Prof. Adam Shoemaker with Christina D'Souza and Rebecca Reid

Episode 26: Prof. Adam Shoemaker with Christina D'Souza and Rebecca Reid

I was delighted to host two incredible researchers – Christine D’Souza and Rebecca Reid – who are having outstanding societal and environmental impact.

Show notes

Christine, a PhD candidate, delves into the complexities of intimate partner violence within Christian marriages. Rebecca, who recently had her doctoral candidature confirmed, explores health inequalities in urban environments.

Notably, both Christine and Rebecca represented Victoria University in two challenging competitions – the 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) and Visualise Your Thesis. Their research topics are both complex and crucial, and in our conversation, we explored how they distil this information to deepen collective understanding.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hello and welcome. I'm here to provide acknowledgement of country. For those who don't know me, I'm kj Karen Jackson, director of Moon Balletic. My genealogy tracks back to Moira Lakes in Bama Forest and Mount Hope in Pyramid Hill. Giving me my connections to Yorta, Yorta, and Barra language groups. There's a couple of things I'd like you to take away from my acknowledgement. The first is to remember the hidden history of Aboriginal people since invasion, our loss of language removal from country, and our new extinction from massacres and pandemics. The second is our strong and inherent connection to community and country. These connections have given us the resilience and courage to rebuild our languages, gain access to country, regenerate our cultural practices in acknowledging the traditional owners of the country on which you are now on. I'd like to sincerely thank them for their generosity and kindness in welcoming people onto their lands. Lands never seeded and lands that run deep into their being and spirit. I wish to pay my deep respect to the ancestors, elders, communities, and families of the Ang Wri on whose land I stand and who create connection and share knowledge with all of us. Thank you.

Speaker 2 00:01:18 Hello, colleagues. My name is Adam Schumaker and I'm really delighted to be the vice chancellor of Victoria University. I'm also hosting this podcast, which we call people of vu, which has now reached its 26th episode. And being in this recording studio is a highlight of my day. I can honestly tell you that. Thank you so much for listening. My deep thanks. Also, go to KJ for the acknowledgement of country that you just heard. I too acknowledge and pay my deep respects to not just ancestors and elders, but families of the traditional owners on all of our campuses, be they in Victoria, be they in New South Wales, are now more recently in Queensland. And I extend that to wherever and whenever you may be listening. Now, in today's episode, we're doing something a bit different. We're going to be speaking with two wonderful colleagues, Christine Desa and Rebecca Reed, both of whom are involved in our PhD or doctoral programs.

Speaker 2 00:02:12 And both of them are not only candidates for PhDs, but they were each recently awarded in various competitions, representational rights on behalf of the university respectively, in the three minute thesis competition and in the visualize your thesis competitions. And this is just incredibly great because these are where we get to talk about our research in a wider audience that really wants to know. Now, Christine Desouza's work delves into the complexities of Christian specific spiritual abuse, an intimate partner violence, a very important topic indeed, and seeking to understand the experiences of women in those situations. Meanwhile, Rebecca's journey, Rebecca Reed's journey involves investigating the impact of urban traffic related air and noise pollution on psychological distress and aiming to re, re reduce the inequalities and the impacts of that, of that scourge. So really both complex, but I think one of the things that I've discovered is both of them are very, very invested in social change, policy change, legislative change, and impact. So I'm gonna start first of all with Rebecca. Rebecca, it's really great to have you here. Thank you

Speaker 3 00:03:23 For having me.

Speaker 2 00:03:24 Totally. It's great to be here. Totally. Great. And welcome to the podcast, as I said. Now tell us a little bit, first of all, not everyone will be familiar with what visualize your thesis is, and it's quite a novel competition, which is hosted by the University of Melbourne. So tell us what's involved and you know, how difficult is it and how short or long what, what's involved in the actual competition?

Speaker 3 00:03:44 So it's a one minute video and you're literally visualizing your thesis within one minute. So I think, you know, as a PhD student, you are constantly writing or reading or you know, analyzing data. And so when I heard about this competition, I was like, oh wow, this is something different. You know, it'd be something fun to do and I'm certainly not creative or tech savvy, but when I saw like the animations, I thought this could be great. This is something really challenging. So yeah, you make a one minute video and you tell your story in that one minute.

