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Sport, Health & Wellbeing

Education, energy and grace: life lessons from a career academic

As Executive Dean of the University of Canberra’s Faculty of Health, Professor Michelle Lincoln helms a diverse, sprawling machinery of moving parts, exceptional academics, fearless educators, and dedicated clinicians.

A speech pathologist by training, Michelle has over two decades of experience in facilitating learning in both classroom and clinical settings, and her solid research foundation has spanned the allied health service delivery and workforce, particularly in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

As impressive as her resume is, the very first thing that strikes you when you meet her … is just how much people lie at the heart of what she does, and who she is.

“I’ve been asked so many times, how I find the time to do the things I do,” she says. “The truth is, I just work with people I truly respect and admire. And that drives me, because I would simply hate to ever let them down. It’s that simple.”

Driven by a set of core personal principles based on social justice and equity, Michelle believes that access to and participation in education is a basic human right.

Michelle has always been passionate about playing a role in empowering the community – so it’s no surprise that her presentation at the New Investigator Forum (NIF), organised today by the Australian Society for Medical Research (ASMR), focuses on sharing some of the wisdom she’s acquired in the course of her career.

Here are some of her insights.

Education and research are equally important

“A lot of researchers get the wrong advice early in their careers,” Michelle says.

“They’re told to concentrate solely on research – but the truth is, if you want to be employable, you need to be a good teacher.”

Networking is important – but maybe not as much as you think

“Networking only works if your research has the substance to back it up,” Michelle says.

It’s less about who you know, and more about what you do – having a firm platform of research to stand on, then getting it out there.

And if you’re going to network to get support for your work, she says, you have to be prepared to talk about your unique strengths, and just why your work is important and relevant.

Research is more fun in groups. And potentially more valuable, too.

“Multi-disciplinary collaborations are just more enjoyable and intellectually stimulating,” says Michelle. “They’re also very valuable because they give you the advantage of different perspectives, and that can make your research findings more easily translated to the real world.”

“Working with sociologists, for example has given me a much deeper understanding of how systems work, and the roles people play within them.

“Sociologists start work from a theoretical foundation, clinicians like me from a place of evidence – and the combination of perspectives has given my work added layers.”

It’s worth remembering though, Michelle says, that when you’re working on cross-disciplinary collaborations, meaning and language itself may need to be navigated.

“We have found ourselves using the same words, but meaning very different things, at times!” she says.

Energy management is more important than time management

“I think that it’s about knowing when to switch off,” Michelle says.

“But as an academic, you have the freedom to pursue your ideas as far as you want to take them – so switching off can be very hard, because our work is just so interesting!”

For academics, it’s therefore more a case of managing energy and focus rather than time spent on a task, she feels. “It’s about segmenting and compartmentalising the different parts of your life – for me, I try not to work on weekends, if I can.”

There’s always a place for grace

“The academic space can be a brutal one, especially when it comes to peer reviews,” Michelle says.

“Always strive to provide respectful, constructive and critical feedback. Sometimes that’s about the tone used.”

A little kindness and sensitivity can help both research and researchers grow in a positive way.

Read more about Michelle’s career and life experience here.

Words by Suzanne Lazaroo, photo by Madeleine Wood

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