Connected Conversations | Monique Chilver

Monique Chilvers is a Fulbright scholar, PhD student and program manager researching influenza and infectious diseases. Read the full conversation here about how she and her colleagues have been preparing for a pandemic for years and how she stays connected to family and friends.

Monique Chilver

Tell us a little about yourself...

My name is Monique Chilver and I am the program manager and PhD student for the Australian Sentinel Practices Research Network (ASPREN). We under take nation-wide surveillance of influenza and other infectious diseases, by obtaining data from GPs around Australia on the levels of these pathogens that are circulating in the community... and yes, this includes COVID-19!

My PhD thesis is titled ‘Enhancing Australia's pandemic preparedness: Improving the utility of national sentinel General Practice surveillance data for influenza and influenza-like illness’.

I suspect it will have a different spin, post-pandemic! I’m also a Fulbright scholar for 2020-21 and was due to fly out to Seattle in September but have just found out that the program is postponed due to COVID-19. When I’m not working and studying, I am a busy mum to my 11-year-old daughter (plus our cat Leia and 30 Siamese fighting fish). 

What is your area of research?

In a nutshell: influenza and infectious diseases.

Has the current situation enabled you to do more/less in your area of research?

ASPREN is right in the middle of the pandemic response, with our surveillance system aiming to describe the epidemiology of influenza and other pandemic threats in Australia. We have been preparing for a pandemic for years! As you can imagine, we are very busy. We’ve had to modify our data reporting systems to include COVID-19, while navigating challenges such as the worldwide PPE (personal protective equipment) and swab testing supplies shortage.

What opportunities do you see for the future?

I believe the post-pandemic world will be very different. I can’t think of anything, in my adult lifetime, which has had such a massive impact on life as we know it. The value of science and research will be much greater, as we’ve now seen the direct effect that health can have on every facet of life, including the economy.

Name one thing during this time that has been pleasantly surprising for you.

It has been amazing to see the world working together to combat this virus. Scientists around the world working around the clock to understand everything about COVID-19–the way it interacts with people, the environment and other viruses, treatment and vaccines to combat the virus –the list goes on and on. Businesses repurposing to assist medical efforts, provide food to people in high-risk groups and people helping each other in times of need. The human race’s ability to adapt is incredible.

What are you doing to stay motivated?

I’m a creature of habit, so I have a strictdaily routine which includes exercise, meditation and time outside in the sun.

What are you doing to stay connected to your peers, friends, family etc?

Lots of Zoom and Messenger calls and chats. I try to make an effort to keep in touch with one friend each day, even if it’s just over a message. We call my Dad a couple of times a week and virtually ‘catch up’ over dinner –using a laptop set up at the end of the dining table. I recently celebrated my birthday and threw a Zoom party, which was a great way to catch up with friends and family.

Name three things you won’t miss about this current time...

The huge workload, not being able to give my Dad a hug and not being able to buy toilet paper!

And, three things you won’t forget...

Driving around the empty streets, it feels so surreal. Seeing the masses of people outside walking and riding bikes. The uncertainty of not knowing what the future holds –will we be in lockdown in a month or will life go back to ‘normal’?

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