By Genevieve Batten, RMIT

I first got a taste of epidemiology in a second-year course for modelling with differential equations, in which we briefly looked at the SIR model. What drew me in at first were the colourful and pretty graphs created by solving the system of differential equations for the disease dynamics.

I wanted to learn more about disease modelling and fortunately, in the next semester an AMSI ran an ACE course called ‘Mathematical Epidemiology: Modelling Wildlife Disease’.  I gave my course coordinator a convincing argument as to why I, a second year undergraduate, should be allowed to enrol in this honours course and began learning about the wonderful world of epidemiology over an eleven-week course.

I learned that there was much more to it, than just creating pretty graphs. Interpreting the effects of competing assumptions about the biology of hosts, characteristics of the virus and the interactions of different host types all come into play when constructing differential equation models and interpreting graphs of the dynamics. All of these factors make the field even more interesting to study.

So, when I heard that my lecturer for the ACE course wanted someone to participate in his research on the deliberate release of cyprinid herpes virus 3 or ‘Carpageddon’ as it is known in Australia, as part of the AMSI VRS, I was keen to take the opportunity. Having almost completed the epidemiology course, I was confident I now had the skills and knowledge necessary to attempt such a task.

Although I was equipped with the skills to create epidemiological models and solve differential equations for the dynamics, I still faced some challenges during my VRS. Although research often begins with a plan on what questions you are trying to answer, it is still difficult to decide which direction to go in when the answer to one question produces two or three more questions. I feel that through this VRS, I have started to develop an important skill in research to be able to determine which questions will yield useful results for the problem you are trying to solve.

Another challenge I experienced during my VRS was interpreting results and making inferences about why changing certain parameter values or assumptions created unexpected dynamics. In epidemiology, this skill is important since certain biological characteristics about the host and the disease you are modelling will determine whether a model is realistic and meaningful, so you need to be able to identify when they aren’t realistic results and why.

Overall the VRS has been a wonderful developmental experience, that has helped me to gain important skills for mathematical research as well as skills needed to communicate effectively and present research and findings in an effective manner.

Genevieve Batten was a recipient of a 2018/19 AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship.