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.

 

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