BioOne Career Center

BioOne Ambassador Award: Catching up with Kalhari Bandara Goonewardene, PhD

NaBeela Washington
Marketing & Communications Associate, BioOne, 9 December 2019


Kalhari Bandara Goonewardene


The BioOne Ambassador Award recognizes early-career researchers who excel at communicating the importance and impact of their research beyond their discipline. Up to five nominees receive a $1,000 (USD) cash award, amongst other benefits.

In 2018 BioOne was proud to recognize Kalhari Bandara Goonewardene in the inaugural class of Ambassador Award winners. Kalhari’s research has focused on poultry health, specifically in finding new ways to reduce the use of antibiotics while preserving the health of newly-hatched chicks.  

Recently, we had the opportunity to catch up with Kalhari on the eve of her graduation from the University of Saskatchewan. She shared with us her plans for continuing to positively contribute to animal science research, and how the BioOne Ambassador Award impacted her career.

Tell us a bit about yourself, such as where you grew up, hobbies, or family:

My father was a dentist and my mother was a school teacher so I come with both scientific and scholarly backgrounds. I completed my school education in Presidents College, Kotte (1991-1995) and Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo (1995-2004). In August 2005, I entered the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka and graduated with a Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVSc) degree in May, 2010.

I did some university teaching briefly and came to Canada to complete a PhD in immunology and poultry health at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan. My PhD was focused on developing alternative strategies to antibiotics for poultry birds. I recently graduated with this PhD.

I really enjoy volunteering, helping people, and working with the community—I currently live in Winnipeg and volunteer there in the community particularly, helping the Sri Lankan children to learn about their Sri Lankan roots, culture and values.

What - or who - inspired you to become a scientist? 

Dr. Susantha Gomis at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, really inspired my research. Dr. Gomis mentors students who are interested in poultry health; he’s responsive to students who express an interest in his field of research, and helps them become more involved in research. 

It’s very inspiring to work with a passionate mentor who’s infusing their passion into all of us too. 

Are there any skills you feel are particularly valuable to a successful research career which might surprise our readers? 

The most valuable skill I’ve learned in research was actually not a technical skill. I learned the skill of managing people. I learned that everyone is not the same and how to better understand people; I learned how to deal with people in a more empathetic way; I learned how to manage people in a group based on personality—this helped me to move forward and grow in this work. If you’re not adaptable to something that’s new, you get into conflicts and that can hinder those more technical skills found in research and teamwork.

Which leads to another skill: teamwork! Our group at the University of Saskatchewan always sticks together as a research team, not as individuals; everyone helps each other. There’s also an enormous amount of work that one person can’t do alone. Being in a large team is necessary for poultry research—we deal with a large number of birds. It’s also not very typical to appreciate everyone in the group; that’s what makes our group special, we acknowledge each other. I didn’t anticipate team collaboration like this going into this work. 

Can you share with us your plans for the next phase of your career? 

I completed my PhD in poultry health, but I’ve always been interested in food animal health more broadly. The biggest opportunities that inspire me are the challenges, so right now, I’m currently a post-doctoral research scientist at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency/National Center for Foreign Animal Diseases and I work particularly on African Swine Fever. I’m diversifying. 

Diagnosis and control of African Swine Fever (ASF) is very critical in Asia and Africa because of the current outbreaks. This disease spreads rapidly and is very difficult to control. In the affected countries, it has already diminished international trade, nutrition of people and their economy. It is very important to prevent the entry of African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV) to the USA and Canada. When the opportunity came to me to study African Swine Fever, I couldn’t resist the challenge. Now I am working with a team led by Dr. Aruna Ambagala to help the scientists in Ghana to diagnose ASFV infections so that they can control this endemic disease and stop it from spreading in the world and particularly entering North America.

We are starting from the ground up to develop a modular biosecurity level 3 laboratory in Takoradi, Ghana to transfer knowledge and technology for effective diagnostic testing. I am learning the diagnostic techniques myself as well so, my training in Canada will translate to Ghana when I travel there next year to install equipment and start in-person training. 

What career advice would you give to your younger self? 

Don’t change anything. Follow your gut feeling. If you can follow your passion, your gut knows what’s best!

What has been the impact of winning the BioOne Ambassador Award? 

Winning the award has been very motivating for me. It motivated me to write and publish my research. I was recognized highly; news of the Award spread and I had numerous people congratulate me. 

It also gave me a kick to wake up every day with a big smile, and to know that the hard work I do as a graduate student is appreciated. 

If you are in the field of biology and are early in your career, or looking for a new position, we invite you to search the BioOne Career Center job board and/or post your resume - all free of charge!