‘Ending AIDS in a generation’

I’ve been openly critical of the rhetoric in global HIV/AIDS policy around ‘ending HIV’.  For instance, at the MSM Global Forum pre-conference in Melbourne before AIDS2014, when US global AIDS ambassador Debbie Birx exhorted queer and trans people to ‘run a little harder’ towards the goal of ending AIDS in a generation.  This would be a little easier if so many queer and trans people around the world weren’t also running for their lives.

For many AIDS activists, the timing of the Orlando massacre was particularly painful, coming hard on the heels of the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS, where ‘key populations’ of queer and trans people, people who inject drugs and sex workers were actively excluded from deliberations and barely mentioned in the final document.

Laurel Sprague noted one paragraph in particular as a masterpiece of international policy double-speak.  I’ve highlighted the competing voices in different colours:

Reaffirm the sovereign rights of Member States, as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, and the need for all countries to implement the commitments and pledges in the present Declaration consistent with national laws, national development priorities and international human rights;

So the ‘run a little bit harder’ rhetoric shifts responsibility away from states and onto communities, making it sound like they’re not working hard enough to end HIV.

There is another problem with the ‘ending HIV’ rhetoric, as seen in this quote from an interview with Bill Gates, one of the largest funders of global HIV prevention:

There’s a few things where you get a slogan like “AIDS-free generation.” … I wish that were more likely. Truthfully, because we don’t have a vaccine, and the prophylactic tools, the compliance of those things has been very poor. We actually run a risk that the next generation will have more AIDS than previous generations.

It’s a story with mostly positive elements, but if you say simplistically we are on the path toward an AIDS-free generation, no, we’re not. We need more R&D, more tools. And if you’re not careful, if you overpromise, you do get this fatigue, and then, even when you still need the resources, people don’t come in.

The experience of the global effort to eradicate polio tells us that even if a preventative vaccine for HIV were discovered tomorrow, it would still take a multi-generation effort to eradicate HIV.  Consistent with Bruce Link and Jo Phelan’s fundamental causes of disease (FCD) model, we’d expect to see rich countries achieve pretty high vaccine coverage early on, and poorer countries (and disadvantaged social groups) taking a lot longer.  The crux of the FCD model is lack of access to what Link and Phelan call flexible resources like money, knowledge, literacy, and social status.

But I want to acknowledge that – at least in Australia – the ‘ending HIV’ rhetoric was in large part an intervention by canny policy entrepreneurs who sensed the winds of change in the early days of the global financial crisis, and knew to anticipate the damage that could be caused by social conservatives having a ‘good crisis’, using austerity discourse to justify huge cuts to social services and welfare.  The extended election campaign we’re having in Australia has created space for unions and social policy researchers and social services peak bodies to tell the story of the billion dollars in cuts under Abbott.

Although the HIV sector is by no means unscathed, with genuinely community-based peaks like Anwernekenhe National HIV Alliance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples getting completely de-funded, and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations losing funding for its education program to two of its own member orgs (!), my sense is that things could have been so much worse.

This is a hard one to prove — the counterfactual is a hypothetical what could have been.  But having Australia’s largest state, New South Wales, commit to an Ending HIV strategy, campaign, and program of rapid testing services and early treatment, helped keep HIV prevention on the policy agenda.  So while the science of the ‘ending HIV’ claim is questionable, that was never really the point.

YEAH, nah.

There’s a campaign doing the rounds on twitter to #SaveYEAH, referring to an organisation in my field called Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS.

This weekend, Jill Stark wrote about the campaign in The Sunday Age, and the paper also ran an editorial on it, both linking the ‘defunding’ of YEAH to attacks by the Christian right wing of the Liberal-National government on the Safe Schools Coalition Australia.

In fact, as a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on BBV and Sexually Transmitted Infections, YEAH CEO Alischa Ross most likely knew in advance that the entire funding stream was being replaced.  An ‘Invitation to Apply for Funding H1516G007’ for a new stream was released in November 2015, which included $1.3m for web, app and social media resources targeted people under 30 about sexual health.

