Professor, Western Sydney University
Can you tell me about your experiences as an Research Higher Degree student?
I started my PhD back in 2003 as a full time student. Early on there was a fair bit of struggle in that I didn’t have a scholarship and after the first year I came very, very close to quitting due to just financial difficulties. It was hard to find work and study at the same time but my supervisors were very supportive there which was really good. Eventually came through with an ARC grant that paid a stipend as part of it, which was very helpful.
What was your pathway into a Research Higher Degree?
I did a Bachelor of Arts at University of Western Sydney (UWS). I majored in psychology and sociology and then there was probably about a year of not really knowing what to do and then eventually decided to do my Honours in psychology after I became aware of some of the anti‑racism research within social psychology. I went through my Honours, burnt out as part of the process. I just found it a little bit too intense for me. I was working for Native Title Services as what you would call a notifications officer but gradually became a little bit despondent with that simply because I wasn’t in a position to help the Traditional Custodians as much at all. I was more or less giving a lot of bad news stories to the communities.
I ended up applying for a job at what was then called the SELF Research Centre at UWS, which was basically an administration position. Didn’t get the job, but a couple of months after that I got a letter from Rhonda Craven saying ‘I don’t know how you slipped through our fingers’ but could you do a PhD with us? That’s how I got into my PhD, a lot of luck there.
What support mechanisms or aspects of university life have contributed to you completing a Research Higher Degree?
Intellectual support was good at the time but it was very much driven by the supervisors’ epistemologies and so forth, very quantitatively driven as well. Financial and personal support I thought was absolutely excellent. I can say I would not have finished my PhD without the support of my supervisor. The financial support was absolutely critical. I was simply not able to survive otherwise during my PhD. So the more opportunities universities provide to Indigenous students in terms of financial support obviously the better the outcomes will be for that university’s Indigenous representation.
What advice would you suggest for current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students contemplating a Research Higher Degree?
Go for it. Don’t get coaxed into a project that your supervisor wants you to do. It is what you’re passionate about. This is the most important issue. Don’t get coaxed into a methodology or method that your supervisor wants you to do. Make sure that you are comfortable to learn about the processes you want to pursue within the PhD, but most importantly make sure you’re passionate and comfortable about what you want to research.