In CHOOSEMATHS grant winner profiles
CHOOSEMATHS Grant recipient profile: Mahsa Mousavi

Mahsa Mousavi

Curtin University

My passion for science started as the dream of a young girl from a farming family in Iran who wanted to make a difference in the quality and quantity of the products to improve the family business. I soon realised that knowledge was the key not only to change my life and my family life, but also to change the world. I started my studies in agricultural sciences and soon became fascinated by the stories which could be revealed from DNA studies. I took my master’s degree in biotechnology which enabled me to gain extensive experience in lab work. Starting my PhD studies in Applied Bioinformatics, opened my eyes to a whole new world, where different scientific fields (i.e. biology and computing) come together to make the world a better place.

Can you give me a quick overview of the type of mathematics you are studying and its potential impacts for the broader community

My current research focuses on bioinformatic analysis of amplicon sequencing data to determine the causative agent(s) of tick-borne disease in Australia. The presence and cause of tick-borne disease in Australia has been controversial, as neither the major arthropod vector – ticks of Ixodes persulcatus/ricinus complex – nor of the major causative bacteria – Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato are present. This collaborative research will take a fundamental step toward resolving the complex aetiology of tick-borne disease in Australia by using DNA and RNA metagenomic approaches to determine which microbial species (bacteria, viruses, eukaryotes) are present in Australian ticks, and which, if any, of these microbes can be linked to human clinical cases.

What did you want to be when you grew up? If not mathematics research, what would have been?

Fascinated by agriculture and biology at an early age, I always wanted to become a researcher. However, I never thought that my research had to do anything with mathematics. Starting my PhD in bioinformatics opened my eyes to the beauty and importance of interdisciplinary science and how math is playing a role in all science.

You attended AMSI BioInfoSummer, what drew you to this event? What was the most valuable part of AMSI BioInfoSummer for you in terms of furthering your career in mathematical sciences?

The variety of talks and trainings that AMSI BioInfoSummer offered made it an appealing event to me. I saw this as a great opportunity to expand my knowledge and learn the latest developments in the bioinformatic field.

In what ways has the experience impacted your maths studies? Did this event lead to any new contacts, projects, collaborations?

AMSI BioInfoSummer provided me with an excellent opportunity to network with like-minded scientists to build a strong professional network.

Where do you see yourself in five or ten years time?

I would like to build a career in academic research, where I hope that my bioinformatic-based research can benefit a variety of research fields. It is my hope that my research will extend to teaching and training students where I can share my passion for the field. Inspired by the transferability of bioinformatics approaches, I would like to build my research career around different ways that bioinformatics and computer science can assist biological scientists in various fields, ranging from human health to plants/animals and environmental conservation.

Did you learn about new career options available to you that you were not aware of prior to attending AMSI BioInfoSummer?

There was an interesting talk entitled, “Bioinformatic the discipline, versus the career”, which gave me some new insights.

Who are your mentors? Who do you admire?

Oriana Fallaci, an Italian journalist and author who was a great example of a creative mind who doesn’t accept limitations.

How important was receiving a CHOOSEMATHS grant in terms of your ability to attend and fully participate in the AMSI BioInfoSummer 2019 sessions throughout the week?

The high costs associated with travelling from Perth to Sydney made my attendance at this event highly dependent on securing a travel fund. The provision of a generous AMSI Choose Maths grant enabled me to attend this wonderful event.

How important are initiatives such as the CHOOSEMATHS Grants in terms of fostering the participation and achievement of women in mathematics, particularly in terms of access to networking opportunities and further training opportunities?

Indeed the financial relief that Choose Maths grants and other similar programs offer is a great encouragement for women to attend such training and networking opportunities. It certainly helps bridge the gap between the number of male and female participants.

The CHOOSEMATHS Grants are part of a broader program being delivered by AMSI Schools with support from BHP Foundation to turn the tide on Australia’s maths deficit and strengthen maths education and participation of women across the discipline. What do you see as the big challenges facing maths in Australia, particularly for women?

In my opinion inadequate advertisement regarding the potential of math-based careers, makes it less desirable.

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

Never let go of your dreams.

If a peer asked you if they should attend AMSI BioInfoSummer, how would you describe the conference to them?

AMSI BioinfoSummer has various themes with the right balance of hands-on workshops and talks –  it has something to offer for everyone. I would definitely recommend attending this informative and fun event.