QBI offers summer and winter research programs for undergraduate, honours, and post-graduate coursework students enrolled at UQ.

QBI’s Winter Research Program 2020

Learn new laboratory techniques in a world-class research environment.

UQ students fascinated and motivated by the potential of a research career in neuroscience are encouraged to apply for the Winter Research Program offered at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI).

Information about the 2021 Program including available research projects and how to apply will be advertised on QBI’s website in March 2021.

QBI’s Summer Research Program 2020-2021

UQ’s Summer Research Program provides an excellent opportunity for interested students to work with a researcher in a formal research environment to experience the research process and discover what research is being undertaken in their field of interest.

Students interested in pursuing a research career in neuroscience are encouraged to apply for the UQ Summer Research Program offered at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI). QBI is looking for exceptional and highly motivated students to spend from six (6) to ten (10) weeks contributing to research projects currently underway in our laboratories while earning AUD$360 per week.  The Program will commence on Monday 30 November 2020 and run through until Friday 12 February 2021 with a holiday break from 25 December 2020 to 01 January 2021.

Due to COVID-19 and evolving Government advice, the current start date for the Summer Program will be 30 November 2020 and will run 6 to 10 weeks pending further advice. Social distance regulations will need to be maintained during these projects.


Applications open on Monday 24 August and close on Sunday 27 September 2020

(Note that new research projects may be added for display up until Friday 11 September 2020)


Summer research at UQ provides a range of benefits, including:

  • Experience to ‘test-drive’ research before embarking on future research studies (eg. honours) or higher degree research projects (eg. master’s, MPhil or PhD);
  • An opportunity to develop new academic and professional skills to enhance employability;
  • Access to research networks and the opportunity to build connections with staff and postgraduate students;
  • Supervision by world-class UQ researchers;
  • Access to world-class facilities and experiences;
  • The possibility of obtaining credit towards your degree or the UQ Employability Award; and
  • A scholarship for qualifying students to receive an allowance of AUD$360 per week, paid jointly by QBI and the UQ Student Employability Centre (UQ SEC).


To be eligible for the UQ Summer Research Program at QBI, students must:

  • Be currently enrolled in an undergraduate or honours or master’s by coursework degree at UQ at the time of application;
  • Remain an enrolled full-time student at UQ for the entirety of the Summer Program (ie. continuing study in the same degree in Semester 1, 2021 and not completing/graduating in December 2020);
  • Be studying for a degree relevant to the research discipline;
  • Have a high level of academic achievement during their degree studies;
  • Have the potential to and an interest in undertaking postgraduate study (master’s, MPhil or PhD); and
  • Undertake the research program at QBI, located on the UQ St Lucia campus.

Students may be eligible to participate in the Program and receive a scholarship more than once at the discretion of QBI. However, if the number of applicants exceeds available places and funding, preference will be given to first-time applicants.


Applications for QBI will be assessed by the Institute and placements will be awarded on a competitive basis, taking into account:

  • Student eligibility;
  • The availability of projects and supervisors;
  • The academic merit of the applicant;
  • Reasons provided for wanting to participate in the Program;
  • The quality of the project;
  • Skills and attributes of applicants to meet project requirements; and
  • Available funding.

Scholarship Support

All applicants will be automatically considered for a Summer Research Scholarship to assist with living costs (food, accommodation, incidentals) and those who qualify will receive funding of AUD$360 per week, paid jointly by QBI and the UQ Student Employability Centre. The scholarship funding is not paid during periods away from the University such as during the Christmas break when the University is officially closed (from 25 December 2020 to 01 January 2021). This stipend will be paid in two lump sums during the Program based on weekly participation; no part-week payments will be made. Scholars must participate in the Program for a minimum of 6 weeks to be eligible to receive a stipend.  No scholars are permitted to participate in the Program in a voluntary capacity.  If a student withdraws from the Program, their scholarship will need to be returned for the full weeks unworked.  More information about the Program and scholarships is available in the UQ Summer Research Program Guidelines for Scholars and Conditions of Participation documents via the UQ SEC website.

The QBI Equity, Diversity & Inclusion committee particularly encourages applications from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and will support the scholarship of a successful ATSI student applicant. Please follow the application procedure below, and also forward details of your application to equity.diversity.inclusion@qbi.uq.edu.au for consideration

What will be my time commitment and obligations?

