Daniel Payne: my journey to becoming a researcher

By Daniel Payne, PhD Candidate (Biomedical Engineering)

It was during Orientation and my first week at the University, when I was 17, that I had a seizure. I hadn’t had one before, and thankfully have had none since. There were several stressors that lead to my seizure; change in weather, dehydration and lack of sleep could have all contributed. Anyone can have a seizure under certain circumstances, though usually these circumstances need to be extreme. For others the thresholds can be lower. Luckily for me my thresholds were low, but not low enough to cause another seizure since, meaning I do not have epilepsy. But 65+ million people worldwide are not as lucky.

Two images of Daniel Payne, at 18 years old on the left and in his first year of medical school on the right
Daniel Payne on his 18th birthday, a few weeks after his seizure (L) and in his first year of medical school in 2011 (R)

I started my University journey, still recovering from my seizure, in the former Bachelor of Biomedical Science (the last cohort before changes in 2008). We learnt biology, chemistry, physics, maths, physiology and biochemistry. Partly due to my earlier experience, I decided to major in Neuroscience, learning how brains develop and influence our senses, thinking patterns and movement. During my bachelors degree I did a couple of internships yet found the science laboratory too detached from the people we were helping. So in 2011 I became part of the first cohort of the Doctor of Medicine degree.

I enjoyed my time at med school, where everyone in the cohort does all the same subjects meaning the sense of community is strong. Through my undergraduate course I had learnt how the body worked. I was able to apply and extend this in my first year of med school to understand how those systems could fail to cause disease.  I had remained interested in neurology and learnt more about the seizure I’d had.

3D render of neurons on blue background
During his PhD, Daniel Payne has investigated clusters of post-seizure activity, the use of neural networks to forecast seizures and how weather, sleep and time can affect your seizure risk.

Once I got to clinical school my enthusiasm started to diminish. I felt out of place and couldn’t perform nearly as well as I had when talking theoretically. Being a doctor is very conversation orientated and for me, that was too draining. So again my focus shifted, I wanted something where I could feel the impact of my work, but something detached enough that I wouldn’t lose all my energy from the social interaction. I also wanted something where I could use the maths I’ve always been fond of.

Back to enrolment, again at the University of Melbourne, this time undertaking a Master of Engineering (Biomedical). I was taking subjects relating to neural engineering but also artificial intelligence. During my masters I was lucky enough to intern at the Bionics Institute, where I worked on developing an optrode - designed to transmit light for the purposes of stimulating the cochlear. Finally I had found my true passion. My favourite area during my masters was programming so when I decided that I wanted to continue to a PhD, I searched around for a biomedical engineering thesis project with a programming focus. Professor Leigh Johnston kindly introduced me to Dr Dean Freestone and Professor Mark Cook who researched, of all things, epilepsy. Some people may call that a sign, I call it coincidence, but still, I knew this was the right project for me.

Members of the Get Down development team
Some of the team members behind Get Down - Anthony Smith, Daniel Payne, Dominique Eden, Ewan Nurse and Professor Mark Cook.  

As I near the end of my PhD. I am now a published author investigating the disease that impacted the very start of my tertiary education. During my PhD I have investigated clusters of post-seizure activity, the use of neural networks to forecast seizures and how weather, sleep and time can affect your seizure risk. The last of which has given great insight into my own experience of a seizure.

It’s still early days in my research career, but I hope that I can continue to raise awareness of the impact of epilepsy and contribute to finding more effective treatments for those 65+ million patients.

Related Topics

Biomedical Engineering My Melbourne Experience Medical and pharmaceutical technologies