Although it knew about the new funding arrangements from November 2015, the #SaveYEAH campaign did not begin until an initial tweet on 14 April 2016.  Rather than a ‘defunding’ it seems more likely that YEAH was unsuccessful in applying for funding under the new stream.

The article quotes Anne Mitchell and Michael Carr-Gregg (who is not, to my knowledge, an expert on sexual health promotion) claiming the funding decision is ideological:

They claim YEAH (Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS) is the latest victim of an ideological agenda pushed by conservatives who believe teaching students about sex and sexuality from an early age is dangerous.

“There’s a lot of kowtowing to right-wing activists at the moment and you’d have to say that defunding of YEAH is part of that agenda too,” Anne Mitchell, emeritus professor at La Trobe University and one of Australia’s leading authorities on sexual health and education, said. (source)

This does not stand up to factual scrutiny.  The decision to replace YEAH’s face-to-face approach with one based on social media was clearly taken months before George Christensen MP began attacking the Safe Schools Coalition in February 2016.

The Age editorial went further:

The Coalition plans to slash the program’s $450,000 annual budget and instead make information available online.

How sadly ironic. The way modern digital technology has increased pressure on young people especially to engage in unwanted sexual behaviour is an important part of the reason the community needs to have more open discussion about sex and directly confront any misapprehension.

(…)

Given the recent furore over slashing the Safe Schools Coalition – an initiative to stamp out discrimination against LGBTI students – it is hard to escape the conclusion the government is deliberately pandering to the conservative wing of Liberal party in this raid on funds. (source)

Apart from the timing being wrong, spending $900K more funding on sexual health promotion via apps, the web and social media is not consistent with the picture being painted here of a government afraid of talking to young people about sex.

Typical of The Age, it can’t see the contradiction in arguing ‘modern digital technology has increased pressure on young people especially to engage in unwanted sexual behaviour’ while dismissing interventions that engage in the same spaces to address those problems.

For advice on the value of digital technologies in promoting young people’s health, The Age could have asked one Michael Carr-Gregg, who is Managing Director of the Young and Well CRC and developed its Certificate in Young People’s Mental Health and Digital Technology.

We should not fund YEAH

It’s a matter of numbers and reach.


How many young people aged 15-30 are there in Australia?
2,464,966 (ABS estimate 30 June 2013, table 7)

How many new young people enter that cohort every year?
144,617 (ABS estimate 30 June 2013, table 7)

Young people reached by YEAH in 2015
10,000 ‘face-to-face’ (Jill Stark, The Age 23 April 2016)


These figures from their 2015 Annual Report show the cost-effectiveness of this program:

Screenshot 2016-04-25 12.55.47Screenshot 2016-04-25 12.55.27Screenshot 2016-04-25 12.55.00

Unless the 62 workshops had 161 participants each, it seems like the 10,000 ‘face-to-face’ contacts — the number quoted in Jill Stark’s article — includes young people reached via Facebook, Instagram, e-newsletters etc.  If so, the majority of YEAH’s outreach to young people was via online social media.  If not, we paid $456K for YEAH to conduct 62 workshops, at a cost of $7,358 each.

Sidebar:  I am absolutely mystified by the claim in YEAH’s annual report that it spoke to ‘50,000’ and ‘82,000’ young people in 2014 to ascertain their views about its participation in the Triple J regional music festival, Groovin’ the Moo.

Screenshot 2016-04-25 16.52.39

Is this an argument for funding YEAH to reach more people?  No.  The problem isn’t a lack of resources, it’s that their service model is misguided to begin with. The problem is partly how the organisation was historically focussed and partly the failure of its CEO, Alischa Ross, to step down from hands-on management of the organisation when she was no longer a young person.

First, the history of YEAH. As HIV/AIDS infection rates increased in the early 2000s, a number of different ‘moral entrepreneurs’ saw their opportunity.  In November 2007 the ABC reported:

MARK COLVIN: In the last few years especially, it appears the issue of AIDS has gradually dropped down the agenda, both for politicians and the community.

Infection rates in Australia are rising and there are concerns that the young generation is ignorant or complacent about the dangers of HIV.