Scholars are expected to actively participate in an ongoing research project or to undertake a substantial piece of supervised research work. Where appropriate to the project, additional discipline-/project-specific obligations may also be required, such as training in research safety and ethics.

The period of eligibility for scholarship payments for the Program is from 6 weeks up to 10 full weeks between the time period of 30 November 2020 to 10 February 2021.  The research period is normally offered in two parts to allow for the Christmas/New Year holidays when the University is officially closed.

Summer research project work should not conflict with teaching weeks and should not commence prior to completing assessment or semester exam requirements.

At QBI, it is expected that scholars will work on a full-time basis (up to 36 hours per week) during the Program.

Participating students at QBI will be requested to:

  1. complete a Student Intellectual Property and Confidentiality Deed for their research project; and
  2. prepare and provide a short oral presentation towards the end of the Program about their project work and summer research experience at the Institute.

How to apply

Step 1 - Peruse the research projects listed below and choose a project from the list of available projects (note that new projects may be added for display up until Friday 11 September 2020).  Please note that students can submit only one application by the closing date, but can specify a second QBI project preference option on the Application Form, if desired.

Step 2 – Check your eligibility:  carefully read through all of the UQ Summer Research Program information, including Guidelines for Scholars document, and Conditions of Participation contained at the UQ Student Employability Centre’s website: employability.uq.edu.au/summer-research

Step 3 – Email the relevant project contact person before applying to express your interest in the project and provide your available start and end dates, and ascertain if they will support your application (attach your detailed academic CV and academic transcripts to your email)Important Note:  all scholars accepted for the Program at QBI are strongly encouraged to commence on Monday 30 November 2020 to participate in the compulsory UQ Student Employability Centre’s Summer Research Welcome event and QBI’s compulsory student induction sessions and activities organised for that day including OHS training.

Step 4 – Submit an online application via the StudentHub and upload supporting documentation (CV, academic transcripts, supporting statement from a QBI supervisor) by 11:59pm on Sunday 27 September 2020Reminder: applicants can submit only one application, but can specify a second QBI project preference option on the Application Form, if desired.  Late or incomplete applications will not be considered.

All applicants will be notified if they will be invited to participate in the Program by Friday 23 October 2020.

If you have any questions regarding the 2020-2021 UQ Summer Research Program at QBI, please contact Ms Jessica O’Brien, Collaborators Liaison, Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland, St Lucia campus, Brisbane Queensland, 4072 Australia, Email: collaborators@qbi.uq.edu.au Phone: +61 7 3346 6300.


Available Projects

Dr Matilde Balbi: Automated touch sensing tapered beam test using Raspberry Pi

DESCRIPTION: Rodent models of neurological disease are often characterized by motor deficits. Behavioural tests like the tapered beam test or the cylinder test provide sensitive measures of motor function. However, manual frame-by-frame scoring of the video recordings, necessary to obtain test results, is time consuming and prone to human bias. The aim of the project is to build an automated touch sensing tapered beam test using capacitive touch sensors to detect foot faults and Raspberry Pi computers to process and store results.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND DELIVERABLES:  Scholars will be expected to build and test the apparatus, making sure that the method reaches high sensitivity of detection. Scholars will be responsible to modify/ generate codes that are accessible to any user.  Scholars will be expected, with the help of the supervisor, to find new innovative solutions that can improve the system.   

SUITABLE FOR: The project is suitable for students with knowledge of Phyton and experience with creative problem solving.

DURATION: 10 weeks

CAMPUS: St Lucia

For further information on the project please contact Dr. Balbi  by email (m.balbi@uq.edu.au). For general info on the lab have a look at our website: balbilab.com. Students can contact the supervisor to ask more info about the project prior applying.

A/Prof Kai-Hsiang Chuang: Imaging brain dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease

DESCRIPTION: Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), are irreversible and generally incurable and hence early detection is essential so that interventions can be applied to slow down its progression. With advance in neuroimaging, impaired brain connectivity and metabolism that associated with pathological hallmarks of AD (eg, amyloid plaques or tau tangles) have been reported. However, their relationship with pathology is unclear. We aim to further understand the relationship and mechanisms between cerebral blood flow (a surrogate of cerebral metabolism), functional connectivity and neural pathologies using animal models and the translation in humans. In particular, targeted neural modulations will be applied together with novel imaging technique to understand the mechanisms. The knowledge generated would unveil potential mechanisms of pathogenesis. The developed imaging markers would facilitate the early diagnosis in the future.


