Shauni Omond

I am interested in many different aspects of sleep. My research focusses on the flatworm Girardia tigrina and how sleep is modulated within this simple animal. My aim is that my research will help it become a model for human sleep. I studied a Bachelor of Science (Wildlife and Conservation Biology) at La Trobe University (Australia), and the pursued an Honours project with Dr. John Lesku (La Trobe University), co-supervised by Dr. Matthew Hale (La Trobe University). This research project introduced me to the fascinating world of sleep. During this year I was able to behaviourally characterise sleep in a new species G. tigrina. The results of this study can be found in my 2017 research paper “Inactivity is nycthemeral, endogenously generated, homeostatically regulated, and melatonin modulated in a free-living platyhelminth flatworm” in SLEEP: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsx124.

My PhD (started 2018) is conducted under the tutelage of Dr. John Lesku at La Trobe University, co-supervised by Dr. Matter Hale (La Trobe University) and Dr. Bruno van Swinderen (University of Queensland). This research looks deeper into flatworm sleep. I was awarded a Higher Degree by Research grant (AUD$15,000) but the Defence Science Institute to aid in my personal funding so that I could fully concentrate on my research. I have used neuropharmacology to identify which classical neurotransmitters have been conserved throughout evolution and may be the starting point for successfully regulating sleep. The current view of flatworms is that they have undergone a secondary simplification in evolution and have lost many systems which might be seen as essential. What can be inferred from this, is that any processes and mechanisms that are present, must reflect incredible importance. This paper is in prep and will hopefully be published shortly. I have also developed an electroencephalogram method to look at the electrophysiology of flatworm sleep. With the use of pharmaceuticals, I hope to induce sleep and wake brain activity within the worm over the course of several hours. Lastly, my research will look at the ontogeny of sleep, by utilising the flatworms’ unique ability to completely regenerate a fully functioning brain. The methods designed in these chapters have been challenging and exciting to develop and I am proud of what will come out of these works. It is my hope to submit my PhD Thesis in early 2022, with a variety of integral and transferable skills learned.

In addition to my PhD, I have been the Higher Degree by Research (HDR) student representative for the Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution (2019), and in 2020 I became the Science, Health and Engineering College HDR Representative on the Board of Graduate research (2020-2022). I am greatly interested in advocacy and in policy. During 2020 I was also part of a team of postgraduate researchers at La Trobe University that wrote a scientific paper on the issues experienced by Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students in the face of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic and how it uniquely affected us. Importantly, this paper was led by HDR students, and at the time of submission all the authors were current HDR students. This work has since been accepted for publication.

I am looking for new opportunities to pursue once my PhD is completed. While my research focusses on evolutionary sleep in flatworms, my interests outside of my PhD have developed into sleep and performance, and impacts of sleep deprivation on high school students. It is my goal to work in a human sleep and performance lab to contribute to the important research being conducted.

Publications

Atkinson, M., Brodie, A., Kafcaloudes, P., McCarthy, S., Monson, E., Nyarko, C. S., Omond, S., O’Toole, M., Pavich, See, J., Ty, A. A., & Yu, W. (2021). Illuminating the liminality of the doctoral journey: precarity, agency and COVID-19. Higher Education Research & Development (accepted)

Omond, S., Ly, L. M. T., Beaton, R., Storm, J. J., Hale, M. W., & Lesku, J. A. (2017). Inactivity is nycthemeral, endogenously generated, homeostatically regulated, and melatonin modulated in a free-living platyhelminth flatworm. Sleep, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsx124.