A pioneering program encouraging and supporting Indigenous undergraduate degree holders to undertake further study is set to bear fruit with a boost to the number of Indigenous higher degree research students at the University of Technology Sydney.
Thirteen participants from NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory gathered at UTS recently for a two-day workshop designed to remove concerns about taking on a research degree and allow the passion for the work to take over.
"The majority of the people who attended will take the next step, beginning either a master's or PhD," said Director of the UTS Centre for Advancement of Indigenous Knowledges (CAIK) Professor Michelle Trudgett.
"A lot of people would like to pursue postgraduate study, but there can be uncertainty about the application process, how to find a supervisor or what opportunities they have to get a scholarship," Professor Trudgett said.
"We developed the Indigenous Higher Degree Research Information Program – the first of its kind in the country – to take away that leap into the unknown."
Supported by Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the initiative was driven by CAIK's research into the experiences of Indigenous postgraduate students.
Over the two days of the workshop (13 and 14 July) senior Indigenous academics led the participants through topics including research design, Indigenous research methods, finding the right supervisor and the development of a research proposal.
"They are all passionate about empowering their communities through research," Professor Trudgett said. "The research they will pursue will fall predominantly into the arts and social sciences, but also law, health and design."
For Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, a professional performer and cultural arts educator, undertaking a research degree is an opportunity to develop more culturally appropriate programs for Aboriginal people in education, health and the arts.
A Darug/Yuin elder and daughter of Aboriginal activist the late Dr Charles "Chicka" Dixon, Aunty Rhonda said her father's example had a "big impact" on her and was driver for her "to educate myself and be a role model."
"It's important to bring arts, dance and storytelling into healing for the people – to get youth involved in their culture," Aunty Rhonda said.
George Hanna travelled from Darwin for the workshop with his brother James, both of them UTS graduates in adult education in 2007.
"We studied over three years of block study," George said. "We had great lecturers who taught us well and looked after us well. And we probably learned as much again from our fellow students."
George, who is planning a history of the Indigenous media in Australia, said the mentoring from established Indigenous researchers had been a great motivator.
"Larissa Behrendt [Professor of Law and Jumbunna's Director of Research] blows me away," George said. "It was worth the trip for that alone."
A photographer/videographer who worked as a sound recorder for ABC TV in Darwin during the 1980s, George said the development of the Indigenous media hadn't been looked at in detail before.
Part of his study will look at the career of Australia's first Aboriginal press photographer Mervyn Bishop, who George had worked with at the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education in the Northern Territory.