In scholarly pursuit

2 June 2017

The Dalyell Scholars program aims to challenge and extend high achieving students providing mentoring opportunities, real-world projects and insights into research across disciplines.

For talented students needing to be challenged and extended beyond the curriculum, there is a way forward with the Dalyell Scholars program.

For 25 years, the Talented Students Program (TSP), a flagship offering in the Faculty of Science, has given high-achieving students academic challenges, real-world projects and insights into careers in scientific research.  

With the introduction of the Sydney Undergraduate Experience and the opportunities it brings in interdisciplinary study options, the new Dalyell Scholars program will enhance the offering to talented students and is offered across the university.

Asanka Wijetunga is currently studying a Bachelor of Science (Advanced)/Doctor of Medicine double degree, majoring in anatomy and histology, and immunobiology. He was invited to be involved in the TSP, now known as the Dalyell Scholars program, at the beginning of his first year.

“The program was highly recommended by students in the years ahead of me, so I was pretty quick to take up the offer,” said Asanka.

Asanka Wijetunga sitting in a lecture theatre

Talented science student, Asanka Wijetunga at the TSP Showcase event.  

“The program has provided me with opportunities to conduct actual research projects that contribute to the scientific community. In chemistry, I've worked on making anti-cancer and anti-diabetic drugs out of the heavy metals zinc and vanadium, complexed to various ligands. We tried to figure out how to deliver these drugs to patients, how stable they were in biological media, and what effect they had on different cell lines.

“I also did a smaller project on creating catalysts which coat photovoltaic cells and can split water into hydrogen, for use as an alternative to fossil fuels.

“In biology, I completed a project on neuropathology where I counted neurons in samples from human alcoholic and control brains, and I reviewed recent transcriptome studies to see if there had been a reduction in neuronal density as a result of alcoholism,” he said.

I’ve been able to learn more deeply about subjects I’m really interested in, while developing skills in research, scientific writing and delivering presentations.
Third-year science student, Asanka Wijetunga
Asanka Wijetunga

Asanka found being involved in these projects incredibly beneficial.

“I’ve learnt a lot about the daily workings of research and the skills required to accurately perform experiments and present data. I’ve also improved my time management, independent learning and multitasking skills.

“I’ve been able to learn more deeply about subjects I’m really interested in, while developing skills in research, scientific writing and delivering presentations, all of which I believe will be very helpful in my future.

“I’ve been privileged to gain access to very high-tech research apparatus, I’ve received individual opportunities, learnt from academic leaders and chosen topics that suit my interests. I truly value these experiences and hope some of the skills and in-depth knowledge I’ve gained will set me apart from other graduates.”

He says the program inspires students to do more research, be more inquisitive and to always extend themselves beyond the basics.

The Dalyell Scholars program builds significantly on content covered in lectures and in Science, has a focus on practical aspects and laboratory work.

“It's inspiring to be able to see the concepts learned in lectures unfold before your own eyes, and to even make findings never before observed, and try to apply the known to explain the findings.”

Asanka is about to start his medical degree and the experiences have convinced him to conduct further research or maybe even undertake part of his career in academia. He is also trying his hand at mentoring other students for their ‘showcase’ projects, where first-year TSP (from 2018, Dalyell) students present their group research findings.

In 2018, the Dalyell Scholars program will be offered to students with an ATAR (or equivalent) of 98 and above.

A range of enrichment opportunities are available to Dalyell Scholars, including:

  • Acceleration to master’s level study.
  • Access to specialised language (Arts) and mathematical sciences (Science) programs.
  • Exclusive research and entrepreneurship programs.
  • Direct access to industry-based project learning.
  • Tailored mentoring and professional skill development to enhance study and career opportunities.
  • International experiences to develop global perspectives, including a global mobility scholarship.

Facts & figures

The namesake of Dalyell Scholars:

  • A highly distinguished University of Sydney medical graduate, Elsie Jean Dalyell OBE (1881-1948) was the first full-time female academic in the Sydney Medical School. After travelling to London on a University scholarship and then serving in World War I, she conducted pioneering work with a medical team in Vienna, Austria, into childhood diseases. Her academic excellence and commitment to creating her own path are hallmarks of the University’s Dalyell Scholars program.