And the Best Researcher is…..

 

The Research Awards 2014 wrapped up with Dr.Neelika Malavige clinching the Best Researcher award. She is a Senior Lecturer of the Department of Microbiology and an avid researcher.

Dr. Malavige graduated with first class honors from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, with several distinctions and gold medals. She was awarded the commonwealth scholarship in year 2004 and obtained her doctorate in immunology from University of Oxford. She has also successfully completed the MRCP (UK) examination in year 2005 and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London and a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists, UK in 2015.

During the last 14 years she has done extensive research related to dengue in Sri Lanka and particularly focusing on factors that cause severe dengue, mediators of vascular leak in dengue and immune correlates in dengue infection. Her research findings have led to an international patent and she has 51 peer reviewed publications of which 41 are in indexed international journals. Neelika has been awarded several awards for her research including the CVCD excellence award for the Best Young Researcher in Medicine in 2008, Ten Outstanding Young Persons Award for Medical Research in year 2011, third world academy of science for the Best Young Researcher in the field of Biology in 2012, Zonta Women of Achievement award in the field of medicine in 2014 and many presidential research awards.

Dr.Malavige is also the Director of the Centre for Dengue Research, at the University of Sri Jayawardenapura. She has also been a visiting academic of the MRC Human Immunology unit, University of Oxford since year 2008.  Apart from her academic achievements, she has amply demonstrated her capabilities in the field of sports and has won several medals in athletic events both in school and at provincial level. She continued playing netball while at the University and also played for Green College while in Oxford .

In her speech following the receipt of the award, she pointed out what motivated her. It equally carried an inspiring message to any budding researcher that there is always a way to move forward.

Best Researcher’s speech:

” Vice chancellor, University of Sri Jayewardenapura, Deans of faculties and distinguished guests. I am deeply honoured to receive this award in the first research award ceremony to be held in this university. I consider myself to be extremely privileged and lucky to have been given the opportunity to work in this university and to pursue my childhood dream. I think I work in a unique place and every single person in our department, our faculty and the whole university have been very supportive.

Since the age of seven, I have always wanted to be a scientist and was inspired by the documentaries I used to watch on TV. I am sure all of you have watched Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at the Stanford University. In this speech, he advises everyone to keep on looking for something you love doing. I am happy that I figured out what I love to do, quite early in my life. Science challenges me, excites me and keeps me going, no matter what.

So actually when I was told that I had to give a talk, I asked ‘what on earth am I supposed to talk about’? I was told to mention the difficult journey I have come. However, the problem is, the journey I have undertaken, in the exploration of answers to certain scientific questions, was not hard. It was exciting, exhilarating and wonderful. It was absolutely fantastic! Also, I know I haven’t travelled very far and we have taken a very few steps in the direction of finding solutions to certain key scientific questions. There is a very long journey ahead.

One of the important factors that makes anyone do certain things in life, are the people around you. As I mentioned earlier, everyone in our department and so many individuals in this university have gone out of their way to help me. I would like to mention three people who made a huge impact in my life. The first person I wish to mention is Prof. Graham Ogg who was my PhD supervisor and continues to be my mentor till this day. I have been truly lucky to have worked with him and to have met someone, who I want to be like one day. The second person I wish to mention is Prof. Ng Mah Lee from NUS. She has been extremely supportive and has lifted me up each time I fall. The third person I wish to mention is Prof. Krishan Deharagoda, who all of you know. He is such an inspiring and positive person and was responsible for establishing the Centre for Dengue Research in this University. Because of him, I was able to find some truly amazing individuals to work with me at the Centre for Dengue Research. They are highly talented, enthusiastic and strive to do their best. They share the same passion as me for science and we make a great team.

Like everyone else, I too was influenced most by the people who are closest to me. My father is a very determined person and taught me a very important lesson. This is that: if there is a will there is always away. I am also extremely lucky to have met my husband,as he is the most positive person on earth. For him, nothing is impossible and everything will turn out fine in the end. Therefore, what I learnt from both my father and husband has helped me a lot in difficult situations.

It is always more difficult for women to work in the same capacity as men because of family responsibilities. However, my mother must be the most efficient person on earth and she taught me these skills from early childhood. If not for her teaching me how to be efficient, it would have been impossible for me to pursue my dreams and also be a mother to my two lovely children. You might find this strange, but my children drive me to do better. They keep pushing me, supporting me and demanding my best; irrespective of whether it’s baking them chocolate brownies or doing science.

So I think I am truly lucky to be surrounded by all these wonderful people and to be doing something I truly love to do. And tonight I want to promise all of you, that this is just the beginning in a long journey and all of us at the Centre for Dengue Research, will not disappoint you.”

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