Youth affairs reporter, Michael Turtle.

MICHARL TURTLE: This year, it’s estimated about a thousand Australians will be diagnosed with HIV for the first time. That’s an increase of about 30 per cent from the year 2000, when 763 people were found to have been infected.

After almost two decades of containment, HIV has begun to get the better of the community again. (source)

Ross framed YEAH as a pre-emptive response to a forthcoming epidemic of HIV/AIDS among young people:

MICHARL TURTLE: Alischa Ross is the CEO of the group Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS.

She also sees the prevention of the virus as a priority for all ages and all sexualities. And she’s warning that it may not be long before it becomes a big problem amongst the new generation.

ALISCHA ROSS: We know that Sexually Transmitted Infections amongst the young people are spreading like wildfire. This is the same behaviour that results in spread of HIV, so it is a matter of time until we see HIV spreading amongst young sexually-active teenagers.

MICHARL TURTLE: Ms Ross is calling for a renewed focus from governments on education and awareness. She thinks HIV needs to be talked about more in schools and in the community.

ALISCHA ROSS: If we’re talking about this as a preventable disease, which it is, and we’re meaning prevention in true sense of the word, which is to stop something from happening in the first place, then I don’t think our response to prevention, when it comes to young people, should mean that we wait to see a problem emerge. (source)

By that point — 26 years into the AIDS crisis — it was pretty clear that Australia was not going to see what’s known as a generalised epidemic where more than 1% of the heterosexual population are living with HIV.  Instead we have what’s known as concentrated epidemics — predominantly among gay men;  due to prompt and proactive work by sex workers and people who inject drugs, HIV prevalence in those two groups in Australia is incredibly low compared to other countries.

In that interview, Ross argues we should respond to something of which there was zero evidence — a mainstream HIV epidemic ‘in the new generation’.  The heterosexual focus here is subtle, but distinctive:  if you are targeting gay men, it’s pretty inefficient to go through ‘schools and the community’.

In this early phase of YEAH’s development one particular phrase got a workout:

Through the development of YEAH (Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS) Alischa’s focus has been educating young people from across diverse communities, advocating the message, ‘HIV/AIDS is an issues that affects everyone‘. (source)

Alischa Ross had no educational training and this is apparent from the incredibly dense ‘student fact sheets‘ and teaching materials YEAH was promoting at the time.  I remember being concerned that the information provided was confused:

A retrovirus moves in the reverse direction to the natural cycle of the body’s own cells enabling this type of virus to bypass check points that would usually prevent the integration of foreign materials entering human cells.

The body relies upon these check points in the cell cycle to regulate disease control. HIV’s ability to bypass this allows it to integrate into the body’s own system and take over white cells by inserting its own genetic material into the body’s T cells and the new DNA re-programs the cell to destroy the immune system. (source)

In the late 2000s the Australian Government launched an ‘STIs are spreading fast’ campaign and YEAH obtained funding to promote STI awareness among young people.  This led to a shift in its messaging to emphasise a sense of crisis around STI.  In a presentation to the 2012 CSRH conference, Ross and Felix Scholtz argued:

In the past 3 years Australia has seen a 20% increase in the rate of STIs diagnosed amongst people aged 15–29 years. With more than three quarters of nationally reported STIs occurring amongst young people we must find new ways to effectively communicate and articulate in a meaningful way with young people, many of whom have limited or inaccurate knowledge of sexual health risks and how to prevent poor sexual health outcomes.

This project investigates the effectiveness of people aged 17–29 trained in HIV/STI peer-education, to deliver sexual health promotion activities at a national regional music festival to determine if there is an evidence base for scaling-up youth-led sexual health promotion.

Using peer education and social marketing activities, the project facilitated the promotion of positive sexual health messages to 85,000 young people in five regional centres. Using qualitative analysis of the perceptions and experiences of participants, it’s argued that methods involving young people are more likely to be effective in directly impacting young people’s behaviour.

