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PhD Research Excellence

Congratulations to the 2024 PhD Research Excellence finalists.

Dr Mary Brushe 

University of Adelaide 

Dr Mary Brushe’s research focuses on understanding the impact of screen time in early childhood development using an evidence-based approach.  


Dr Brushe’s research has shown screen time interferes with children’s early language experiences, which has important implications for children’s later language development. Identifying a need for evidence-informed support, Dr Brushe has led the development of a co-designed parenting program that promotes establishing healthy screen time behaviours with young children.  


Throughout her PhD, Dr Brushe has secured more than $1.3 million in funding to support her research. The quality of Dr Brushe’s research has been recognised with 11 competitive awards and scholarships totalling $30,000 in prize money.  


She has published 13 peer-reviewed articles, five as lead author, and presented her research at 14 conferences. Dr Brushe’s research has also been featured in more than 800 news outlets internationally, including the New York Times. It has informed state and national policy including the National Early Language and Literacy Strategy, and South Australia’s Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education and Care.  

Dr Lucas Hearn 

Flinders University 

Dr Lucas Hearn’s research has made significant strides in advancing our understanding of the role of native Australian bees in addressing broader scientific questions beyond their role in pollination services. 


Dr Hearn focused on a unique Australian native bee species to explore the complex questions on the transition from solitary living to social lifestyle. Using a combination of genomic, ecological, and statistical approaches, his findings rewrite our previous understanding of this major evolutionary transition and opened up exciting new avenues for further investigation. 


Dr Hearn has engaged a wider audience with his work through numerous presentations, media articles, and radio interviews. Through these channels, he has been able to promote greater public awareness and appreciation of the amazing behaviour and biology of Australian native bees, as well as the importance of their conservation. 

Dr Lauren Jones 

Flinders University 

Digestive issues are frequent and widespread, with considerable impact on people’s quality of life and socialisation as well as the healthcare system. Despite this, there are still large knowledge gaps in our understanding of the cause(s) of most gut disorders, so treatment outcomes remain poor. 


Dr Lauren Jones’ research aims to understand how the gastrointestinal tract senses its own internal state and how these sensations are relayed to the brain, creating important advances in our understanding of gut physiology. Her findings indicate potential targets for novel treatments that can significantly increase effectiveness and reduce common side effects to improve the management and outcomes for patients. 

The anatomical underpinnings of the gut–brain connection represent a significant and unexplored research frontier. Increasing evidence suggests the gut may be an initiation point for a raft of brain disorders, including neurodegenerative diseases and mood disorders. 


Dr Jones’ research provides important new insights into the anatomy and functionality of the gut–brain connection and may have far-reaching consequences in improving human health and wellbeing. 

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