Current Students

  • Shawana Andrews, PhD candidate

    In combination with her role as a senior lecturer in Aboriginal Health, Shawana Andrews is a PhD candidate in the Department of Social Work.

    She is extending on her work on family violence in the department through her PhD. Shawana will explore the role cultural practice can play in supporting Aboriginal women in the context of family violence.

    “I am hoping this work will contribute to giving Aboriginal women a voice in the conversation about family violence,” says Shawana.

  • Tui Crumpen, PhD candidate

    Tui Crumpen has been in Shepparton for more than 20 years and previously completed a Master of Health Social Sciences before embarking on a PhD. She has run projects for Rumbalara Football and Netball Club and worked for the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

    “I read Indigenous health policy and hear community conversations and they are quite different. The way Indigenous people view their health and the way it is talked about in the mainstream are quite different,” says Tui.

    “I have been lucky to be part of some great health programs run by the community and I have seen fantastic outcomes, but mainstream conversations are all about disadvantage and deficit. The communities I work with are proactive, strong and innovative. I hope we can get a better understanding of how to formulate policy that it can be aligned to meet the diverse needs we have as Indigenous people and that is aligned to the way community wants to do their business.”

  • Kylie Dowse, PhD candidate

    Kylie Dowse will spend three years exploring and studying Aboriginal community responses to family violence.

    A Saltwater woman based in NSW, she has spent 18 years working in family violence as part of national and state-based peak bodies and advocacy groups.

    “My hope in undertaking a PhD is to make visible Aboriginal skills and knowledges in responding to family violence that might then be shared across communities.

    I’d been working from a narrative framework in the family violence sector. My main concern was the rights and wellbeing of women and children and working with men who’ve used violence in a relationship.

    I have wonderful images in my mind from the first event in the Masters program. I walked into the classroom to see First Nations people from all over the world – a lot of friendships were made. I spoke to a woman working with refugees in Mexico and heard how she was innovating in her work. Our complex nation has a range of responses to family violence. If we take on colonised responses to family violence, they are never going to fit.

    The Masters got me thinking about how we can respond in ways that match our context. Now I’m pursuing a PhD looking at Aboriginal community responses to family violence. The big goal after that is to reveal Aboriginal knowledges that can be shared across communities and to set up our own systems with responses of love, care and respect. I always thought university was an inflexible institution, but this kind of program is a gamechanger for Aboriginal education. It positions Aboriginal people as capable and having skills that are valued.”

  • Karyn Ferguson, PhD candidate

    Karyn Ferguson’s PhD project aims to accurately measure Aboriginal maternal, infant and childhood health outcomes and the disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations in the Goulburn Murray Region. Karyn grew up in Mooroopna, central Victoria and still lives in the Goulburn Murray area with her family.

    When she began working with the Rumbalara Birthing Program after completing high school, it triggered her interest in working with women and babies. She places great value on being able to remain in her local community.

    “I love to focus on my community and on issues beneficial to them. I’m interested in how the social determinants of health, especially continual racism and exclusion, affect local Indigenous people, and the history of health and healthcare in my area,” says Karyn.

  • Rachel Joyce, PhD candidate

    Rachel Joyce is an Indigenous PhD student at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) whose thesis is focused on identifying perturbed molecular pathways in the cells-of-origin of BRCA1- mutant ovarian and BRCA2- mutant breast cancer to inform targeted cancer prevention strategies.

    Rachel works in the Breast Cancer Laboratory – co-led by molecular and cell biologist Professor Jane Visvader and clinician-scientist Professor Geoffrey Lindeman. Professors Visvader and Lindeman are renowned for their landmark breast stem cell discoveries that have resulted in a new framework for understanding how breast cancers arise and how they could be treated or prevented. Recently, the researchers and their team have identified candidate cells that give rise to breast cancer in women who carry a faulty BRCA1 gene, and found that an existing medication for osteoporosis could potentially provide a non-surgical option for breast cancer prevention in these women.

    “Women who harbour mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are at a high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Current prevention strategies for these women include mastectomies and/ or surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes, and these are highly invasive and irreversible procedures. Through my research, I want to contribute to finding prevention and treatment options beyond surgery,” says Rachel.

    Rachel, who first joined WEHI as an honours student after completing a Bachelor of Biomedicine at the University of Melbourne, is inspired by the twin focus of discovery and translational science encouraged at the medical research institute.

    “Being able to work with samples of breast tissue donated by women carrying these faulty genes reveals so much about the culprit cells and helps keep patients front of mind for me,” she says.

    In a later stage of her career, Rachel says she would be interested in further investigating the factors contributing to breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility and genesis in certain populations – particularly Indigenous Australians.

    “There are very few people working in breast cancer prevention specifically for Indigenous populations, and this is an area I would like to be able to contribute to.”

    For now though, there is much to keep this talented young researcher busy in the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct.

  • Anthony Newcastle, PhD candidate

    Anthony Newcastle is originally from the Northern Territory – his mother’s country is Wadeye and his father’s country is Jingali. He runs his own facilitative engagement company – Natjul, which uses theatre, drama and story-telling to help people engage with topics that are difficult to talk about in their community or organisation. His professional experience also extends to working as a counsellor, group facilitator and a manager of dispute resolution.

