Meet our researchers

Meet the researchers of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre

We unite academics across all disciplines to produce high-impact research and engagement with one of the world’s fastest growing regions.

SSEAC's Postdoctoral Researchers

2022–23: Dr Melandri Vlok


Dr Melandri Vlok is a bioarchaeologist who completed a Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of Science (Honours) at the Australian National University with majors in Archaeology and Biological Anthropology in 2016. In 2020, she received her PhD from the Department of Anatomy, University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. Her PhD research, supervised by Professor Hallie Buckley, focused on tracing the impact of migration and trade on infectious and nutritional disease patterns in Asia’s prehistoric past through analysis of human skeletal assemblages. Melandri's research spans a number of countries in Asia, including Japan, Mongolia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Through her research, she identified the earliest cases of yaws and malaria in the Asia-Pacific region, and developed methods for diagnosis of a number of skeletally visible diseases. 

Melandri’s postdoctoral research at SSEAC will focus on further study of the human impact of these two tropical diseases in the prehistory of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The project will investigate the influence of the diseases on human evolution, society and suffering in the past. During her time at SSEAC, she also plans to develop a larger project plan for a DECRA application, which will extend from this research to assess changing human infectious disease trends over time with climate change.


A snapshot of our researchers from across the disciplines

Faculty of Health Sciences

Patrick’s research focuses on medical imaging optimisation and perception, with a particular emphasis on breast cancer diagnosis. He is Chair of Diagnostic Imaging, National Co-Director of BREAST, Co-Director of the Medical Image Optimisation and Perception Group and Associate Dean, International, for Health Sciences. He is the world’s highest ranked researcher in Medical Radiation Sciences. His work has changed clinical practice, impacted upon national guidelines and informed international reports. At the University of Sydney over the last 5 years, he with Professor Warwick Lee, has developed a novel, international, web-based solution – BREAST – to identify reasons for undiagnosed breast cancers.

Patrick’s main research interest in Southeast Asia is focused on female breast cancer in Vietnam. Breast cancer is currently the most commonly diagnosed malignancy among Vietnamese women. While risk factors associated with breast cancer are well known in developed countries, agents linked to breast cancer in Vietnam are much less developed. His work, first, explores the association of breast density as well as demographic, reproductive and lifestyle factors with breast cancer among Vietnamese women and, secondly, investigates medical imaging diagnostic efficacy in Vietnam. He works closely with the Vietnam National Cancer Hospital, Hanoi Medical University and the Vietnam Health Strategy and Policy Institute, and is supported ably by his Vietnamese PhD Student Phuong Trieu.

Sydney Law School

Simon started working at the University of Sydney in 2008 in the Sydney Law School. He has been interested in Indonesia since studying the Indonesian language at high school then spending a year in Yogyakarta on the ACICIS Study Indonesia program. Ever since, Simon has been researching Indonesian law.

In late 2015, he was awarded an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship to examine the operation and performance of Indonesia’s regional anti-corruption courts. These are new courts, established from 2011 in each of Indonesia’s 34 provincial capitals. They have heard all of Indonesia’s corruption trials for the past 5 years, but we know very little about how they are faring. If prosecutors present convincing evidence, are these courts convicting defendants? And, if so, are they sentencing them to significant prison terms? Simon’s research, which commenced in July 2016, focuses on the operation and performance of five of these courts, located in Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Kalimantan and Papua.

Simon is also currently working on a University of Sydney-led research project about the use of geographical indications in the Indonesian coffee sector coordinated by Dr Jeff Neilson from the School of Geosciences. The project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, involving collaboration with leading economists and rural development specialists at the University of Sydney. As part of this project, Simon is examining the scope of legal protection for geographic indicators for coffee in Indonesia, and the effectiveness of that protection.

Sydney Institute of Agriculture

David Guest is a Professor of Plant Pathology in the Sydney Institute of Agriculture, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. He studied at the University of Sydney then took up a lectureship at the University of Melbourne until his return to Sydney in 2004.

