Research Edge

October 2015 - Issue 6
University of South Australia PhD student Daniel Feuerriegel

Recognising a face

How do we recognise a face?

Research degree student, Daniel Feuerriegel is at the Face Categorisation Laboratory at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium investigating how the brain does just this.

Daniel is learning about the newly developed fast periodic visual stimulation technique.

“When you present an image, let’s say at 5 times per second, you get rhythmic brain activity at the frequency at which you are presenting that image,” Daniel says.

“Their [Face Categorisation Lab] fast periodic visual stimulation technique records the brain activity with an electroencephalogram (pictured below).University of South Australia PhD candidate Daniel Feuerriegel

“I’m using image repetition and rhythmic entrainment of brain activity to investigate how repetition of different information in a face, for example gender, age and emotion, will give us different signals in the brain.”

Daniel is spending six months with the Head of the Face Categorisation Lab, Professor Bruno Rossion, conducting experiments to understand the factors contributing to effects observed using this technique.

The knowledge and experience gained in Belgium will assist Daniel in his own research investigating the relationship between repetition effects and predictive coding.

“I am looking at the relation of repetition to different aspects of prediction in the brain,” Daniel says.

“Predictive coding theories paint the brain as a big prediction machine. One of the fundamental things that we do is predict what will be around us in the environment and then we will act on those predictions.

“For example, here we are sitting in this room, our visual environment is very stable. If I look over here there’s a window, if I look back again it’s highly likely to be the same thing. So, we think that these repetition effects might be a way to keep track and take advantage of a stable environment and more efficiently process information.

“So when I mean predictions, perhaps based on what we’ve seen, or expect to see, our visual system is making these predictions all the time without us being conscious of them.

“By looking at what happens to our brain when we make these predictions we can hopefully eventually infer what advantages this might give us, or what it means for how the brain is organised and how the brain responds to things over time.

“This might very important for understanding how vision works, for example.”

Having had such a positive experience completing his honours in psychology under the supervision of Dr Hannah Keage, Daniel is now working on his PhD after winning an Australian Postgraduate Award.

“I had a really good year working with Dr Keage and I thought if I’m going to do a PhD I might as well be in a place where we’ve got excellent facilities and supervisors. I haven’t looked back since.”

Images by Michelle Oppert

University of South Australia PhD candidate Felicity Braithwaite

Art of deception needed to prove dry needling works

One of UniSA’s brightest new PhD students will look to the skills of magicians to help design better research into dry needling – a western form of acupuncture.

While dry needling is increasingly popular in the physiotherapy and allied health fields, the technique lacks solid proof and part of the problem is that it’s hard to test because of the difficulty in creating a convincing placebo.

So how can researchers fool study participants into thinking they are having needles stuck into their skin? It’s this question that Vice Chancellor and President’s Scholarship recipient Felicity Braithwaite (pictured below) is tackling in her PhD, and finding an answer will require tapping into the art of deception.

University of South Australia PhD candidate Felicity Braithwaite

“Dry needling involves needling and palpating tight, sore spots called myofascial trigger points to bring pain relief and promote healing,” Felicity says.

“It’s not the same as acupuncture – it uses the same needles but a different philosophy, with an emphasis on responding to clinical findings.

“At the moment, dry needling hasn’t been conclusively proven beyond placebo, which is a big problem because there are lots of people using it, including many SA physiotherapy clinics, and there are potential ethical concerns if the technique is not proven.

“To run strong studies we need to develop a fake dry needling technique, which we call a ‘sham’, to convince study participants that they are receiving the real thing. At the moment there is no standard sham.

“It’s a bit like a placebo in a drug trial – we need the sham to be able to conduct proper blinded studies around dry needling.

“The goal of my research is to develop sham guidelines, achieve a consensus among experts on the best sham, and then test it out.”

This is where Felicity hopes famous magicians will come into the picture to contribute valuable expertise on how to fool people.

“We’re looking to approach well-known magicians who we hope could give us a unique perspective on ways to deceive people,” Felicity says.

“It might be small visual cues, like maybe leaving a toothpick in sight on a table to fool people into thinking they’re getting the sham. It might be ways to set up the room, things to say to people, their positioning, and how to perform the fake technique.

“I actually don’t know what the magicians will offer up!

“In previous shams, researchers have focused on sensation. We think the whole simulation experience is important, from when participants enter the room to when they leave.”

Adding further challenge to Felicity’s project is a need to mimic the actual sensations of dry needling.

