With a SACRU Fellowship, Ethan Murphy is taking his PhD overseas

ACU PhD student Ethan Murphy received a 2024 Visiting Doctoral Research Fellowship from the Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities (SACRU). SACRU is a network of universities that are committed to supporting excellence in research among Catholic universities around the world.

As a 2024 SACRU Fellow, you’ll spend two months progressing your PhD research at Boston College in the US. What is your PhD about?

My research is on brain imaging in cannabis use disorder, which is a condition that affects about one in five people who use cannabis. Cannabis use disorder can come with a whole range of negative psychosocial outcomes, such as increased risk of mental ill health, suicidality and other social problems.

Our lab – the Neuroscience of Addiction & Mental Health Program, within the Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre - is trying to map and reduce the brain changes underlying cannabis use disorder. When I'm in Boston, I'm primarily going to be focusing on the mapping component of the work and collaborating with key experts in the field.

What inspired you to apply for the Fellowship?

There were three big things that really motivated me. The first one is that Boston College is such a prestigious institute. This is an amazing opportunity to expand my network.

The second thing is that, as a PhD student, sometimes it's hard find time where you're solely focusing on your research. I’m excited to have time where I can fully immerse myself into my PhD.

And finally, being surrounded with other PhD fellows and other experts is really going to help stimulate my creativity, which I think is important to producing good work.

What are your goals during your time in Boston?

Seeing as much of Boston as I can and really getting a good experience of the United States and meeting different people are my main goals. If I can leave Boston and say that I've formed some good friendships, that would be really nice. Of course, from a professional perspective, I’m keen to build my networks and learn some new techniques, but I also really want to make the most out of the experience and enjoy it for the brilliant opportunity that it is.

How have you prepared for your Fellowship, and how has Boston College helped you?

One of the time-consuming aspects of going to the US is that you have to spend a lot of time getting all your documents in order before you can apply for your visa, but Boston College has made the process really streamlined. Because they’ve taken a lot of the admin load for me, I've been able to reach out to some academics and experts in Boston College and in the greater Boston area. With the support from my supervisors, A/Prof Valentina Lorenzetti and Dr. Chao Suo, I’ve set up a couple of lab visits that I can undertake when I'm out there, so that’s been good.

Do you have any tips for other students who might want to apply for a SACRU Fellowship?

As a PhD student, there's never going to be a perfect opportunity to apply for something — a lot of the time, we're working under pressure; we have a lot of things going on at once. My main advice is don’t wait for the perfect moment to apply or for all the stars to align. Just go for it. And use your supervisors — lean on them for their experience when you’re writing your application, because they have 20 plus years of doing these things.

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