The analysis contributes to understanding best practices to empower young people to take control of their sexual health. The findings support increased investment in policy and peer-based programs that put young people’s leadership at the centre of national responses to youth sexual health. (source

The abstract uses relative percentages (‘a 20% increase’) and proportions (‘three quarters’) to suggest a sense of crisis around STIs in young people.

However, diagnosing more STIs doesn’t automatically indicate an increase in transmission of STIs: it can mean more people getting tested, either seeking it out because of awareness or being proactively offered testing by doctors.  It can also mean the same base rate of infection multiplied by an increased rate of sexual encounters and partner change (or concurrency).  My point here is that it’s an incredibly crude figure and careful analysis and further research are required before drawing conclusions from it.

Secondly, there’s an implicit claim that STI diagnoses among young people are disproportionate. This in fact reflects patterns of sexual and romantic partnerships in Australian culture: many people see their twenties as a time for exploration and form longer-term partnerships in later life.

There are other problems here.  Like the way a funded project is presented as a research initiative (‘investigates the effectiveness of’).  Or the weasel words used around its absurd estimation of its claimed reach (‘facilitated the promotion of … messages to 85,000 young people’).  Or the mismatch of constructivist research methods and data type (‘qualitative analysis of the perceptions and experiences of participants’) to assess a probabilistic question (‘likely to be effective in directly impacting young people’s behaviour’).

But most of all it conflates policy participation with service delivery.  I agree with its call for ‘increased investment in policy and peer-based programs that put young people’s leadership at the centre of national responses to youth sexual health’.  And that’s why I don’t support the #SaveYEAH campaign — because YEAH, as an organisation, is not configured in a way that reflects best practice in youth leadership and engagement.

Achieving effective representation of young people doesn’t require a model where young people deliver all the services.  It requires an engagement structure and practices that reaches a diverse array of young people, listens to them on an ongoing basis (this rules out focus groups and online surveys), and then translates their feedback into influence on policy-making and service delivery by other agencies, so that young people have better experiences of more sensitive and relevant education, clinical service provision, etc.

Effective policy advocacy achieves a multiplier effect: by targeting policy and the establishment of best practices, it influences a wider array of services and actors who in turn influence the daily lives of a much, much wider audience than direct service provision can ever hope to reach.

Even if you ‘promote messages’ about sexual health to young people, if they can’t get condoms, or see a trans-friendly psychologist, or get sexual health care which includes a rectal swab, then the message isn’t helping anyone.

Of course, YEAH would argue that it does this advocacy work as well.  But when its CEO Alischa Ross turns up at a policy forum instead of an actual young person and gets called out for speaking for Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS (Inc) instead of empowering actual young people to participate in making policy, that doesn’t work.

Ross was born in 1980 and in a 2009 book chapter she wrote:

Screenshot 2016-04-25 17.07.50.png

(source, p207)

There is a norm among youth-led organisations of CEOs ‘stepping up and stepping back’, or in the case of Oaktree Foundation, requiring their CEO to resign at age 26. Organisations that don’t take this approach need to be transparent about their adherence to best practices in youth participation, engagement and leadership. That is a governance issue, because it profoundly affects the organisation’s credibility in funding and advocacy.  YEAH needs to have a good hard think about those issues as it casts around for new funding.

Leaving twitter

This is just a post to confirm I’m shutting my main twitter account @dnmstrategic down on May the 1st.  I follow a bit over 2,000 people, who consistently post thoughtful comments and interesting content, and I’m coming up on 100,000 tweets, both indicators that this is a substantial investment that I don’t walk away from lightly.

If we’ve been in contact on twitter I’d love to stay in touch with you.

I do have a ‘bolthole’ twitter account and I’m planning to add all the accounts I followed to a list on that account — but it’s set on private so I won’t be able to respond to your tweets.

Why take such a step?  A couple of reasons.

One is just that it takes up a lot of time and attention — energy I need to channel into writing articles and PhD work.  Normally I get a lot of value from twitter in return, e.g. interesting conversations, learning about new publications, opportunities and events.

But even with all the privilege I have as an educated able-bodied white middle-class man, twitter’s tendency to pile-ons is a negative externality I’m no longer willing to deal with.