His current research interest is managing diseases in tropical horticulture using an interdisciplinary approach that nurtures healthy soils, healthy crops, healthy livestock, healthy people and healthy ecosystems. His extensive fieldwork activities involve partnerships with research institutes and farming communities around Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including an Australia-Indonesia Centre funded collaboration with Institut Pertanian Bogor (Indonesia) on the sustainability and profitability of the Indonesian cocoa industry.

David is past President of the Australasian Plant Pathology Society and the Asian Association of Societies of Plant Pathology.

Faculty of Science

Jeff Neilson is a geographer who has been working in the School of Geosciences since 2005. His research focuses on economic geography, environmental governance, global value chains and rural development in Southeast Asia. He is the SSEAC country coordinator for Indonesia, speaks fluent Indonesian, and has undertaken extensive field activities across all the major islands of Indonesia, including several extended periods of intensive field research living in the Toraja region of Sulawesi.

Jeff is currently leading a five-year research project examining the livelihood impacts of farmer engagement in value chain interventions across Indonesia. This research is contributing to cutting-edge international debates on the development effects of sustainability and certification programs, Geographical Indications and direct trade initiatives. His team collaborates with non-government organisations, development agencies, governments and the private sector to address the global challenge of poverty reduction. Research findings are contributing to a global shift within value chain sustainability programs towards an enhanced service delivery function and greater sensitivity to the livelihood priorities of rural households and landscape dynamics. This research project is also contributing to conceptual developments in global value chain theory, including the opportunities for regional development to be stimulated (or not) through engagement with the global economy.

Commencing in 2019, Jeff is now also involved in a new research initiative examining the sustainability of coffee and pepper production systems in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The Central Highlands have emerged as a globally important commodity source region, producing more pepper and Robusta coffee than any other place on earth. This reality is dramatically transforming livelihoods and landscapes in the region, and Jeff is examining associated process of agrarian change and the effectiveness of industry initiatives to encourage sustainable production.

Jeff’s other research interests include issues of food security and food sovereignty, the global coffee industry, the global cocoa-chocolate industry, agrarian reform movements, sustainable livelihoods and global environmental governance.

Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning

Rizal joined the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning in early 2015 after finishing his doctoral studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the field of Architecture: Design and Computation. Rizal practised and taught architecture for 10 years in Indonesia where he worked with several built-environment issues, such as low-cost housing, traditional settlement and socio-cultural facilities.

His research specialty is in ethnocomputation – a computational design study which focuses on the way in which humans reason and represent their relationship with the environment through various modes of sensing, making, and living, across scale and medium. The study aims to develop a body of knowledge about the design logic underlying cultural artefacts and investigate its ability to adapt and respond to the built environment.

Rizal is currently undertaking an ethnocomputation study on traditional crafts. Some of them are site-specific, such as in Toraja, Indonesia, where he is interpreting the design logic underlying the engraved Toraja Glyph (Passura’) and the way in which the embedded ritual messages are being visualised in the traditional settlement. The project aims to contribute a novel lens that adds to the appreciation and preservation of cultural knowledge through explicit representation.

He has also run a field schools and exchange programs in Indonesia. In collaboration with Institut Teknologi Bandung and the Australia-Indonesia Institute, Rizal led students to investigate issues faced by informal street vendors and create alternative deployable designs to enhance the vendors’ mobility and minimise conflict between public and private spaces within the city. In a more interdisciplinary line, Rizal also co-coordinated a Sydney Southeast Asia Centre field school on Cultural Industries in Central Java, supported by Universitas Gajah Mada in Yogyakarta, which highlighted contemporary issues in the Javanese cultural industry.

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Southeast Asia has seen one of the highest growth rates in internet access in the world. Aim’s research focuses on how this rapid and sweeping digital transformation of Southeast Asian societies impacts politics in the region. She is particularly interested in the role of social media in inducing political and social change. A “social media ninja”, Aim examines civic participation and political activism on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia. Despite her work online, she sees the cyber realm as deeply intertwined with the physical world. As such, maintaining a deep connection with the region and conducting frequent fieldwork research in Southeast Asia is a pivotal part of her research.

