largely unknown.”

The research found gastrointestinal nematodes do not pose a significant threat to animal health and production in water buffalo in either the smallholder cut-and-carry farms in Pakistan, or the extensive grazing farms in Australia.

This contrasts with other ruminant farming systems, such as cattle, where gastrointestinal nematodes are estimated to cost the Australian industry $82 million per year.

The study did find several farm management factors that affected the likelihood of gastrointestinal infection and these factors could be used as critical points for farmers and their advisors to lead to on-farm practice change.

Graham Centre PhD graduates are working across Australia and the globe and many could not attend the ceremony in Wagga Wagga, we are proud of all their achievements.

Meanwhile PhD students Nancy Saji and Sana Hanif have been approved to graduate and we look forward to celebrating with them later this year.

 

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Congratulations

Three minutes on the clock for Graham Centre PhDs

Borkwei Ed NignpenseGraham Centre research has been well-represented in the finals of the Charles Sturt University ‘Three Minute Thesis’ 3MT competition.

PhD student Borkwei Ed Nignpense (left) was awarded runner up for his presentation, ‘Let's get cereal about polyphenols’ in the finals in Wagga Wagga on Wednesday 23 June.

The 3MT is an academic competition that challenges doctoral students to describe their research within three minutes to a general audience.

It celebrates the discoveries made by research students and develops their skills in communicating the importance and value of their research to the broader community.

Pieter Willem HendriksPieter-Willem Hendriks (left) took to the stage for his presentation ‘Wheat that outcompetes its weeds’, Ms  Megan Porter, who is supervised by Graham Centre member Associate Professor Shokoofeh Shamsi spoke about ‘Parasites - the winners in a changing environment?’

Awards for students

Charles Sturt Bachelor of Animal Science (Honours) graduate Ms Erin Stranks was awarded best student presentation at the recent Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology conference.

Ms Erin StranksMs Strank’s research into the attitudes of vegans and livestock producers was supported by a Graham Centre Honours scholarship. Read more.

She told the Sustainable Food Future Conference the research identified some shared values.

"It is apparent, that the potential hostility between vegans and livestock producers lies not with each other, but with outdated practices, lack of education surrounding meat consumption, transparency and the portrayal of livestock industries," Ms Stranks said.

"It is acknowledged that collaboration between vegans and livestock producers can only go so far as there will always be a fundamental difference in opinions surrounding the use of animals by humans.

"However, there could be significant benefits to collaborative discussions."

Graham Centre PhD student Pieter-Willem Hendriks has been awarded a post graduate internship award by the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility.

He’ll work with the APPF’s ANU Node to look at the impact of above-ground vigour in wheat on the root architecture.

The Award will allow Pieter to run experiments to look at the early development of wheat cultivars in growth conditions mimicking field growth conditions on both the light quantity and quality as well as temperature and humidity.

His study will investigate the root systems of winter wheat plants that vary in above-ground vigour, and the impact of increased above-ground vigour on root traits that influence the competitive ability of the wheat.

Mr Hendriks was also been selected as an ambassador for the 11th Symposium of the International Society of Root Research.

Graham Centre PhD student at Charles Sturt University, Veronika Vicic has been awarded the Corteva Agriscience scholarship to take part in the Picture You in Agriculture 'Cultivate- Growing Young Leaders' program.

As part of the program she'll develop skills to advocate for agriculture while being mentored by a Young Farming Champion.

 

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Graham Centre Livestock Forum Friday 30 July

The Graham Centre’s annual Livestock Forum on Friday 30 July will feature new research for beef and sheep producers to apply on-farm and panel discussions with industry experts.

There are two ways people can take part in the event, in person at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga NSW at a cost of $25 including a hot lunch and morning tea, or online through an interactive conference platform at $10 per head.

We are monitoring the situation regarding COVID restrictions carefully and if we are not able to hold a physical event, people who have registered to attend in-person will be given a refund and ticket to join the conference online - so you’ll still be able to tap into the Forum.

The opening session will bring together researchers, industry and producers to talk about environmental sustainability, profit and the path to carbon neutrality.

Concurrent beef and sheep sessions will give a snapshot of new research from the paddock to the plate.