In particular, last month I was the target of a pile-on orchestrated by a guy named Dennis Relojo, a contractor employed by the University of Warwick’s “Piirus” social network for research collaborators.  I asked him to follow twitter conventions for addressing one-to-one tweets, so that my timeline wouldn’t fill up with his attempts to promote the network.  His response was to invite his 10,000 followers to pile on.  They contacted my workplace, signed up my work e-mail up to pornographic mailing lists, dished out homophobic abuse, etc.  And I knew right then: I am done with this.

I also want to acknowledge an incident a while back where the fuckup was mine completely — where I continued the thread of a DM conversation about why I’d blocked a young activist via public tweets.  In the early days of twitter it was more common to do this – to use twitter conversation to discuss other tweeters’ use of twitter to establish (or debate) what the emerging norms were.  But you can’t do that with 2,000 followers; that’s like gossiping into a megaphone.  And twitter had recently changed the block function, so that the person I’d blocked still got notified of my tweets, and they were rightly scathing.

So, in short, I no longer feel secure using twitter.  Its interface and systemic function don’t afford effective ways to deal with pile-ons.  The block function is broken.  Lists are incredibly painful to populate and use.  And speaking as a hot-headed loud-mouth, it is stressful knowing anything stupid I say gets amplified so drastically.  I’d rather use media and formats that invite and afford what Mark Pearson calls, in the Buddhist tradition, ‘right speech‘.

Imagining prevention: the case of violence against women

A few years ago I was working at a research centre and a senior researcher had some money to develop a grant application.  I’d moved there from about ten years in practice in health promotion and I was still figuring out how research practice actually works. So when I was given the brief to do a literature review on what works in addressing racism and preventing violence against women, I didn’t think to ask for a narrower scope.

Alaska_Floodplain_1902

Alaskan flood plain (A.H. Brooks, USGS 1902)

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Telstra and Catholic bullying

Yesterday brought the news that Telstra has quietly withdrawn its support for the marriage equality campaign, following a threat by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney to take their business elsewhere.

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St Mary’s Cathedral Sydney (Sacha Fernandez, Creative Commons License)

My own contract with Telstra is tied up in personal business: my phone is on a discounted friends-and-family plan via my ‘ex-boyfrang’ who worked for them.

It’s in my name and I signed and pay for it, but recently, when I went to get a SIM replacement, the Telstra store told me their records show I don’t have authority ‘on’ (over) the account.

To get it changed, I had to get back in contact with my ex-partner.  I needed him to co-sign a form authorising a ‘change of ownership’.  I’m lucky that my ex is a reasonable guy, but someone leaving an abusive partner who refused to sign would be liable to continue paying for the phone.

So I e-mailed the form… and then nothing happened.  After ten days I followed up by e-mail, then twitter, who asked me to try Telstra’s 24/7 live chat, who (after 30 minutes) asked me to call Billing.

My experience on that call demonstrates why it’s a problem that Telstra caved-in to Catholic bullying on its support for a movement to recognise the equal value of same gender partnerships.

I am not fussed about gay marriage.  My politics are queer, I’m single, when partnered I prefer open relationships, and with David Warner, I view marriage as the top rung of a hierarchy of social status that denigrates single people, sexually adventurous people, and people who do sex work.

On the phone I spoke to a worker in a call centre in the Philippines who could not have been more keen to help me out.  They were incredibly courteous.

But the Philippines is one of the world’s most Catholic countries, and they kept tripping over the fact my ex-partner is male.  They kept calling him ‘she’ and correcting themselves.  They asked if the transfer was from a female friend who is also listed on his account.  That great signifier of heterosexual discomfort, ‘your friend’, got a workout.

Highlighting Telstra’s systemic problems, they reported that the transfer request had been cancelled on their system without any reason being recorded.  When I offered to send the co-signed form to restart the process, they said I’d need to try again with a new form.  When I threatened a complaint to the Ombudsman, they called my ex to get permission.

