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Part 3: What “maketh” a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne

20180208_124253(1).jpgAs we are confronted with climate change, real-world applications are needed to combat the variability it brings to our lands and people. This includes the effects of bushfire smoke contamination in vineyards on the quality of wine produced, and the sustainable production of nutritious vegetables using soilless systems as a result of reduced arable land.

Thus, for the final instalment of “What maketh a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne”, we present two PhD candidates taking on the challenge of detecting smoke contamination in vineyards, and developing sustainable soilless culture systems.


Vicky Summerson
Wine Science
The development of an in-field detection system for the assessment of smoke contamination in grapevines using near-infrared spectroscopy and infrared thermography

If she were to narrate her journey into a PhD…
PP_VickyAfter several years working as a community pharmacist, I realised my real passion was in research, and while working with drugs was fascinating, I much preferred working with plants. I then decided to go back to university to study agricultural science, and it was here I met Dr Sigfredo Fuentes who introduced me to remote sensing which I found fascinating. I also learnt about the increasing issue of smoke taint faced by winemakers, and the potential for remote sensing to overcome this problem. At the recommendation of my supervisor, I applied for and was then accepted to undertake a PhD.

On what influenced her pathway choice…
After studying my Master of Agricultural Science, I discovered that very little research had been done to investigate smoke contamination in grapevines. Considering the rise in global temperatures and the subsequent increase in the number of bushfires throughout the world, I felt grapevine smoke contamination will continue to increase. This motivated me to select his topic for my PhD as I believe more research is required to help grape growers.

On how her motivations have evolved from day one…
When I first started studying agricultural science it was because I was very interested in this area. After finishing my master’s degree and embarking on a PhD, I now aspire to make a positive contribution to the field of agriculture through the use of remote sensing. I believe remote sensing has huge potential in the agricultural sector, from the detection of smoke contamination in grapevines to the detection of crop diseases and nutrient deficiencies.

And the real-world applications of her findings…
I hope my findings provide growers with a detection system they can use in-field to assess whether their grapes have been tainted with smoke. This will help growers save thousands of dollars by preventing the use of smoke affected grapes which results in unpalatable and unsellable wine.

Vicky is aiming to complete her PhD by 2022.
Connect with her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.


Mahya Tavan
Agricultural/Plant Science
Soilless Culture Systems

If she narrated her journey into her PhD…
PP_MahyaWorking in a commercial hydroponic glasshouse in my home country, I was always interested in doing research on soilless culture systems. I found it a fairly new technique with so many unanswered questions and of course with a lot of potential for improvements. As I moved to Australia, I realised that with the agriculture industry being one of the major economic sectors, this country could be a good host for my research on soilless culture and the future of the food.

On whether her past education influenced her pathway choice…
Yes, indeed. I have done my undergraduate studies in horticultural sciences and my PhD is completely relevant to that field. Being engaged with research and studying about plants during that time, I decided to continue my education in the same discipline.

On how her motivations have evolved since starting her PhD…
At first, I mostly wanted to develop my professional knowledge in the field of agriculture and plant sciences particularly in order to improve my employability in that area. However, over the course of one year that I’ve been into my PhD, I realized that agriculture as a multidisciplinary field of study requires knowledge and expertise beyond plant sciences. For this reason, I am now more inspired to learn skills by collaborating with scientists from various disciplines such as computer programing, mathematics, human nutrition, etc.

And the real-world applications of her findings…
The findings of my research can be specifically applied in vegetable production sectors such as hydroponic farms and urban cultivation setups. It will also generate a good database for nutrition and food specialists to refer to.

Mahya is aiming to complete her PhD between 2020-21.
Connect with her on LinkedIn.


And with this, we conclude our three-part series on the individuals behind the Science of consumables and real-world applications to combat climate change! Check out the other parts of our  What maketh a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne” below: