PhD Graduate Spotlight: Dr Kalpani Ishara Duwalage

How did you come to do a PhD at QUT?

I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka in 2016 with a first-class honours degree in Statistics & Operations Research. I then worked as a temporary lecturer at the same University and wanted to pursue a PhD. I received scholarship offers from QUT and another leading Australian University. I was interested in doing a PhD at QUT because of its excellence in many research disciplines. After receiving a scholarship offer, I was lucky enough to start my PhD in 2018 under the principal supervision of Associate Professor Helen Thompson.

What was your research about? Did things change along the way?

Over recent years, demand for Emergency care has increased significantly in developed countries, including Australia, causing many issues for hospital emergency departments. My research focused on applying statistical and machine learning models to patients’ data to identify these issues and propose relevant system changes to enhance the quality of care. The journey wasn’t smooth, though, especially at the start. I didn’t have access to the dataset for a year. I also had to change my research objectives several times based on some other ongoing research in the health system. However, at the end of three years, I was able to publish three journal articles out of my PhD in high-ranked journals.

What else did you do at QUT besides your PhD?

I was an active member of the ARC Centre for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers (ACEMS). The Centre helped me immensely in different ways in building skills I would need for my career. Through ACEMS, I received the opportunity to attend different conferences, talks, and video presentations which allowed me to uplift my presentation skills and expand my professional and academic network. During my PhD, I co-chaired the QUT Bayesian research group. In the final year, I also worked as a sessional academic at QUT.

Ishara with husband, Amith Gunathilaka

How was your PhD journey?

A PhD is always a stressful and challenging journey. I was determined, though, to maintain a proper life balance, and I was able to do that with the support of my husband. I made it a point to stick to an eight hour work day, and not work after-hours, weekends or holidays. At the end of this journey, I am very satisfied with how I faced this challenge.

Ishara with Centre Director Kerrie Mengersen

How has your experience been with the Data Science Centre?

I received the opportunity to work as a postdoctoral research fellow in CDS after my thesis submission. CDS provides plenty of valuable opportunities for us to grow as early career researchers. In just the few months since joining CDS, I have gotten to know even more people from both academia and industry. Centre Director Kerrie Mengerson, Senior Project Officer Tim Macuga, and Centre Manager Becki Cook are lovely people to work with. I would say it is a great privilege to be a member of this family.

What are you doing now?

In my current role as a postdoctoral research fellow, I develop models to enhance the predictive capabilities of the livestock supply chain. In addition to my postodc, I am collaborating with the Digital Health Initiative in the School of Information Systems at QUT, led by Professor Moe Thandar Wynn.

Congratulations, Ishara!

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