“The needles penetrate the skin and go deep into muscle tissue. Some people don’t feel anything, whereas others feel some sensation,” she says.

“We need to mimic these sensations, ideally without producing any physiological reaction. However, sham needling involves mimicking real needle sensations like pricking and pain which could, for example, cause opioids to be released into the blood. How can we effectively fake these sensations without getting a bodily response?

“It’s very complex, which perhaps explains why previous research approaches have been inconsistent.”

Felicity completed a Bachelor of Physiotherapy with Honours last year, during which she conducted a small dry needling study. This, she says, inspired her to continue research in the area.

She is one of this year’s Vice Chancellor and President’s Scholarship recipients, an award that recognises the top seven new domestic PhD students and contributes $10,000 towards their research.

“Almost everything I hear anecdotally about dry needling is positive, but research doesn’t reflect this yet – and this could be a consequence of inconsistent sham methods out there,” she says.

“If I can develop a consensus on the best sham technique, it can be a basis for more consistent dry needling research in the future.

“I’m still planning how to use my scholarship, but it might go towards a trip to Las Vegas to meet with magicians, a trip to China for an acupuncture philosophy perspective, conferences, or perhaps an advanced dry needling course.

“I hope this will help me gain the diversity in perspectives that will assist me to become a leader in the field.

“Any magicians out there who might be interested, please feel free to contact me!”

Words by Peter Krieg, as seen in June edition of UniSA News

University of South Australia PhD candidate Ivana Stankov

A holistic approach to public health research

This year the Maurice de Rohan International Scholarship was awarded to School of Health Sciences PhD student Ivana Stankov.

The $17,500 scholarship has enabled Ivana to travel to the United States to work with Dr Ross Hammond at The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC and Assistant Professor Pamela Matson at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Ivana is researching the complex relationship between the built environment, people and their health, and in another research project, peer influence on marijuana use.

“The research I am working on during this visit is focused on the public transportation environment,” Ivana says.

“The aim is to build a model that represents the daily journey to work behaviour of people residing in the Northwest region of Adelaide.

“To make this model work I will be considering characteristics of the neighbourhoods in which people live and try to explore the relationship between things like bus service availability and distance to the nearest transit stop and how these factors impact on people’s decisions to either use or not use public transportation.

“I will then study how these choices influence residents’ physical activity patterns and ultimately their health.”

Complex systems science allows for a more holistic exploration of health and disease, which ultimately fuelled Ivana’s interest in the field.

“I got a taste for this research through my honours project while I was enrolled in a Bachelor of Physiotherapy,” Ivana says.

“I began to appreciate the importance of understanding the contexts in which people’s lives are embedded.

“This realisation drove me to enrol in a PhD which enabled me to explore just that; the complex ways in which environments get ‘under the skin’ and shape our health and wellbeing over time.”

Her interest in complex science systems has led Ivana to a number of US-based courses.

She first attended The Santa Fe Institute Complex Systems Summer School and later on the same trip a summer session at the University of Michigan where she met her now supervisor, Dr Ross Hammond.

“I was also introduced to Assistant Professor Pamela Matson through a group project we were involved with at a course in Boston in January this year,” Ivana says.

“I am collaborating with her on a project based out of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“This research seeks to explore the influence of peers in adolescent
marijuana use patterns.”

Pursuing opportunities and meeting people along the way has landed Ivana in good stead.

She feels the Maurice de Rohan International Scholarship has given her one of the best opportunities to work with well-respected experts in the public health and policy domain.

“Spending time at the Brookings Institution with Dr Hammond and his research team has been immensely helpful in finalising my model plan and thinking through its implementation.

“Being immersed within this international environment will help me refine and apply my skills and seek expert guidance along the way. 

“Ultimately this experience ensures that the questions answered by my research are of a high caliber and at the forefront of policy utility within the South Australian context.”

University of South Australia Three Minute Thesis Finalists

Stopwatch and spotlight on UniSA's Three Minute Thesis Finalists

PhD student Mahmoud Bassal, of the School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences, remembers growing up as a shy child, reluctant to talk, who was regularly told that he couldn’t present very well.

It’s a reflection which makes his success in becoming both the People’s Choice and overall First Prize Award winner in this year’s Three Minute Thesis competition, all the more sweeter.

As one of nine PhD student finalists taking part in the event, Bassal spoke engagingly and easily on a research project that is anything but: studying genetic and metabolic changes in those with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

Adhering to the strict rules of the competition Bassal conveyed his project within a three minute time frame with the aid of just one slide; one of nine PhD projects, showcasing a range of topics, all aimed at helping to find solutions to real world issues.