The final session will focus on building resilient livestock systems taking in biosecurity, hard-seeded legume pastures, the ecosystem

Check out the full program and register www.csu.edu.au/research/grahamcentre/2021-livestock-forum

 

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In the Limelight: Victoria Brookes

Senior Lecturer Population Health and Production

Organisation: School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Charles Sturt University

Career Brief

Dr Victoria Bookes and her dogI qualified as a vet from the University of Edinburgh and spent several years in mainly large animal practice before undertaking my PhD at the University of Sydney. Since then, I’ve mainly been a researcher in the epidemiology of transboundary diseases, before starting teaching in the vet school at Charles Sturt two years ago.

Research and Teaching Activities and Interests

My main interests are emerging and neglected infectious diseases, transboundary disease spread, and evidence-based public health. I have spent several years researching rabies, and have current focuses on the risk of emerging infectious diseases at wildlife interfaces such as markets, and the risk of an African swine fever incursion to Australia.

My teaching is quite varied. It includes evidence-based practice for the fifth year veterinary students, as well as calf medicine, biosecurity and public health, and practical sessions such as clinical examinations and bovine surgery.

Professional Links

I am a fellow of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists in epidemiology.

I am also a Deputy Editor of Plos Neglected Tropical Diseases and an Associate Editor with the Australian Veterinary Journal.

A typical day for me includes …

I don’t have a typical day! Some weeks I might be on fieldwork for research in remote Indigenous communities, and other weeks I might be running workshops with the fifth year vets, or teaching biostatistics to first years.

My main project at the moment is …

My main project right now is on the risk that wet markets pose for emerging infectious diseases. But I’m also involved in some other big projects such as investigation of the pathology and epidemiology of equine pregnancy loss (Agrifutures) and building field epidemiology and animal health capacity in Southeast Asia and Oceania (DFAT).

My favourite part of my job is …

collaborating with other researchers. I’m on some really interesting, diverse projects on topics including animations to increase Hendra virus awareness in remote communities, roaming dogs, biosecurity, wildlife-livestock interfaces and media surveys.

When I am not in the office I like …

getting into artwork, drinking coffee, or just generally doing nothing.

When I am driving I like to listen to …

new music that my children have told me to listen to! All sorts of groups, such as The Weather Station, Rüfüs Du Sol and Perfume Genius.

 

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In the Limelight: Brianna Maslen

Supervisors:
Dr Sam Pant and Associate Professor Jason White

Thesis title:
Faecal microbiomes and their relationship with the overall health and productivity of cattle.

Career and studies

PhD student Brianna Maslin at the cattle feedlotI studied my Bachelor of Animal Science with an integrated Honours at Charles Sturt University. My Honours project aimed to characterise the temporal changes in faecal microbiomes of beef cattle when they were placed into feedlots. This opened the door to an interest in microbial communities, particularly the ones within the gastrointestinal tract, which ultimately motivated me to pursue a PhD on a similar topic.

Currently studying:
I am now currently in my second year of my PhD and engaged in trials aiming to investigate whether beef cattle with high and low immune response or meat quality, also have differences in faecal microbial communities.

Research Interests:
The impact of microbial communities within the gastrointestinal tract on host health and productivity. Gastrointestinal microorganisms are known to influence a wide range of physiological effects within the body. Therefore it is reasonable to hypothesise that these microorganisms also impact livestock health and productivity.

A typical day for me includes ...

At this stage I do not really have a typical day! A typical week for me however involves a combination of different things. Some days I start by feeding cattle that are to be sampled for my project.

Other days I am training in the use of specialised software packages for microbiome analyses and reading up on scientific literature. This means long hours at my computer looking at code most days.

My main project at the moment is ...

Within my PhD, my main focus at the moment involves developing and practicing my coding skills in the software ‘R’. I am using my Honours research dataset for practice while I wait for my PhD data and the outputs and results generated will go towards updating my Honours research manuscript which I plan to submit for publication shortly.

My favourite part of my studies is ...

Learning new skills. I enjoy learning new skills and tools to overcome research problems and debug my coding - on my own. All of this ultimately helps me become a better and progressively independent scientist.

When I am not studying I like to ...

I love to play hockey and soccer but also love spending time with my dogs who are very good company when I am at home working!

When I am driving I like to listen to ...

I usually just listen to the radio if I am only driving somewhere close by. Sometimes I listen to podcasts such as Hamish and Andy as they are always a good laugh.

 

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