Student profile: Thomas Simnadis, 

School of Medicine, Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health

The focus of my PhD is on utilising an inter-disciplinary approach to explore the opportunities for incorporating sorghum and quinoa - two ancient grains - into the Australian human food supply. I am exploring their nutritional properties along with the economic implications for stakeholders within the value chain bringing products to market; a paddock to plate overview.

Why does this interest you? why is it important?

The consumption of food is a fundamental requirement for human existence, and grain-based foods form a significant component of this global demand for food. However, there are significant challenges that the global food system will be facing into the future, such as population growth, climate change and a growing burden of chronic health problems. My interest lies in identifying opportunities to bring novel grains to market, as they may be able to assist in overcoming these grand challenges. Furthermore, incorporating sorghum and quinoa into the food supply may present unique opportunities for primary producers to diversify their grain-growing base and secure their livelihoods into the future.

Describe how you got here

Five years ago, if I’d been asked where I thought I would be, I doubt that I would have picked grain research as a feasible option. My journey to becoming a PhD student is littered with odd twists of fate and amusing anecdotes. Essentially though, it began after a chance meeting with one of my supervisors and the mention of the word ‘sorghum’. I had never heard of this foreign term, which prompted me to consult the services of Google to find out exactly what it was. What struck me most was that sorghum was used as a staple food source in Africa, but was only used as an animal feed in Australia. This is where my journey to being enlightened about the Australian grains industry and exploring opportunities for novel grains began.

Who or what has influenced you in your research career so far?

I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a myriad of inspiring, passionate and patient people. From each and every interaction I have attempted to learn as much as I can in order to help develop my research and ingrain a deep understanding of what the implications of my findings are. The insights that have been provided by my supervisors (Prof. Linda Tapsell and A/Prof. Eleanor Beck) have been invaluable in facilitating the development of a coherent, structured and intelligent thesis. Although they have been significant contributors to my research career, I have been fortunate to be exposed to a range of stakeholders in the food supply system that have given me unique insights into the value of my research. These encounters have helped to build the confidence that the work I am performing has value in an academic research setting as well as in a broader innovation and commercial context.

What has been the most exciting project or effort of your studies so far?

The most exciting aspect of my work has been working with stakeholders across the value chain and understanding their insights. I found that walking onto a farm where grains such as sorghum and quinoa were grown completed the research lifecycle. Being able to see the origin of our food supply instilled the fundamental perspective that in a country such as Australia, the ability to buy fresh, nutritious and safe food on a daily basis is taken completely for granted.

Tell us a little about your 3MT experience – By the way - People’s Choice award is a great result!

The 3MT experience was a great opportunity to practice delivering the crux of my PhD in a succinct and engaging manner. After the hours of preparation that had gone into refining the talk, it was all over in three terrifying minutes! I would recommend it to every PhD student since there will come a time and place when you are forced to summarise your work to a non-expert in a way that maintains their interest and attention.

How has competing in the Aust-French Entrepreneurship Challenge?

The Entrepreneurship Challenge was a unique opportunity to work together with a group of diverse PhD students to develop a commercial solution to an issue that our society was faced with. The entire challenge was underpinned by sleep deprivation and time pressure, but also gave me a taste-test of some of the opportunities that research training can lead to. The collaborative environment that was fostered throughout the challenge also entrenched the value of teamwork to developing novel solutions, enabling tasks to be completed in an efficient and timely manner. Pitching the concept to a panel of industry experts and attempting to answer their probing questions also proved challenging, but having a highly engaged team was a significant contributor to successfully positioning our intended solution.

What do you hope to ultimately achieve in terms of contribution to this field and / or broader society?

From an international perspective, the Australian food supply is currently seen as being one of the best in the world. This is a testament to the stringent quality control standards and the skills and knowledge of the primary producers that enable food manufacturers to develop such high quality products. Ultimately, I hope to identify additional food sources for the Australian food supply that can foster additional revenue streams for growers, contribute to the broader wellbeing of our population and ensure that environmentally and economically sustainable crops are produced into the future. 

Thomas on LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/thomassimnadis