Over the course of thirty minutes, those attending and voting in the competition could learn, among other subjects, how imaging techniques are enhancing robotic function, how blood vessel development relates to melanoma, what measures are being taken to solve the problem of fingerprint residue on touch screens and how acoustic tomography is adding to our understanding of the climate.

UniSA’s Dean of Graduate Studies, Professor Pat Buckley hosted the event and said that the three minute thesis is one of the hardest talks PhD graduates could give.

“Communicating complex science in everyday language is a valuable skill and it’s a challenge to do that succinctly, within three minutes.

“There isn’t the luxury of time, or a proliferation of slides and visual cues – just one slide, and the audience, whilst intelligent, is not working with them or invested in their research interests.

“Despite that we have nine finalists waiting to tell us about the research they do here at UniSA.”

With little evidence of any nerves, each candidate spoke fluidly on their chosen topic leaving the audience inevitably hungry for more, the event offering a carousel of some of the most impressive and diverse research that is taking place within the University.

Bastian Stoehr’s talk about his PhD project focusing on  the next generation of easy-to-clean coatings for touch screens resulted in him achieving second place in the competition whilst Daniel Griffith’s robotic related research saw him take out the third prize.

Bassal’s talk - and his responses in a subsequent Q&A panel session following the presentations -   demonstrated a clear passion for his research, and when prompted he’s happy to offer a one minute thesis of his topic:

“The current theory in scientific community is that cells become cancerous as they gain random mutations in their DNA,” Bassal says.

“We can see different mutations across different cancers and even within the same patient, whilst they have the same disease so with my research I’m looking at a trait that’s common across cancers, a change in how the cells produce their energy, but studying it specifically in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

“I’m characterising the different characteristics of patients’ samples to see how the energy production circuitry and machinery in the patients has changed; that will help understand what came first – was it the mutations or the change in energy production in cells.

“By discerning whether it is mutations or change in energy production, that will change our understanding as to how we perceive cancer, as to whether it’s a genetic disease or a metabolic disease.”

As to the importance of communicating research within such a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it format, Bassal is unequivocal.

“It’s essential,” he says.

“There’s so much incredible research at this university which is brilliant but because some of it is just so complicated it can be difficult to explain it to other people. When that happens it’s a missed opportunity and that is something which the three minute thesis tackles.

“It’s an opportunity to translate back to more people the research you are involved in so they can understand what it is you are doing and the significance of what you are doing.

“I’m constantly having to change what I do at work to speak about it in manner that people understand, so to do it competitively is good fun, although a little nervy.

“In my younger days I was shy and told many times I couldn’t present well, so to win is a thumbs-up.”

This year’s finalist participants include: Mahmoud Bassal (pictured below) from the School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences; Ming Sum (Andy) Chan (School of Management); Daniel Griffiths (School of Engineering); Simone Marino (School of Communication, International Studies and Languages); Kevin Rogers (School of Engineering); Bastian Stoehr (Mawson Institute); Sarah Quinn (School of Education); Lih Yin Tan (School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences); and Minhua Yang (School of Commerce).

University of South Australia 3MT finalists Mahmoud Bassal

Words and images by Will Venn, as seen in September issue of UniSA News

Publishing your research and what editors want

Gain the edge in publishing your research, understand what journal editors want, protect your rights and handle copyright permissions.

Register now for Publishing your research and what editors want, which will be held on Monday 9 November from 9.15am to 3.30pm in the Bradley Forum at City West campus.

The workshop includes:

  • A keynote address by an editor from Wiley (a major international publishing company)
  • Speakers on copyright, open access publishing, the Research Outputs Repository (ROR) and Collection of Research Outputs (CRO) 
  •  A panel of Early Career Researchers and PhD students giving their personal experiences with publishing and their top tips
  • Question and answers opportunities
  • Lunch and networking
  • A practical workshop by Cassie Loeser: Writing – just do it! Bring your ideas and write the abstract.

More info...

Register: Students | Staff

So you have survived the PhD...

Establishing an academic career and maintaining a lifestyle

2:00 - 4:00pm, Friday 30 October 2015
RR4-11 City West campus

In this workshop a panel of highly successful academics and research fellows will reflect on their career trajectory and provide insights into the establishment and maintenance of an academic career while simultaneously attending to caring commitments outside of the academy and maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.

Speakers will focus on the creative and successful strategies they have put in place to achieve their academic goals and successfully manage their time, resources and well-being.

The panellists will also discuss and share problem-solving strategies for when things don’t go to plan. The workshop will be interactive with opportunities for participants to ask questions and share experiences.


More info...

Managing your references

Need to keep track of your references and not sure which bibliographic management software product to use? Then view our Manage your references : tools to help you video available from the Library homepage > Researchers > Managing References page.

This video shows you two tools, namely EndNote and RefWorks, which can help you keep track of your reading and use the references you find when you write your paper. The differences between the two products are also outlined.

Publishing Research Guide

The Library’s Publishing Research Guide can assist you. Content includes:

  • links to various journal quality lists such as ERA, Thomson Reuters Master Journal List, the Financial Times Top 45 Business Journals List and the Australian Business Deans Council (ABDC) Journal Quality List
  • Other sources such as the Elsevier Journal Finder, Cabell's Directories of Publishing Opportunities, JANE, Siemslegal World law Journal Ranking 2011 and Washington and Lee’s Law Journals: Submissions and Rankings 2005-2012
  • information about acceptance and rejection rates
  • information on how to determine if a journal is peer reviewed
  • Other quality measures such as:
    • impact factors via Journal Citation Reports on Web of Science/InCites
    • Scopus journal comparison
    • Journal h-index: Google Scholar, Web of Science and Scopus
  • Open Access Publishing
  • Copyright:
    • information around retaining your rights
    • Creative Commons licences
    • Publishing from your Thesis
  • Tips from UniSA authors
  • Instructions to authors and tips from publishers such as BioMed Central, Elsevier, Emerald, SAGE, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell
  • Ethics and compliance requirements
  • Other publishing resources

Ethics Workshops

Human Research Ethics Workshop: register now

All research degree students are invited to attend a one day workshop on research ethics and integrity.

Current research students who are undertaking research projects which require human research ethics approval are strongly encouraged to attend this workshop.

Sessions will include:

  • An introduction to research integrity and the responsible conduct of research
  • An overview of the ethical issues that may arise in research involving human participants (including research topic breakout sessions)
  • Tools to analyse and address these issues
  • How to apply for approval form the Human Research Ethics Committe

WHEN: 9.00am-5.00pm Wednesday 18 November

WHERE: UniSA City East campus, Level 3 Centenary Building, Room C4-16 (campus map)

Register here by 4 November

For further information contact the UniSA Research Ethics Team:

Animal Ethics Workshop for Senior Researchers

Senior researchers are invited to attend an animal ethics workshop from 2-4pm on Thursday 22 October.

The workshop will include presentations and discussion on topics inlcuding:

  • An overview of the Animal Ethics Committee activities & new initiatives (A/Prof. Alison Coates)

  • A lay person's perspective (Mrs Helen Bills)

  • Pain responses in animals (Dr Alex Whittaker)

  • HIB Update (Mr Richard Bennett)

Register here

CARMA research methods courses

The Business School and School of Management will be hosting three short courses presented by the Consortium for the Advancement of Research Methods and Analysis (CARMA) from the 16 to 20 November 2015.

CARMA instructors are leading scholars in methodology, and are recognised within the organisational studies and management areas as experts in their field. Take advantage of this opportunity to gain hands-on experience, develop your skills, and network with leading scholars and other students and academics. 

The courses are titled:

  • "Introduction to Research Methods' presented by Prof. Larry J Williams, University of North Dakota
  • "Survey Research Methods" presented by Prof. Ron Landis, Illinois Institute of Technology
  • "Advanced Research Design" presented by Dr Chris Nye, Michigan State University


To register please visit the CARMA website.

More information…

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Research degree student support

The University of South Australia provides service and support throughout your time as a doctoral or masters by research student.

Sometimes it's hard to know where to start in seeking help and advice. So, you may want to contact us with questions about:

  • Application and admission requirements and processes
  • Scholarships
  • Workshops and resources available to students
  • How to get the most out of a research degree
  • The research degree life cycle
  • Thesis examination
  • Completion and graduation

Get in touch: email (current students) or (prospective students), phone +(618) 8302 5880, or drop into the office at Lv 1, 101 Currie Street, Adelaide – we're open 9am-5pm weekdays.

You can also find out more about our services on our website.

GRC quick facts

Quick facts

> Reviews of Progress for Study Period 5 are due in October. More info

> Make your posters and presentations stand out in UniSA style with these handy templates and guidelines

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