This is one argument for same gender marriage: it provides access to legislated procedures to manage the division of property and the disentanglement of legal affairs at the end of a relationship.  Without these, gay people depend on institutional employees’ discretion.

Catholic doctrine treats sex and romantic love as things that should only be allowed in the context of a single monogamous lifelong relationship.

That’s why the Church opposes divorce, and why there is such a debate over access to Communion without annulment – a theological procedure that declares the marriage never existed, for the purposes of ‘clearing the slate’.

It’s fine for Catholic people to believe that, but there is no reason why their views should be reflected in the policy of the state — governing people whose lives and views and relationships are different, including non-Catholics, divorced people, and people who love people of the same gender.

The action of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney shows that when they can’t, by strength of argument and belief, persuade others to adopt their views, they are willing to throw their weight around, as a sizeable consumer and provider of services, to impose those views on the community.

This is why Catholic providers shouldn’t be running homeless shelters or youth services: under exemptions to anti-discrimination legislation, they are permitted to (and routinely do) exclude same gender attracted, sex and gender diverse people from care.

Those exemptions must be overturned.

And as soon as I ‘own’ the phone account I signed and pay for, I’ll be leaving Telstra.

Regulating HIV transmission

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Source: Beyond Blame Forum: Challenging HIV Criminalisation (July 2014)

Last weekend I flew up to Brisbane for the ‘Risky Business’ forum on HIV criminalisation convened by Queensland Positive People and funded by the HIV Foundation Queensland. It followed on from the ‘Beyond Blame’ pre-conference to AIDS2014 in Melbourne, where I was a rapporteur for the breakout session looking at alternatives to criminal prosecution.

In the still image captured from video taken at Beyond Blame, I’m wearing a look of ‘you’re not going to like what I have to say (but here I am saying it anyway)’.*

That’s because the overwhelming message on HIV criminalisation has been it’s a medical issue that should be managed by public health rather than criminal prosecution.  And my reply was that public health can be just as coercive as criminal law, without the procedural fairness — the ‘right to a fair trial’ — and that this view obscures the way public health and criminal law in fact interact as part of a system for the regulation of HIV transmission.

The five stage National Guidelines for managing people who place others at risk of HIV infection demonstrate the articulation of public health management and criminal sanctions as part of a system of responsive regulation (Ayres & Braithwaite, 1992).

Public health and criminal law form two corners of a regulatory triangle around HIV, the third consisting of the cultures of protected sex and safe injecting in communities affected by HIV, as well as the community-based health promotion that shapes these cultures: what I’m calling, after Mitchell Dean, the social governance of HIV transmission (Dean 2010).

In my PhD, I’m using that framing to help think through the imbrication of stigma in the development and audience reception of social marketing campaigns.  At the Brisbane forum I made four concrete recommendations for people thinking about policy reform around this issue:

  1. Improve the procedural fairness of the public health management process.  This is a no-brainer, particularly in Victoria, where the right to a fair trial is part of our Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
  2. Improve the quality of engagement between health departments and communities affected by HIV.  I’m using ‘engagement’ in the sense developed by the W3 project: not ‘consumer representation’ but organisational mental models of the diverse needs, identities and experiences that exist in the community.
  3. Restrict the use of criminal law to cases where it is clear the transmission of HIV has been used to cause harm — not as a regulatory instrument to deter unsafe sex or intervene in sexual cultures of condomless sex.
  4. Strengthen the CBO role in the social governance of HIV transmission.  In particular, this involves raising the awareness of HIV-negative people of their own responsibility to manage risk.

The full analysis and recommendations will appear in a forthcoming article – stay tuned!

Suggested citation

Reeders, D.  “Regulating HIV transmission” in Bad Blood [blog]. 4 March 2016.

* Some would say that’s my usual look.

First day at school

In December I got some lovely news: I was accepted into the PhD program at RegNet, the School of Regulation and Global Governance at ANU, with an APA scholarship to study stigma and social marketing — the focus of this blog, now in its tenth year.

choosing a program

I’ve been thinking about this project for a long time, and looking for the right home for it: it’s public health but it’s also sociology and cultural theory, and I’ve watched friends with interdisciplinary or critical public health projects struggle at public health departments.

