Thursday, 27 November 2014

Researcher profile in November - A/Prof Allen Cheng

A/Prof Allen Cheng has been very busy this year, particularly with his involvement in the Ebola outbreak as a specialist in infectious diseases and an epidemiologist. This week we take a look into Allen's background in a bit of a different way. 

What do you like best about your work?

The diversity – in my typical day I jump between discussing the best way to treat a complex infection, to helping design a campaign to prevent bloodstream infections, to using statistical models to make sense of data, to advising on public health policy. Although it does mean I’m spread rather thinly, it’s great to interact with people in a variety of different fields.

What was your very first job?

As a student, I worked as a legal secretary, which gave me an appreciation of the use (and abuse) of language. My first full time job was as an intern at St Vincent’s in Melbourne – my first patient asked me (after I had tried unsuccessfully to put in an intravenous line) how long I had been a doctor, to which I could only answer honestly “about an hour”.
What is your favourite place in the world and why?


There are many, but I have many reasons for choosing Helsinki; its architecture and parks, the self-effacing, introspective nature of the Finns, and the quirkiness of the language. There are some great words in Finnish – the longest palindrome (saippuakivikauppias; soap stone seller) and wonderfully reflexive mututuntuma, which translates to something like “a feeling I have about a feeling I have”. There’s also pilkunnussija (which readers can look up themselves) that I’m sure everyone can identify with.

What is the best piece of advice you have received?

Kit Fairley, who supervised the first research project I undertook as a junior doctor, once gave me excellent career advice. He asked me to think of the last time that I was so immersed in my work I didn’t notice the time – and that’s probably what I should be doing more of.

Tell us something about yourself that your colleagues wouldn’t know.

I have a fascination for languages (unfortunately not matched by an aptitude to learn them), particularly uncommonly encountered ones in countries where I’ve previously worked, including tok pisin (Pidgin English), Finnish, Danish, Thai, and Spanish.

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