"A PhD is not just a degree – it is an opportunity to develop the
skills needed to deliver impact. It has helped me to elevate my career
opportunities, develop specialist technical skills and transferrable
soft skills, and contribute new knowledge to the field I’m passionate
With industry experience as a research engineer one of Deakin’s PhD candidates is using human speech algorithms to identify the presence and severity of Cerebellar Ataxia to improve health outcomes.
We sat down with Bipasha to talk about her Higher Degree by Research (HDR) journey.
Why did you choose to study a PhD at Deakin?
Deakin is known for innovative and pioneering world-class research that has global impact and has received exceptional Excellence in Research for Australia recognition. I have always been passionate about designing smarter technologies that can improve health and wellbeing. As a result, I was driven to work with Professor Pubudu Pathirana and engage in research within the Networked Sensing and Biomedical Engineering Research Lab to discover more.
What is your PhD research project about?
Globally, 90% of the population with neurological disorders have speech problems with symptoms worsening over time. There are no laboratory biomarkers that can detect ND, and brain imaging scans do not allow for a definitive diagnosis.
My research focuses on using human speech to identify the presence and severity of a specific neurological disorder, Cerebellar Ataxia. Some common symptoms include slurred speech, inability to coordinate balance and voluntary movements.
I have developed an algorithm that can extract some unique characteristics from a patient's voice as he speaks to his phone, and this produces a score. This score can indicate the presence of the underlying neurological condition and the extent of its severity.
The algorithm has been tested and demonstrated in collaboration with Royal Melbourne Hospital and Florey Institute of Neuroscience. I am hopeful that this initiative would facilitate early diagnosis of ataxia and reduce the time lag between the onset of the condition, accurate diagnosis and beginning of treatment.
What have you achieved that you never thought possible before beginning your PhD?
A PhD is not just a degree – it is an opportunity to develop the skills needed to deliver impact. It has helped me to elevate my career opportunities, develop specialist technical skills and transferrable soft skills, and contribute new knowledge to the field I’m passionate about. I have also been fortunate to learn how to communicate science in the most innovative way, deliver quality research and take my research out of the lab and use it to positively impact the world.
How is your PhD helping you make an impact on society?
Translating my PhD research into a medical-grade assessment tool will assist clinicians to objectively measure ataxia progression and to make informed treatment decisions and lifestyle improvements for many people. Such an initiative is quicker, easily accessible and a cost-effective alternative to the current subjective diagnosis tools and techniques.
How has Deakin supported you to achieve your goals?
My supervisor, Professor Pubudu Pathirana, has been a significant role model to me. His enthusiasm for both research and making a scientific and social impact is contagious.
At Deakin, I’ve been involved in workshops and conferences and have been a finalist in FameLab and won a couple of competitions – such as, Three Minute Thesis (3MT) and Visualise Your Thesis (VYT) – which helped me to build connections to industry and important collaborators through my research.
This has led me to a huge range of career options that I am now qualified for and will undoubtedly love.
What are your future career ambitions? How has your PhD helped you realise these?
I would be opting for a research-intensive career path, indulging my passion for scientific research. I am currently looking into post-doctoral opportunities or becoming an industry research scientist.
Deakin has helped me to build multidisciplinary networks that lead to postdoctoral pathways, gain industry internship experience, develop professional skills to enhance my career prospects and improve my research and communication skills to become an accomplished graduate researcher.
What are you currently working on?
I am developing an automated platform called ‘Ataxia Instrumented Measurement Systems’ with a team of engineers and researchers to translate our PhD research findings and algorithms into commercial medical-grade devices.
These devices are equipped with IoT-based system ‘BioKin’, which senses the movement and when linked via our smartphone-based app to the cloud-based algorithms it can produce scores that describe the presence and severity of ataxia.
This project is funded by Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) – Biomedical Translation Bridge (BTB) program and we are working in collaboration with Melbourne’s Florey and Murdoch Children’s research institutes.
Where can a research degree take you? Hear from current candidates and graduates in a range of fields about their HDR journeys here.
Your extraordinary future is here. With 400 scholarships available and world-leading researchers to support you, now is the time to apply for an HDR here.