1. gain knowledge and hands-on experience with advanced functional neuroimaging and data analysis techniques;
2. conduct data analysis, generate reports and present the results;
3. conduct literature review;
4. contribute to manuscript preparation for journal publication.

SUITABLE FOR: Students with knowledge of signal/image processing, statistics or neuroanatomy are desirable.

DURATION: 10 weeks

CAMPUS: St Lucia

Please contact Dr Chuang at k.chuang@uq.edu.au to discuss your interest.

Professor Geoff Goodhill: Computational neuroscience: decoding neural activity and behaviour

DESCRIPTION: We aim to understand the computational principles by which stimuli in the world are represented by patterns of neural activity, and how these representations emerge during development. To do this we are recording the activity of thousands of neurons simultaneously, at single-cell resolution, in the brain of the larval zebrafish, and also recording zebrafish behaviour. These data require the development of sophisticated mathematical/computational tools. You will join an interdisciplinary team working on these problems.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND DELIVERABLES:  You will be exposed to an interdisciplinary environment ranging from  experimental neuroscience to mathematical analysis. The main deliverables will be Matlab code implementing particular algorithms for analysing our data.

SUITABLE FOR: A strong background in mathematics (i.e. including at least 2nd-year MATH courses) and computer programming is required. Previous knowledge of neuroscience is not essential.

DURATION: 8-10 weeks

CAMPUS: St Lucia

Please contact Professor Goodhill (g.goodhill@uq.edu.au) prior to submitting an application. Further background can be obtained from the following article: goodhill.org/pub/avitan20.pdf​

Dr Zhitao Hu - Investigating the functional roles of synaptotagmins in synaptic transmission


Background: Synaptotagmin proteins belong to the C2 protein family, and are mainly involved in membrane trafficking and fusion. However, mechanisms under these processes are largely unclear.

Hypothesis: We have previously identified SNT-3, a short synaptotagmin protein that is expressed in postsynaptic muscle cell. Functional analysis does not reveal a significant change in muscle function. We therefore hypothesize that at least two synaptotagmins are expressed in muscle and they function redundantly.

Aim: We will perform a candidate screen of 5 synaptotagmin genes for their endogenous expression pattern, and their potential functions in muscle.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND DELIVERABLES:  Scholars may gain skills in genetic, imaging, and behavioural data collection in the nematode C. elegans, and have an opportunity to generate publications from our research.

SUITABLE FOR: This project is open to applications from students with a background in molecular neurobiology.

DURATION: 8 weeks and applicant will be required on-site for the project

CAMPUS: St Lucia

Applicants can contact Dr Hu (z.hu1@uq.edu.au) if they have questions about the project.

Professor Jason Mattingley - Modulating human neural plasticity and motor learning with brain stimulation

DESCRIPTION: Learning new skills involves physical changes to neural circuits that underlie the trained behaviour. These changes are commonly known as neural ‘plasticity’. Understanding the conditions under which plasticity occurs and how to enhance or reduce it in humans has important implications, from improvement of learning to rehabilitation after brain injury. Recent work by our team indicates that plasticity in the motor system can be modulated by non-invasive brain stimulation. More specifically, applying weak electric currents to mimic brain oscillations normally observed during sleep allowed us to change the course of plastic changes in human motor cortex. We are now seeking to understand whether these changes are specific to stimulation of the functional circuit involved in learning motor skills.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND DELIVERABLES: In this project, you will gain skills in state-of-the-art human neurophysiology and brain stimulation techniques: muscle activity recording, transcranial magnetic stimulation and transcranial direct current stimulation. You will gain experience in human testing, data collection, analysis and interpretation. This will enable you to answer a novel, unexplored question within a well-developed experimental framework.

SUITABLE FOR: This project would suit students with a background in experimental psychology, neurophysiology or biomedical science. We are looking for someone who has good interpersonal skills and an eye for detail. Prior experience in running experiments with human participants is preferred.

DURATION: 6-10 weeks

CAMPUS: St Lucia

Should you have any questions, please contact Dr. Claire Bradley (claire.bradley@uq.edu.au) or Prof. Jason Mattingley (j.mattingley@uq.edu.au).

Professor Fred Meunier: Applying artificial intelligence to analyse super-resolution large datasets

DESCRIPTION: Super-resolution techniques are gaining momentum and are now opening new avenues for biologists, allowing direct visualisation of molecules in both fixed and living cells for the first time. In the last 5 years, my laboratory has focused on establishing single molecule imaging at The University of Queensland. Using this super-resolution technique, we have been able to track single molecules in their native environment and reveal critical changes in their behaviour associated with key physiological or pathological processes. The goal of this project is to apply artificial intelligence to analyse large dataset of stemming from single molecule imaging experiments.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND DELIVERABLES:  Scholars will gain skills in single molecule imaging data analysis, be involved in analysing the data, and have an opportunity to generate publications from their research.  Students will be asked to produce a report or oral presentation at the end of their project.

SUITABLE FOR: This project is open to applications from students with a background in Math/Physics and/or Biology. Matlab or Python experience would be a plus.

DURATION: 6 weeks

CAMPUS: St Lucia

Please contact Prof Fred Meunier f.meunier@uq.edu.au and Ms Rachel Gormal r.gormal@uq.edu.au for application and send your CV.

Professor Linda Richards: Investigating the role of the Nuclear factor one transcription factors in brain development

DESCRIPTION: We aim to understand how loss of function of the Nuclear factor one transcription factors affect brain development and function. Using various mouse models, the scholar will examine the consequence of deletion of these transcription factors on postnatal development and the adult brain..

EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND DELIVERABLES:  Scholars will gain skills in histology and microscopy. The scholar will need to present their research to the lab group at the end of the project and may have the opportunity to be involved in the publication of their research.

SUITABLE FOR: The project is suitable for advanced undergraduate students with a background in neuroscience.

DURATION: 6-10 weeks

CAMPUS: St Lucia

Please contact Dr Jonathan Lim (j.lim5@uq.edu.au) before submitting an application.

Associate Professor Ethan Scott: Light sculpting for targeted in vivo photoactivation

DESCRIPTION: The aim of this project will be to sculpt UV laser light, using a spatial light modulator, to illuminate individual targeted neurons in vivo.  These neurons will be identified through calcium imaging, and then sculpted light will be used to illuminate these cells using a photoactivatable GFP.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND DELIVERABLES: Students should have a background in optical physics sufficient to approach the project, although further training and mentorship will be provided as the project proceeds.  Deliverables include the successful illumination of targeted neurons and the imaging of these neurons’ structures once they are labelled.

SUITABLE FOR: The project is suitable for advanced undergraduate students with training in physics.

DURATION: 10 weeks

CAMPUS: St Lucia

Applicants can contact A/Prof. Scott (ethan.scott@uq.edu.au) if they have questions about the project.

Associate Professor Ethan Scott: Quantitative analysis of neural activity and behaviour in zebrafish larvae

DESCRIPTION: There are two foci that this project could take: 1) The quantification of behavioural mechanics and the development of closed-loop behavioural paradigms, or 2) the mathematical analysis of whole-brain calcium imaging.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND DELIVERABLES: Outcomes would include the development of a system for closed-loop stimulation during calcium imaging and/or the successful modelling of activity across the brain during such stimulation.  Toward the end of the project, the student would present the results to the lab group as a whole.

SUITABLE FOR: The project is suitable for advanced undergraduate students with training in mathematics or neuroscience.

DURATION: 10 weeks

CAMPUS: St Lucia

Applicants can contact A/Prof. Scott (ethan.scott@uq.edu.au) if they have questions about the project.

Dr Adam Walker: Studying mechanisms and treatments for motor neuron disease and frontotemporal dementia

DESCRIPTION: Neurodegenerative diseases such as motor neuron disease (MND) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) are inevitably fatal and have no effective therapeutics. MND primarily affects the spinal cord and causes paralysis, whereas FTD primarily affects the brain and causes progressive and debilitating changes to behaviour, language and personality. Despite these many differences in disease symptoms, most people with MND and FTD develop similar characteristic pathology in neurons involving a DNA/RNA-binding protein known as TDP-43. Our lab aims to understand how TDP-43 protein dysfunction causes neurodegeneration. We use various biochemical and imaging techniques to study neuronal cell cultures, genetically modified mice, and human samples.

