Brenda Conroy describes returning to university as a “steep but rewarding learning curve.”
She has now graduated with a Master of Public Health at the University of Canberra, after completing undergraduate studies in journalism 35 years ago, much to the surprise of others during an O-Week mature age student mixer.
“The host asked everyone, ‘How long has it been since you've been to university?’ and the answers were all - ten years, 15 years and they were shocked when someone said 20 years, but then I said it’s been 35 years for me and the host blurted out, ‘Oh my goodness, that was in the Dark Ages!’” Brenda recalls.
“Then the host said, ‘Oh, no, I didn't mean that, I meant pre-Internet’ and I said, well, you're exactly right.”
Brenda went on to tell the group about her experience of being a student in the late 80s, where you relied on books and microfiche for essays and assignments.
“Now there's the Internet with all its rabbit holes, but coming back to university has been terrific – I've learned so much really enjoyed the experience,” she says.
Her decision to pursue postgraduate studies in public health stemmed from a sustained interest in health policy throughout her career in media, politics and corporate communications, one of the most influential periods being her time as Press Secretary to Dr Carmen Lawrence, who served as Minister for Human Services and Health from 1994 to 1996 during Paul Keating’s term as Prime Minister.
“Health policy is fascinating. It’s so highly contested. Costs and demand are always rising. The way that tension is resolved affects everyone, especially the vulnerable.”
After working in government, Brenda moved into corporate communication and advocacy across the legal, tourism and mining industries. She also took time of out of her career to be a stay-at-home mum for a decade during her husband’s overseas postings. Then COVID hit.
“I was one of those people who went through the pandemic asking myself, ‘What am I doing? What am I going to do next? What's the next chapter?’ I became part of the ‘great resignation’.”
Brenda enrolled in the Master of Public Health program at UC, eager to learn more about population health issues and health promotion.
“The course covers a wide range of topics, but one of the areas that I felt I hadn't had a chance to really delve into during the course work was the issue of aged care,” Brenda says.
“So, when it came to choosing research subjects, I spoke to my convener, Dr Ro McFarlane, and told her I'd like to do something with ageing and she said, ‘Well, have I got the team for you’”.
Brenda was given the opportunity to work with some of UC’s leading researchers in ageing on a project investigating the use of virtual reality to complement physical activity programs in residential aged care settings.
“It was a completely new experience setting up and conducting the trial, then submitting a research article on our findings for assessment for my master’s,” Brenda says.
It’s hoped the study will have real-world impact, with Professor Stephen Isbel, Dr Nathan D’Cunha and Dr Helen Holloway from UC’s Faculty of Health adding quantitative data to Brenda’s work for the publication.
The experience left a lasting impression, with Brenda eager to use her public health knowledge in the aged care sector.
“I’d like to apply my communications skills and advocacy experience in healthcare, and completing postgraduate studies at UC means I’ve been able to upskill to move into a new field,” she says.
“I’d love the next chapter of my career to be in aged care – a sector that is growing, due to an aging population and one that, of course welcomes older workers.”
Words by Emma Larouche, photo by Tyler Cherry.
This September, the University of Canberra celebrates the amazing milestone of 100,000 alumni.
Our warmest congratulations go out to this year’s graduating class, and to all the amazing alumni who have become part of the UC community.
Many of you have already made such an impact in your fields and in your communities; many more will go on to do so.
We wish you the best and look forward to your amazing future journeys.