Supported by funding from the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, Aim's project on digital activism and political opposition in Thailand has resulted in a number of journal articles and book chapters. The project has now expanded to include additional analysis on the role of online media in political opposition movements in Malaysia, Myanmar and the Philippines with collaborators from North America and Southeast Asia. Another major project, Wikipedia and Politics in Southeast Asia, in collaboration with Dr Ying Zhou from the School of Information Technologies, examines the role of Wikipedia as a space for alternative political discourse in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Recognising the highly gendered and euro-centric nature of Wikipedia content, both researchers plan to launch edit-a-thons at major universities in Southeast Asia to improve female and non-European contribution to Wikipedia.

To improve the sharing of knowledge and fostering of academic and student exchange on issues of cyber-security and internet governance, Aim has co-founded the Sydney Cyber Security Network (SCSN) with Dr Frank Smith, with support from the NSW Ministry of Industry and the University of Sydney's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. SCSN is one of Australia's premiere cyber security research incubators that seeks to bridge the social-technical divide in academia, private sector and government.

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Josh joined the University as Lecturer in the Department of Chinese Studies in 2017. A graduate in Chinese theatre from Nanjing University, he has worked closely with theatre troupes and performers in China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia for fifteen years. His research focuses on recent and contemporary literary and theatrical activities of Southeast Asian Chinese communities, and current cultural exchanges and discourses in the age of Chinese soft power.

His 2019 book Minority Stages: Sino-Indonesian Performance and Public Display (University of Hawai’i Press) traces the evolution of performed Sino-Indonesian identities from the late colonial period to the present, looking closely at religious processions, glove puppetry, ‘Chinese opera’, commercial, community and political theatre. Currently, he is working on Tsinoy (Sino-Filipino) and Sino-Myanmar theatre history and practice as well as the flows of literature and popular music between Indonesia and the Chinese world. His present projects operate on the principle that looking at Sino-Southeast Asian communities regionally rather than in isolation promotes a fuller account of the movements of people, cultural products and ideas over time.

Sydney School of Veterinary Science

Jenny-Ann joined the Sydney School of Veterinary Science in 2002. She is an Associate Professor in Veterinary Epidemiology, and focuses on smallholder livestock systems to inform sustainable changes to husbandry and marketing that will improve household income, as well as the epidemiology of transboundary animal diseases to inform more targeted approaches to control and prevention.

Her main research project, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, takes a regional approach to enhancing smallholder pig systems in Timor-Leste and Eastern Indonesia. Collaborators on this project in Timor-Leste include the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the National University of Timor-Leste, in Indonesia; the Assessment Institute for Agricultural Technology, Directorate General of Livestock & Animal Health Services, University of Mataram, and in Australia; the NSW Department of Primary Industries, the University of Queensland and the University of New England. The project aim is to improve household livelihoods in rural villages of Nusa Tenggara Timur and Timor-Leste through better smallholder pig production, with pig husbandry and health services accessed through learning alliance partnerships linking to villages, and to improve knowledge of classical swine fever, a viral disease of swine that is exotic to Australia and a constraint to pig raising in Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

For the past 10 years, Jenny-Ann’s focus on Indonesia has led or contributed to research on the epidemiology and control of white-spot virus in smallholder shrimp farms; biosecurity of small commercial poultry farms; poultry movement and risk for avian influenza spread; dog movement and risk for rabies spread; pig movement and risk for the spread of classical swine fever.

She is currently contributing to a new project led by Professor David Guest (Sydney Institute of Agriculture) and Nunung Nuryartono (Institut Pertanian Bogor) funded by The Australia-Indonesia Centre titled “Sustainability and Profitability of Cocoa-based Farming Systems in Indonesia”. Jenny-Ann will contribute to investigation of the constraints and opportunities for incorporating goats to provide a mixed cocoa-goat farming system to diversify smallholder income, to establish compost production and to provide meat and milk for household consumption.

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