EDGE Spotlight

The EDGE Spotlight profiles PhD candidates and recent graduates, to find out how they’ve engaged in research and transferrable skills development during their PhD. We’ve aligned these experiences to the four domains of EDGE to help you think about the types of activities you might build into your personalised EDGE development plan.

EDGE supports you to develop your career throughout candidature, building skills knowledge, and experiences across the four domains of the EDGE Framework:

EDGE Spotlight on Mel Hull

PhD Title: 'Cultivating farmer health: development, evaluation and application of a novel help-seeking scale for farmers'

 

Mel Hull

Dr Melissa Hull commenced her PhD in Public Health in 2014 under the supervision of Associate Professor James Dollman. Mel’s project looked at farmers’ access to health services, and came about through her personal experiences of growing up in a farming community.

We talked to Mel about the development experiences she undertook during her PhD, how these enhanced her candidature and presented opportunities to shape her PhD and the next stage of her career.

 

Mel is currently employed by UniSA Online, as an Online Course Facilitator in Public Health.

imagecgr78.png  Research Expertise:  addressing the needs of your research project

Mel initially focused on training to build on the research skills she had developed during her Honours project. As her PhD involved a mixed-methods approach, Mel looked for opportunities to expand her knowledge of both qualitative and quantitative methods and also sought out training in questionnaire design and survey methods.

I went to many workshops, especially in the early stages, the Research Education activities about developing research proposals, developing writing skills and I did a lot of training around methods,” she explains. “My project was a mixed methods project, and I didn’t know a thing about qualitative methods so that training was really useful and needed for the project.

EDGE offers workshops which address discipline-specific expertise in addition to those skills needed by all research candidates, but candidates can also include external development activities in their EDGE record through the Self-Record an Activity form. This really helps to keep a record of discipline-specific development that might take place with external training providers. In Mel’s case, she had the opportunity to undertake a course through Deakin University’s Hamilton (Western Victoria) campus, to develop her understanding of agricultural health and medicine.

Maintaining my ‘farming culture’ was identified early as being important, to maintain the cultural appropriateness of me as a research (in this area). And there is a group at Deakin Hamilton…we went across to the National Centre for Farmer Health for some sessions they conducted, basically the pre-eminent research centre for this field.

image3xshp.png  Enterprising Futures: responding to industry needs for specific attributes and competencies

Mel engaged in formal project management, leadership and communication skills training through the eGrad School online modules, to give herself the best chance of success for her research project. She has found these skills continue to benefit her in her post-PhD career, and makes the transition from being a student to working with students. Mel reflects:

Administration and communication (skills) are critical for what I am doing now, as both of the courses I’m doing are large courses. Plus they are interdisciplinary – five program directors around a table…to work with.

When reflecting on her PhD experience, Mel recognises the value of networking skills to expand opportunities which can support your research project as well as your career ambitions. By engaging with external experts, Mel was able to develop the skills she needed to maintain her connections to the rural health community which were so vital to her project. She says:

Maintaining currency with the rural area was important to me. That helped me to network directly with Australia’s best researcher in the field, so that was great. This formal opportunity has led to informal opportunities, where we met about six months later at a conference.

image8m8mj.png  Skills in Practice: recognising the value of experiential and work-integrated learning

Practical experience throughout candidature is an excellent way to position yourself as career-ready when considering post-PhD opportunities. As her candidature progressed, Mel took on student representative roles on School and Division Research Management Committees, which gave her invaluable, hands-on experience of large organisational structures and processes. These experiences helped her to build her networks and have also proved beneficial in working with students in her current role. Mel reflects:

The committee work and behind the scenes (is) helpful for small things, such as looking at conference applications, just being around the table and seeing what is being considered at the higher-level meetings. Not necessarily negotiating skills, but the give and take you need to have at the higher level. Also student reps sit on the research proposal panel meetings as well, so through that I got to meet different staff I wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise, and so have been able to follow up those conversations at Research Week, etc.”

Towards the end of her PhD, Mel had the opportunity to work as a Project Manager on a research project funded by the NHMRC National Institute for Dementia Research. While this work experience took place alongside her own research project, it gave Mel a great opportunity to apply the skills gained during her PhD into practice, and led to other opportunities:

There were then opportunities to get into the funding body a bit more, and since then I have written a research report, and ran another small side study for that body…through that I am now on a first name basis with the National Director."

image58fo.png  Careers in Focus:  helping you to reflect, plan and manage your skills needs in alignment with your career ambitions

Mel knew she wanted to work in an academic research role, and had done some volunteer work on a PhD project as an undergraduate, which gave her some idea of where to start. During her PhD Mel was interested to work in roles connected to academia and policy, so looked for ways to stay connected, either through training or experiences. When thinking about active career planning during her PhD, Mel admits:

I probably (didn’t do) enough, given what I know now, and I wasn’t that strategic about it. I went to the Tutoring@UniSA session, and that was something that I had always wanted to do.”

While Mel didn’t do a lot of formal career planning, she was always open to a range of formal and informal development opportunities that came her way, and recognises the value of these both for her successful PhD completion and her professional development. She recalls:

I took opportunities where I could to be involved in research studies doing data collection etc, to gain more exposure to different methods…towards the end of my PhD I had the opportunity to be Project Manager for a project run by one of my supervisors, which was such a feel-good project and got a lot of media attention…and led to other opportunities.