Speaker 2 00:04:19 Well, a minute is not long. No, let's face it. I mean, you know, that's what many people are waiting at the traffic lights for the light to change. You made an entire video, you know. So tell me, how did it work? Did you, how did you find those with whom you could work to create the animation?

Speaker 3 00:04:32 I actually did it all myself, which is very surprising. I just used like a very simple software that I could understand and yeah, just made it from

Speaker 2 00:04:42 There. Well that sounds like you're a bit of a self-starter. I mean, you had a degree in math and finance originally, and you were bit different, you know, a bit bit different. Yeah. And then I understand for almost a decade you worked in banking too. Yes. So you ever had any involvement in this kind of visualization before?

Speaker 3 00:04:55 Absolutely not. I have zero creativity.

Speaker 2 00:04:58 Oh, well I think that probably that's contestable now that we've seen the results, you know, thank you. Probably an undiscovered talent that you had. And of course now you're doing after a master of public health, also at V Vu. Now you say you've really discovered, you know, a super passion in research. So what is that super passion and what is the topic? Tell us more.

Speaker 3 00:05:16 So my PhD topic, so we know that psychological distress and mental disorders are increasing globally, however, the prevalence isn't shared equally. So we know that those from more disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely to experience psychological distress. And if we wanna reduce these inequalities, we need to understand what is contributing to those inequalities. So through my PhD, I am looking at weather traffic related air and noise pollution are causing those inequalities and then hopefully we can make changes to reduce them.

Speaker 2 00:05:50 Okay. Now lemme just wind it back. For those who are listening, traffic related air and noise pollution. Correct. Okay. Yes. So part of this is, is it congestion? Is it road works or what's all, what's involved? Is it everything?

Speaker 3 00:06:02 Everything? Yep. Okay. So what kind of inspired me was I live quite local and I see the Westgate Tunnel project all the time. And yeah, I don't have a great feeling about it.

Speaker 2 00:06:16 I'm not sure. Yes, a lot of people

Speaker 3 00:06:17 Are, we'll, we'll leave it at that. Yeah. And I just wondered what is this doing to people's health? You know, there's houses backing onto it. Yeah. You hear the traffic all the time and the air pollution. So that's what inspired me to, yeah,

Speaker 2 00:06:32 So it's quite quantitative as well as qualitative. It sounds like. It's a bit of both. And did you go back in time to compare with, let's say, recorded events of 20 years ago or something like that to with now or, or how

Speaker 3 00:06:43 Did you do it? Yes. So I'm using secondary data. I'll go back to 2007. And it's a survey that will, that looks at health over the over time. So we'll, we'll look at people's psychological distress and where they live and whether those that live close to roads are experiencing more psychological distress.

Speaker 2 00:07:03 Okay. So just to be clear, it wouldn't include something like say airplane or airport noise.

Speaker 3 00:07:08 No, that's okay. Yeah, I'm not looking at that specifically. Roads.

Speaker 2 00:07:11 Yeah. Sp And would it also include people like those cycling on roads and that kind of thing? Or is it just those in vehicles as it as it were?

Speaker 3 00:07:18 It's where the, where they live. Mm. So yeah, it's more about the neighborhoods. So I wanna understand where disadvantaged neighborhoods are disproportionately affected. Right. By pollution.

Speaker 2 00:07:29 Okay. And what it, what so far are you finding?

Speaker 3 00:07:31 So I'm only at the very early stages and I've done a little bit of preliminary analysis and that has shown that people who do live in disadvantaged neighborhoods do experience greater levels of psychological distress. But that's where I'm up to.

Speaker 2 00:07:44 Wow. And look then, as we said at the outset, you're hoping, as I understand it, to get it in the direction where you can make recommendations for amelioration or improvement or perhaps legislative change. It isn't enough just to have noise barriers, is it? Absolutely. That would be just a very absolutely, you know, basic thing. Are there other thoughts you have about things that could work or is it bitterly to say?

Speaker 3 00:08:03 So ideally it would be more about where the roads go. So if my research does find that disadvantaged neighborhoods are dis disproportionately affected, then maybe they need to look at where the road Yep. Is placed.