I’d watched as senior staff in some departments came under so much pressure to publish and apply for grants, they pushed students to complete an increasingly standardised ‘qual PhD’ of 12-20 interviews with a lit review and a light dusting of Foucault or Bourdieu.

I thought I’d need to do a Masters first, because I didn’t have Hons.  In 2012 I’d enrolled in the Masters of Public Health (Research) at Flinders via online learning, but that was not a good experience — it was just lecture capture with an online forum tacked-on, and discussion in the forums was limited to asking and answering factual questions.

There’s been a big push at Australian universities to enrol more Masters students (because $$$) and more students via online learning (in the belief that it can be done cheaply).  I’d encourage anyone thinking about a Masters program to ask questions about their approach to teaching. The most important question is ‘will I be part of a community of teaching and learning?’

Even if you’re studying on-campus, if you’re one student out of 300 with no tutorials, or your tutors are casuals who only get paid for time in class and marking, the chances are you’re going to experience content delivery rather than the more personalised and interactive experience that constitutes education.  End rant…

What attracted me to RegNet were the clear signs that it takes seriously the pedagogy of postgraduate research trainingas well as the visible diversity of research projects and approaches represented among its staff and students.  The process of applying for a place  was designed to assist prospective students to put their best foot forward, rather than having the feel of a Medieval trial-by-ordeal.

I had my ‘first day at school’ on Thursday last week.  Induction was short.  (I’ve had jobs where induction took two days — HR didn’t get the memo about adult education.)  Over a couple of hours it laid out a roadmap and introduced the people who could help at different points.  I’m one of a cohort of seven PhD students from radically different academic traditions, including engineering, artificial intelligence, law and society, public health and public policy.  I’m really looking forward to finding out where our interests overlap.

circle of niceness

Rachael Pitt and the Thesis Whisperer team coined the term ‘circle of niceness’ and I’m really thankful to a bunch of people who included me in theirs — I just wouldn’t be in this position without their care, advice, guidance and good humour over the years and I want to take a moment to acknowledge it here.

Above all, my ‘fairy godmother’ Anna Georgiou literally fed and housed me (she was my landlady) and took me for coffees when depression was kicking my arse.  My former boss Graham Brown alternated, with so much tact, between supervising my work and treating me like a research colleague.  Senior academics Gary Dowsett, Michael Hurley, Garrett Prestage and Kath Albury took me for coffees and gave honest advice on getting into a PhD program.  Sonny Williams and Naomi Ngo encouraged me to develop my research skills and interests in my practice in health promotion.  The Research Whisperer, Thesis Whisperer and twitter #phdchat communities let me eavesdrop and occasionally butt in, and from them, I met people who have supported me more proactively — Tseen Khoo and Megan McPherson and Bree Blakeman, as well as Sam Carroll and Tammi Jonas who started out in academia and left to do other more fabulous things.  Bree and Jude Byrne and Zoe Bowman in particular helped me find a home in Canberra.  Dion Kagan was incredibly generous with encouragement at times when I really needed it, and Natalie Hendry who took me for lunch and listened to my shit.  My Dad and Helen Marshall gave gentle advice and support over the years.  In particular, thanks to ANU RegNet and my panel, Kate Henne, Gemma Carey and Helen Keane for inviting me onboard!

I have benefited from the intellectual and emotional labour of so many women, frequently on top of caring for family members and children, looking after students and making unpaid but essential contributions to the life of the centres where they work and study.  I am really fucking grateful for this work and I do my best to spot where I can do it myself for others.

so what’s it all about?

In my PhD I want to sit down with teams at two different organisations working on two different campaigns – one in HIV and one in smoking or obesity prevention – to listen for opportunities in the campaign development process to think about how stigma might impact on the effectiveness of our messages and on unequal outcomes we see in prevention (in low income families, culturally diverse people, Aboriginal communities and other marginalised populations).  My first year will be a literature review on stigma and in second year I’ll be doing field work — so if your team or organisation might be interested in taking part, please let me know, I’d love to hear from you.