Profile: PhD candidate Djamila Eliby

PhD candidate Djamila Eliby's research topic is an investigation of the relationships between anxiety and depression, nutrition, and the gut microbiome.

Djamila profile image

A passion for bugs and brains

Originally from Kazakhstan, Djamila Eliby was born in Japan and lived in Germany before moving to Australia. Her early years as a rhythmic gymnast seem a long way from how she now spends her days.

Djamila wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to do at the end of her Honours year at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences. She caught a glimpse into what research was like when she worked on the Bugs and Brains: The Gut and Mental Health Study during her fourth year at the School.

She found the topic very interesting and when she heard that there was an opportunity to do a PhD on this study, she didn’t hesitate to apply.

“I chose to pursue further study at MSPS because I’d completed my undergraduate course and Honours at Melbourne Uni, and grew to love the school and all the wonderful people I’d met along the way”

Djamila’s PhD research aims to investigate the relationship between anxiety and depression, and dietary factors, and how the gut microbiome might modulate this relationship.

The gut microbiome refers to the microbial ecosystem residing in the gastrointestinal tract which is thought to have an influence on cognition and mood via the gut-brain axis.

During her interning days, she was surprised to learn about how the gut microbiome was sampled. If you don’t know, it’s via a fecal sample! Although quite the germaphobe, the most exciting aspects of the PhD for Djamila were related to the data collection phase. It was a lot of fun to be able to interact with participants, conduct clinical interviews, and drive all around Melbourne to collect biological samples. The skills that Djamila developed include conducting the SCID (Structured Clinical Interview for DSM), learning how to conduct a systematic review, wrangling data in R, and some simple bioinformatics.

“I can imagine myself doing a number of things in ten years’ time: continuing on with research that’s related to what I’m doing now; working in a more clinical setting with the knowledge I’ve gained through my thesis; or transitioning to an industry job where I can leverage the skills I’ve picked up during the PhD”

For future students, Djamila’s advice is to choose a topic that you enjoy learning about (even when motivation levels may drop) and to choose a supervisory team that always has your back. Dr Julian Simmons, Dr Orli Schwartz, Dr Anita Lawrence and Professor Nick Haslam are her supervisory team and she is so grateful for their inspiration and guidance. For current students, particularly those that are unsure about post-PhD life, she suggests trying to focus on the transferrable skills that you have developed and see how this could be applied in academia but also in government roles, data science, industry, etc.

Djamila Love your Brain image

By Mairéad Murray