    “Like a lot of young people, all I saw for my future was working on the roads, out bush, like my Dad and uncles. When I left school, one of my uncles got me a job with the Survey and Land Information Group.

    Teams of about three or four of us packed up the 4x4 truck and headed off anywhere in the Northern Territory for a week to a month at a time. On most trips we hardly saw another person for days or a week. I remember watching the sun’s late afternoon rays turning the Devils Marbles dark orange, and camping along the Finke River – one of the world’s oldest river systems.

    For around the past 20 years, I’ve lived in Brisbane with my family. I never contemplated getting a diploma in counselling and working with a counselling service. Nor did I think I’d find my way to complete a Masters degree in Narrative Therapy and Community Work with the Dulwich Centre and the University of Melbourne.

    I have always been interested in ways to engage with people, particularly around the challenges that confront their lives.

    I’m now 17 years into my business and my interest continues to be developing an alternative approach to community development and community building. A Masters and now a PhD are part of that journey for me.

    Now here I am, studying for a PhD and exploring ways to create safer communities by local people becoming more empowered with social emotional wellbeing, by way of an action research study. That achievement could not have been further from the mind of that young man climbing an outback Northern Territory mountain in the summer heat all those years ago."

  • Simone Stenner, Bachelor of Oral Health student

    After attending an undergraduate camp for Indigenous students offered by Murrup Barak Melbourne Institute for Indigenous Development, dental assistant Simone Stenner made the decision to enrol in the Bachelor of Oral Health at the University of Melbourne.

    “The camp was a great start – to have a supportive environment and meet other Indigenous students while getting to know the University and city,” says Simone.

    “Being a mature aged student and not having many in my family who have completed university degrees, enrolling in the Bachelor of Oral Health was a big step. I previously studied a year of business in my hometown in Queensland. That was a good experience and gave me the confidence to apply for the course that I aspired to study, even if it meant relocating interstate”.

    While working as a dental assistant for four years, Simone forged strong relationships with oral hygienists and oral health therapists who encouraged her to pursue further study.

    “I especially enjoyed working in pre-orthodontics with kids which involved a holistic approach incorporating education as well as the practical dental assistant skills. Working directly with children was the most fulfilling part of my job,” says Simone.

    While studying at the University of Melbourne, Simone says she wants to get the most out of the student experience including a possible exchange to an Aboriginal community. Upon graduation, she’d like to work as an oral health therapist.

  • Raelene Nixon, PhD candidate

    Raelene Nixon belongs to the Gungarri people of south west Queensland but she has lived on Yorta Yorta country for nearly 20 years. Ms Nixon worked for federal government in the welfare sector for 11 years before leaving to work in the Aboriginal community. She has worked in women’s and maternal health, education, community development, governance and research.

    Her PhD is a local initiative of the Kaiela Institute.

    “It will explore the concept of prosperity on country and how the Goulburn Murray region can work at repositioning the social, cultural and economic value of Indigenous people,” says Raelene.

  • Ashley Paxton, Masters student

    “In a general and therapeutic setting, I believe I can build trust and rapport with young people and work with them to develop resilience, in turn counteracting some of the grim statistics surrounding Indigenous health.”

    Ashley Paxton spent four years interning in the world of human resources before realising it was not the right career fit for her.

    “I had a great mentor, but I spent a lot of time behind a computer. There wasn’t enough people interaction and I like to talk!”

    Ashley grew up in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs. Her mother was proud of their Indigenous heritage and instilled these values in Ashley.

    She had an influential high school teacher who founded the Kingston Koorie Mob, and was a descendant of poet and activist Oodgeroo Noonuccal. Through those connections, Ashley became a mentor to younger Aboriginal students. She later worked for the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience.

    Ashley reported numerous challenges in pursuing her educational and career goals.

    “I dreamed of going to Monash University but was told to look at other universities that were more ‘realistic’.”

    Ashley is now completing her final year of study and is the recipient of an esteemed scholarship awarded by the Australian Psychological Society. She is completing her Masters thesis in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social and Emotional Wellbeing and is involved with Orygen’s Reconciliation Action Plan working group.

  • Kathryn Sullivan, Master of Social Work student

    “My long-term goal is to work as a clinician with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth – I believe as a demographic we are strong, resilient and community-minded.”

    After graduating in Media and Creative Arts, Kathryn Sullivan enrolled in a Victorian Public Service graduate program. She joined the Koori Justice Unit and this experience led to a Master of Social Work.

    “I saw Aboriginal women in the Victorian Public Service who’d completed a Master of Social Work, and I thought ‘Why can’t I do that?”

    During her time with the Koori Justice Unit, Kathryn observed a Taskforce 1000 presentation – a program that investigated 1000 child protection cases.

    “For me, hearing those stories cemented the idea that more could have been done. But a lack of Indigenous people working in the field increased the likelihood of things not being done. I always wanted to be a social worker. If you are going to give your energy and life to something, it makes sense to feel you’ve made a meaningful contribution,” she says.

    Kathryn works part-time as a case manager for young Aboriginal women facing life barriers and wants to become a social worker within a hospital.

    “You can make a profound impact on someone’s life at a time when they are at a crisis point. It’s a rich opportunity to be a source of comfort and strength.”