Meet Sri Lankan Researcher — Sandun Malpriya Silva

What are you currently working on or worked on before?

I’m currently working on multiple clinical trials on a wide range of therapeutic areas. These studies include a “big data” genome-wide association study, research design of a multi-national clinical trial in kidney disease, and other statistical analysis of hospital treatments and intervention data for various diseases such as osteoarthritis, diabetics, and rare cancers.

I am currently working with NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney.

What encouraged you to pursue your research topic?

Well, I have completed my Bachelor’s specializing in Statistics from the University of Colombo and my Ph.D. in Statistics from the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.

My Ph.D. project was done in collaboration with a leading wellbeing program called Virgin Pulse Global Challenge (Currently known as VP GO). The project was looking for a personalized mHealth intervention using Big Data methodologies and techniques.

Moreover, during my Ph.D. I have worked with Peter MacCallum Cancer Research Centre, Victoria and Public Transport Victoria (VIC Roads) to find answers for some real-world health and mental problems.

Since I have worked and carried research in health scope for many years, within the last few months of my Ph.D., I was looking for an opportunity to pursue a career in health and medical research. This has led me to secure a golden opportunity from the University of Sydney to join as a Biostatistician to one of the World’s leading Clinical Trials Centre, just before completing my Ph.D. This created a perfect environment to carry my research in a wide range of health and therapeutic areas to improve Global Health.

You can find my work using the below links: link 1, link 2.

Where do you find your best inspiration for your work?

Talking with people and loved ones is always the best inspiration for my work. Especially with colleagues in different industries and research scopes motivates me. Moreover, talking about my work with loved ones including my parents, wife, and others also inspires me to carry the research with the best focus.

What’s one of your biggest personal achievements so far?

I have been granted Swinburne Postgraduate Research Award (SUPRA) for my Ph.D. project. Furthermore, during my Ph.D., I was also able to present my work in many international conferences including “Data Science, Statistics and Visualisation Conference 2019” which was held in Kyoto, Japan.

What lessons would you share with a budding researcher?

I firmly believe in a research career we always have to start addressing the problem in the simplest way. If we start by complicating things when solving a problem, there is a higher chance we might get deviated from the real problem or the objectivity of the study.

So always “start simple” and “build up your argument”.

What motivated you to be a researcher?

I think it is the feeling that I get when working on real-world problems and finding answers to them. Most of the studies that I have worked with, consists of a real-world problem to be solved. When we start the problem-solving process, we have no idea in which direction our research might lead us. However, when start analyzing the data we can infer the pattern and find the solution.

Therefore solving real-world problems by using Statistics and machine learning techniques, really motivates me to pursue a career as a researcher in health and medical data research.

According to your opinion, what are the changes that the Sri Lankan education system needs to do, in order to meet the requirement of the international industry and academia?

Sri Lanka is a great country but lacks in future direction with regards to research. Therefore I think Sri Lanka has to be more competitive and be unique when solving problems, especially in the industry and academia.

In terms of the Sri Lankan education system, I think our Universities need to be more practical rather being more theoretical. It doesn’t mean that theory is not really important. Of course, it is important. However, undergraduate and postgraduate students are required to be given more chances to find answers to prevailing problems in society from their scope of education. This is like empowering our future. It is a question of how many final year research projects are being thrown out without taking any inference or use? I think you know the answer !!!

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