We have recently identified proteins that are altered in the brains and spinal cords of genetically modified TDP-43 mice during disease. These proteins may be involved in causing or protecting against neurodegeneration in MND and FTD. The aim of this project is to define how these potential new therapeutic targets contribute to neurodegeneration, to guide future drug development for people living with these diseases.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND DELIVERABLES: You will work alongside current lab members and may use a range of techniques including CRISPR/Cas9 genetic engineering, neuronal cell culture and transfections, lentiviral production and cell transductions, transgenic mouse motor behaviour assessment, mouse brain and spinal cord surgery and dissection, immunoblotting, immunofluorescent staining and fluorescence microscopy.

Students will present their results in a lab meeting and will produce a final report, which may contribute towards research publications.

SUITABLE FOR: This project is open to applications from students with an interest in neuroscience and cell biology. We encourage applications from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, LGBTIAQ+ students and others from backgrounds underrepresented in STEMM.

Applications from students who may be interested in undertaking Honours or Masters research units in our lab in 2021 will be viewed favourably.

DURATION: 6-10 weeks

CAMPUS: St Lucia

Please contact Dr Adam Walker (adam.walker@uq.edu.au), Dr Rebecca San Gil (r.sangil@uq.edu.au), Dr Leon Luan (w.luan@uq.edu.au) or Dr Heledd Brown-Wright (h.brownwright@uq.edu.au).

For consideration, in your initial email you must include:

  1. your CV,
  2. academic transcript, and
  3. a short description of your research interests and future goals.

If applicable, you are welcome to also provide a brief description of relevant relative-to-opportunity considerations that may have impacted past achievement. We will invite shortlisted candidates to meet and discuss specific details of available projects prior to application submission.

A/Prof Margie Wright: Neurodevelopment during Adolescence

DESCRIPTION: Adolescence is a period of rapid development characterised by a variety of neuroanatomical and behavioural changes.  It is also a time of vulnerability to stressors that may alter neurobehavioural processes and negatively impact mental health. To further our understanding of factors mediating risk for psychopathology we are deep phenotyping a cohort of young adolescent twins.  In addition to brain imaging, measures include pubertal development, emotional and social behaviours, daily stress, social support and family functioning, sleep quality, and cognitive performance.  Our aim is to extend knowledge of the role of risk and protective factors influencing psychiatric illnesses that frequently emerge during adolescence, and further, to disentangle sources of genetic and environmental influence.  This is a longitudinal study, with baseline data available for 211 young adolescent twin pairs and follow-up data available for >70 twin pairs.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND DELIVERABLES: Students will have the opportunity to prepare a literature review in an area of research interest complimentary to our study aims and the data available. They will gain experience with statistical approaches and conduct exploratory data analysis.  At the end of their project, they will give an oral presentation on the work undertaken.

SUITABLE FOR: This project is open to 3rd and 4th year students in Psychology (Neuropsychology, Experimental psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience) and would be suitable for candidates looking to progress to honours and/or a PhD with our group.

DURATION: 6-10 weeks

CAMPUS: St Lucia

Before submitting an application, please contact Dr Narelle Hansell (n.hansell@uq.edu.au) or A/Prof Margie Wright (margie.wright@uq.edu.au), including a copy of your CV, academic transcript, and short description of your research interests and future goals.  We will meet with shortlisted candidates prior to application submission to discuss available projects.

Dr Steven Zuryn: Molecular biology and the mitochondrial genome

DESCRIPTION: The mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) encodes key components required for cellular energy generation. However, the mtDNA is prone to molecular damage, which can cause disease and ageing itself. Using cutting edge genetic, transgenic, and cell biology tools developed by our laboratory, this project aims to discover the molecular mechanisms that protect the mtDNA from injury while uncovering key fundamental aspects of mtDNA biology.

The project will use the powerful genetic model animal C. elegans, taking advantage of its amenability to genomic engineering through methods such as CRISPR-cas9 DNA editing.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES AND DELIVERABLES:  In this project, you will learn molecular biology, cloning, cell biology, transgenic work, and C. elegans techniques. You will also employ cutting edge scientific methods and learn how to plan and interpret experiments and present your work during meetings.

SUITABLE FOR: This project is open to applications from students with a background in genetics and molecular biology enrolled at UQ. We encourage students with ambitions to undertake a PhD in the future..DURATION: 10 weeks

DURATION: 10 weeks

CAMPUS: St Lucia