Focus: Nidhish Francis is the first Malayali to be awarded the prestigious Victoria India Doctoral Scholarship to pursue his higher studies in Victoria, Australia

Budding veterinary scientist Nidhish Francis is “happy ”. The 29-year-old from Kochi is all set to fly Down Under to Melbourne, Australia, on April 6 after being awarded the prestigious Victoria India Doctoral Scholarships (VIDS). Established in 2011 by the government of Victoria State, VIDS gives a helping hand to 10 Indian PhD scholars to study in any one of the nine major Victorian Universities, namely Deakin University, La Trobe University, Monash University, RMIT University, Swinburne University, Australia Catholic University, The University of Melbourne, University of Ballarat and Victoria University.

Nidhish is the first Malayali and one of the 10 scholars from across India, belonging to various disciplines, who have been chosen for the three year scholarship that offers a full waiver of tuition fees, apart from a bursary of Australian Dollar 90,000 (a little over Rs. 50 lakh). Nidhish, who graduated from the College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Mannuthy, Thrissur, holds a master’s degree in animal science from the University of Connecticut in the United States, and is now going to pursue his PhD in veterinary science from the University of Melbourne.

“I will be researching on the role of protease-activated receptor (PAR-1) in muscle regeneration. PAR-1 is required for normal responses to muscle injury. Hopefully, the research will provide important information regarding muscle biology in general and the ‘pathophysiology’ of muscular dystrophy in particular,” says Nidhish. He will be doing his doctoral thesis under the guidance of Eleanor Mackie, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Melbourne.

The youngster says he became interested in the basic pathophysiology (a convergence of pathology with physiology) of the musculoskeletal system while studying for his master’s degree and afterwards while working as a research assistant at the University of Connecticut. “My pet Labrador, Julie, actually inspired me to study veterinary science. And even when I was studying for my undergraduate degree, I knew that my future was in research. At Connecticut I was researching on the role of transcription factor Tbx2 in osteoblast function… essentially understanding the basic biology/process of bone formation. I was keen to further my research in the field,” says Nidhish.

He came to know about VIDS from its website. “It was a great opportunity because Australia does not award too many scholarships. Also, I was keen on Australia because my brother, Hanish, lives in Perth. Once I realised that I qualified for VIDS, I got in touch with the University and Professor Mackie, who’s area of expertise is in cell biology of musculoskeletal development and pathology,” says Nidhish.

He believes that one of the keys to getting such a scholarship is good academic scores. “All of those chosen for VIDS, be it in engineering or biology or chemistry all had good scores, especially undergraduate grades. Then at least 50 per cent of the work is over. You also have to have a sound research proposal. It has to be as detailed as possible and it is also important to talk about how the said research will contribute to the development of the particular field. It also helps if you have a good background in extra-curricular activities. There are many such scholarships available across the world. You just have to keep looking. Meanwhile, study hard,” says Nidhish.

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