Victorian Young Achiever Award winner Dr Elizabeth Verghese says a good research and teaching career is all about the people you work with.
The College of Health & Biomedicine researcher and lecturer won the BASF Science and Technology prize at the Victorian Young Achiever of the Year awards on April 12. The $2,000 prize recognised the young scientist's exceptional talent and her ability to change the lives of those around her.
Dr Verghese said she was surprised and honored by the award but above all grateful to those who support her every day.
"What you dream for yourself and what you do in your day to day life are not always the same thing," Dr Verghese said. "My dreams were to love what I do, to have my own research group working on important health issues and to teach students from all different backgrounds: to achieve all these though my day to day work and be recognised for that feels like such a blessing."
The 29-year-old has an exceptional academic record starting with a high distinction average in her Bachelor's degree and a prestigious Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship.
Her PhD at Monash University investigating kidney therapies led to some of the first international reports on the role of a hair-like structure on kidney cells, the cilium, in driving kidney repair. Her research has been published in the field's leading journal, presented in both national and international conferences and won several prizes.
In 2011 Dr Verghese took a full time academic position at Victoria University where her research and lecturing career has continued to thrive. She leads a federally funded Collaborative Research Network project on the benefit of exercise for chronic kidney disease patients and a project developing a kidney cancer vaccine funded by the Betty Lowe memorial fund. She also teaches a new generation of health professional including paramedics, nurses and scientists.
"I really find research fascinating because you are adding that to a body of knowledge that will one day help real people," she said. "But it's the people I work with – my colleagues and the students who may one day treat my family and friends – that really motivate me to work hard and succeed."
Dr Verghese said at every step along the way from her undergraduate studies to her PhD and career as a researcher she has sought out and worked with people she liked and trusted.
"One reason I wanted to join Victoria University was its unique position to affect change in a low socio economic region through education," she said. "But another important reason was the positive vibe I got when I first started. I now know I was right about that because so many important relationships have blossomed in my time here."
Social media sites were flooded with support from fellow researchers and praise from students about Dr Verghese as an "amazing" and "supportive" teacher when her nomination was initially announced.
Dr Verghese said there were many staff and students from both Monash University and Victoria University to thank for her success. She made a special mention of her PhD supervisors – Associate Professor Sharon Ricardo and Dr James Deane – and her nominators for the award – the Dean of the College of Health & Biomedicine Professor Gregory Blatch, Associate Professor Alan Hayes and Professor Lily Stojanovska.
Outside of work, Dr Verghese said her Christian faith, her family and her close friends were her biggest inspirations.