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UC researchers win funding boost for world-class research

Katarina Slavich

9 November 2020: Two University of Canberra researchers have received over $400,000 each in funding as part of the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) scheme.

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Quantitative Ecology Dr Darren Giling has been awarded $456,645 for his research into how streamflow affects the biological cycling of matter as it moves through river catchments.

Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences Dr Ilyse Resnick has been awarded $407,390 for her research into improving boys’ and girls’ spatial reasoning in preschool by utilising books.

Dr Giling says that the funding will help him predict the ecological consequences of future water management scenarios by conducting two years of field work on the Lachlan River in NSW.

“In streams and rivers, the timing and magnitude of the flow of water is critically important to providing habitat and energy resources for the diverse array of organisms that live there,” said Dr Giling.

“However, humans have drastically changed patterns of streamflow and we do not currently have a good understanding of how such changes affect the cycling of matter in river food webs, which support top predators like fish.”

Dr Giling expects the outcome of his project enhance capacity to predict the ecological consequences of future water management scenarios and therefore facilitate more precise management of river systems to support thriving populations of native fish, which is really valued by society.

“This is important because there is only a limited allocation of environmental water, so it must be utilised in ways that maximise the ecological outcomes,” said Dr Giling.

Dr Giling says he is very appreciative and excited to have the support of the ARC to conduct his research, which has strong applications to improving the condition of rivers in Australia.

“It’s also validating to be able to take this important step in my career as an independent researcher, thanks to the support from the Centre of Applied Water Science (CAWS) and the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE).”

Dr Resnick says the funding for her project will help address disproportionate outcomes in spatial reasoning and achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), particularly among women, by identifying effective kinds of spatial learning opportunities for the preschool context.

“Spatial reasoning includes mental skills that involve thinking about 2D and 3D relations between and within objects, such as needing to imagine a map rotating to help with navigation,” said Dr Resnick.

“Spatial reasoning strongly supports entry into and success within STEM but unfortunately, beginning in preschool, girls are often at risk of developing lower spatial reasoning skills because they do not engage in as many spatial reasoning activities like playing with blocks or mazes, and hear fewer spatial words compared to their male peers.”

Dr Resnick says shared book reading presents a key opportunity to engage all children in spatial reasoning, because both girls and boys access reading equally.

“This project will develop books that caregivers can read with their children,” said Dr Resnick.

“The books will include a fun story that naturally engages caregivers and children in discussion around spatial reasoning and will be scaled up for use within a classroom context, to examine how improving spatial reasoning skills directly support STEM.”

Dr Resnick says she feels honoured to be part of the 17 per cent of applicants who were awarded a DECRA this round.

“At a practical level, having the DECRA means I will have the time and resources to complete research critical to creating pathways for children to succeed in STEM,” says Dr Resnick.

“It also supports me making important connections within Australia and overseas to build an international profile as an interdisciplinary researcher in STEM education.”

“These will both be world-leading research projects, based in Canberra, that address important issues and make a real difference,” said Leigh Sullivan, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation at the University.

“This award is testament to the dedication and excellence of these researchers to pursue innovative, future-forward research at the University.”