Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Finding the courage to shift careers

Yiran ZHANG realised early in an economics degree that she really wanted to study social work.
Two years into a  master’s degree in economics at the University of East Anglia in the UK, Yiran ZHANG decided that what she actually wanted to study was social work.

She had seen two videos by social work researcher Brene Brown which aroused her interest and she started to realise that there were many vulnerable people who need help. But while she could see a need, the courage to make the change came from her Christian faith, ignited while she was studying in the UK. “It changed my way of thinking about a lot of things. This faith made me stronger, there is a voice in my heart to encourage me during these years,” she said. She could see a future for herself that didn’t involve working in a bank or a consulting firm.

Concerned that it was just a whim, her parents encouraged her to continue with economics. If she still felt strongly when she completed her master’s, they said, then she should follow her dream. “When I finished my Master of Economics I still had really strong feelings that I want to be a social worker in the future and help people. So here I am in Australia studying my second master’s – in social work,” she said.

When you’re in your early twenties, she feels, you’re going through a process of self-discovery and she’s very glad she persisted. “I’m settling down, I know what is the purpose of my life, what I want to do in the future. I’m not worrying about what I’m going to do.”

Now four weeks into a three-month research placement in Moe, Yiran will be working with Monash University Department of Rural Health researchers mainly on the Hazelwood Health Study. She’s not daunted by the prospect of three months in a small country town.

She was keen to go to a rural area when she saw this opportunity. “I kind of want to explore a different place. When I was in the UK I lived in the countryside, so I really wanted to go to a rural area because I’m really quite new to Australia. I want to know how people live in a rural area and also the small community makes me feel really safe.”

Her research topic for the master’s theory unit that preceded her placement explored post-disaster and gender inequality. “This is the sort of thing I always wanted to do Here we’re doing the Hazelwood mine fire study. It’s also related to this area.”

So far, the placement has been focussed on learning the practical aspects of research but she’s looking forward to going to the local schools to start interviewing students in the next couple of weeks. “Here everyone is really friendly and there’s a lot of support. If you have questions, you just ask – it’s really good.”

Long accustomed to studying away from home, Yiran sees the positive in spending three months on placement. “I think you spend three months in a rural area you’re going to be really close to your colleagues and friends around you. You get more of a chance to know each other,” she said.

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