So hot right now – Nilushi Karunaratne

Nilushi Karunaratne never planned to do a PhD or delve this deep into science, but she's almost there. Now she's pretty well up for any challenge-even the Parkville Postgraduate Association Trivia Night.

I've always been interested in biology and how things work, particularly how the human brain works. Most of what I do today is neuroscience-focused. I love that part of it. After my undergraduate studies, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I worked for 18 months as a research assistant. It was during this time that a career in scientific research really grabbed my interest. I decided to go on and do my PhD. While I wasn't planning to go this far, I am glad it kind of worked out that way.

In my research today, I'm looking at the specific receptors or target that cannabis acts on in the body, especially the brain. We have these cannabis-like chemicals that our brain makes called endocannabinoids. Together with the receptors they act on, they make up our endocannabinoid system. I'm trying to understand what this system is doing, and nut out the actual mechanism of how these receptors work.

It's a very important system in the human body. Normally, it maintains homeostasis-or keeps balance. In many health conditions and mental health disorders-obesity, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety-like disorders-this particular system is off-balance. By understanding how the receptors work, we may be able to figure out how to help individuals suffering from these conditions-to put their system back to its original state.

I love Monash and Parkville in particular because it's such a close-knit community. You know every other PhD student. You bump into them every day. My supervisors have been great. A PhD isn't easy. You're doing work that no one's ever done before. And you're doing it by yourself. But there's always guidance and support all around you.
Being at the end of my PhD, I do spend quite a lot of time in the lab and at the desk. Here at Parkville we have a student run postgraduate association which I'm also involved in. We run regular social events. It's nice to take time out from work and catch up with the other PhD students. We have a trivia night coming up. If you think a PhD is hard work, try playing trivia with PhD students!

Hot topic: Nel tells you all about her research in 3 minutes