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Summer Research Scholarships 2021 Q&A | Davina Nair

13 September 2022

We talk to Davina Nair, recipient of a Charles Perkins Centre Summer Research Scholarship 2021, about the program

The Charles Perkins Centre Summer Research Scholarship program provides a rare opportunity for University of Sydney students to undertake paid multidisciplinary research with leading academics in our world-class facilities.

Open to all undergraduate and postgraduate coursework students, successful candidates develop research skills over eight weeks of research, gain experience, and contribute to finding real-world solutions to chronic diseases and their related conditions. 

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Davina Nair | Charles Perkins Centre Summer Research Scholar 2021

Davina Nair was enrolled in a Bachelor Arts/Advanced Studies (International Relations and Politics Stream) in the Department of Art History and Government and International Relations in Faculty of Arts and Social Science when she discovered an advertisement for the Charles Perkins Centre Summer Research Scholarships 2021 in the FASS Newsletter. Armed with an interdisciplinary topic traversing psychogeography, food environments, and class comparative neighbourhood analysis, she spoke to her supervisors in FASS about her idea to examine the environmental drivers of obesity.

With the support of her supervisors Professor Ann Ellis in Art History and Associate Professor Jane Gavan at Sydney College of the Arts, Davinia developed her topic: Privileged Spaces: A comparative analysis of the relationship between neighbourhood environments and barriers and supporters of obesity.

We talked to Davina about her experiences with the Charles Perkins Centre Summer Research Scholarship from the application process and devising a topic, to what she’s doing now and ongoing links with the Centre.  

Were you a Charles Perkins Centre member/collaborator prior to being awarded a Summer Research Scholarship?

No, I had heard of the Charles Perkins Centre but wasn’t aware of the breadth of its research until I saw the call for applications in the FASS Newsletter and did my research on the Centre. I’m impressed by the multidisciplinarity of the Centre and the welcome I received to engage in research.

How did you go about preparing your application?

In preparation for my application, I did preliminary research into my topic area, as well as consulted my two academic advisors who help me revise my ideas.

Did you speak to an academic or one of your peers to help you prepare your application?

I consulted with both my academic supervisors throughout the application process. 

My advice is to have confidence in your knowledge and your ability to contribute to the field of research. You might be younger but your voice and ideas matter and are valuable.
Davina Nair

Had the questions of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease been on your radar in any of your studies prior to applying for the Summer Research Scholarship?

No, coming from a disciplinary background in the Arts and Social Sciences I had no previous experience in health-related research. However, the Summer Research Scholarship provided me with unique opportunity to explore these concepts using the skills and multidisciplinary experience I had to produce novel research.

Do you have a particular interest in the areas of liveability, and the Centre’s main topics of interest (obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease)?

My interest in the topic areas was cultivated through my time and engagement with the program. Through my research I was able to understand that these complex issues cannot be approached purely from a singular lens and that even disciplines removed from these issues can provide unique insight and knowledge.

How did it feel to be accepted into the program?

In all honesty, I was surprised I was accepted into the program. Coming from an Art History and Visual Arts background I was unsure about the value my disciplinary expertise could contribute to the field of health science research. However, the CPC and the scholarship program, as a diverse and inclusive environment allowed me to explore these connections to produce innovative and novel research outcomes.

Tell us a bit about the logistics of starting work eg when you commenced, how long your days were, how long was your project, were you based at the Charles Perkins Centre?

My project lasted for the duration of the summer holidays and was split into three main stages:

  • Research development: this consisted of mainly consulting with my supervisors, preliminary research and devising my methodology and research approach
  • Data collection: this is where I engaged in fieldwork, traveling around Sydney to obtain my data
  • Data analysis and evaluation: at this stage, I largely focused on writing my report and preparing for the presentation.

What was it like working with academic supervisors on a brand-new research project?

I was truly privileged to work with two incredible supervisors, Professor Ann Elias and Associate Professor Jane Gavan who created a rich and supportive environment for me to pursue the project. Their guidance and willingness to share their knowledge was invaluable. I learned a lot about taking ownership and being confident in my ideas and the knowledge I could contribute. 

Were there any outcomes from your project eg a paper, a study, clinical trial, extended research project (or potential for any of these)?

My research focused on the exploration of the contextual factors which support or hinder obesity-related behaviour, specifically food environments within neighbourhoods. Through my research I found that there was a positive relationship between the structure of a local food environment and the obesity rate within the neighbourhood with a further parallel trend in the rise of economic deprivation, fast-food clustering, and the rise of obesity.

Will you continue with any part of the research project for the next phase of your academic/working career?

Currently, I am not continuing my research but the skills I learnt throughout the project have been invaluable in all aspects of my studies.

What next for you – work, further study, travel?

My current plan is to pursue a Master’s in International Relations (hopefully overseas) after I complete my honours year at the University.

Will you maintain any ties with the Charles Perkins Centre, professional, friends

After completing the scholarship, I have remained in contact with both my supervisors. I am now a member of the Charles Perkins Centre’s Alumni Group – and I feel very privileged to maintain my links with the Centre.

What advice would you give to fellow students thinking about applying for a Summer Research Scholarship?

My advice is to have confidence in your knowledge and your ability to contribute to the field of research. You might be younger but your voice and ideas matter and are valuable.

Applications for Summer Research Scholarships 2022 close at midnight on 25 September