Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Summer scholarships give a taste of career in research

Engaging in research during your university break might sound arduous but four enthusiastic recipients of Monash University Summer Research Scholarships have declared the experience inspiring. The scholarships aim to encourage high quality students interested in a career in research or academia.

The four students, who have just completed a three-week scholarship stint based at Moe with Monash Rural Health, found working as part of the Schools Study component of the Hazelwood Health Study was time well spent.

Working holiday: four Monash students took on a Summer Research Scholarship with the Hazelwood Health Study at the end of 2015 (l-r) Stephanie Van Boxtel, Josephine Slifirski, Cathy Saleta, Sally Robinson

The Schools Study is part of the ‘psychological impacts research stream’ of the Hazelwood Health Study. It is working closely with local schools, comparing Morwell schools which were most impacted by the Hazelwood mine fire smoke event with other schools in the Latrobe Valley. The Monash students assisted with interviewing Latrobe Valley students across years three and five in primary school and seven and nine at secondary school.

For Cathy Saleta, Josephine Slifirski, Stephanie Van Boxtel and Sally Robinson – four students from diverse study backgrounds - an opportunity to work with the Rural Health research team was what motivated them to apply for the Summer Scholarship.

Plans for further study confirmed

As she neared the end of her Bachelor of Community Welfare & Counselling, Cathy reflected on her growing interest in research which she attributed to the encouragement of a lecturer. The scholarship experience has convinced the Churchill student and mother of three to pursue her plan to do honours and a PhD with a focus on wellbeing and mental health.

Cathy commended Monash Rural Health on its approach to scholarship students, describing the induction and the training provided around qualitative interviewing as “fantastic”. As a local who experienced first-hand the impact of the Hazelwood Mine Fire, Cathy said she was particularly attracted to the Schools Study. “This is a real life project that we really hope will inform future events,” said Cathy, adding that navigating some of the complexities of data gathering had been a useful learning experience.

Exploring new ground: the research process

Next year, Josephine embarks on her honours year studying population health following her completion of the Bachelor of Biomedical Science. A self-described city girl, she had minimal understanding of the Hazelwood Mine Fire before participating in the Schools Study. “This field of rural health really interested me as it is something unfamiliar to me,” she said. “I wasn’t aware of how significant the mine fire impact was or how significant mines are as a part of the community.”

Steph, who has a dual interest in research and clinical work, next year embarks on her final year of the Bachelor of Heath Science and Bachelor of Social Work. The Longwarry-based student was aware of the impact of the mine fire on people she knew and was keen to work on the Schools Study.

For Sally Robinson, who has just completed her first year in Monash’s graduate-medical degree with Monash Rural Health in Churchill, the research scholarship satisfied her interest in exploring mental health and psychology qualitative research work after working on previous research projects with Monash and the Royal Children’s Hospital.

Give it a go

Asked what advice she would offer to other students who might consider applying for a summer or winter research scholarship, Sally said “If you are thinking about it, don’t be scared about what you do or don’t know beforehand…there is scope for you to speak up and the staff are very approachable so I would recommend anyone giving it a go.”

Sally’s fellow students agreed. As a student whose pathway has taken twists and turns while she has juggled family responsibilities, Cathy said “I think there are probably single parents like myself who might think this is not possible for them…I would say just do it, you would not regret it.”

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