Speaker 2 00:08:19 So future plans, roadworks dimensions. Yep. Green space, all that kind of stuff. Yeah. Okay, great.

Speaker 3 00:08:24 And, and new housing developments as well.

Speaker 2 00:08:26 That's really, really interesting. Look, I'm gonna come back to you on this, but I think we'll talk about the competition later. But let's, let's find out a little more from Christine Dusa about her research first as well. Welcome again, it's great to have you with us. Oh,

Speaker 4 00:08:37 Thank you. It's a privilege to be

Speaker 2 00:08:38 Here, you know? And look, I know that you've spoken in public, but this is maybe the, your first podcast as such. Yes. But let's, let's talk about your own research. How did you come up with this topic in the first place? Which is such an important one. What was the inspiration for it?

Speaker 4 00:08:52 My inspiration came from experiences in my own work. So for the last decade I've been working in a, a community development organization that's part of my church. And through that I've been given various roles working with vulnerable individuals, creating processes and practices to address the issues that they're facing. And through that I learned about intimate partner violence, domestic violence, and I learned about this particular form of abuse, Christian specific spiritual abuse and the gaps that were in that knowledge. And I found it really difficult to create interventions and training and awareness about it without having more information.

Speaker 2 00:09:53 And getting that information is the key first step, isn't it? Absolutely. You know, and as you pointed out, I think I've, I've seen some of your work yog, you know, the incredibly concerning figures about a woman a week in Australia being killed via intimate partner violence. That's, it's incredibly concerning.

Speaker 4 00:10:08 That's right. So one woman a week on average is killed because of intimate partner violence. One in four women will experience some form of intimate partner violence and prevalence in Christian communities is just as high. And to top it off, in addition to that, is the compounding form of abuse, which is spiritual abuse.

Speaker 2 00:10:29 Yeah. So in any way, in any way, people might have thought it might be better, but it's not. Yeah. And that's really, really concerning as well. It's

Speaker 4 00:10:36 Very concerning. It's, it's a very private, hidden sensitive topic. Yeah. And one that I think is starting to emerge much more now, because overall in society we are talking about intimate partner violence much more.

Speaker 2 00:10:53 Yeah. And the light is being shone. But would you have had any resistance to this being shone? In other words, the fact that you're doing the research?

Speaker 4 00:11:01 The actually overwhelmingly very supportive. Good people are so encouraging of my research, both in the secular community as well as within the Christian community. Yes, absolutely. There's sensitivities to it because we're talking about religion, we're talking about one's spiritual abuse, spiritual beliefs. So it's very personal, it's very sensitive. It's, it's an area that people are very cautious about and guard closely to their hearts. So I, I have found that by keeping people on the big picture, the big picture is regardless of what you believe, is it okay for a woman to be terrorized in a home because of her faith beliefs? No,

Speaker 2 00:11:53 Undoubtedly not.

Speaker 4 00:11:54 So generally speaking, that kind of keeps people focused. Yeah. That's what we're trying to understand. How can this happen? Exactly. And because of that, there's a lot of support for it.

Speaker 2 00:12:07 Oh, that, I'm so pleased to hear that. Tell me, where in the university, what part of the university is this research taking place in?

Speaker 4 00:12:13 I'm doing this through psychology. Yep. So my, I've got amazing supervisors in Professor Jenny Sharples and Dr. Kim Sheen.

Speaker 2 00:12:23 Fantastic. Yes. It's so important. And I, I meant to ask you too, Rebecca, who are the people with whom you're working in terms of supervision as well?

Speaker 3 00:12:30 So Dr. Jeremy Rochelle, Dr. Julia Gilmar Thomas. Oh, yes. So she's not here any longer. Yeah. And Dr. Susan Mabo from the EPA and Dr. Sarah Foster.

Speaker 2 00:12:44 Oh, interesting. And so someone from the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the other internals. Yes. Oh, that's great. Interesting. Because we often talk about sort of industry at the core for research and you're, you're practicing that in this case, it's like a social, socially relevant. So are there any external advisors in your own research as well as an internal?

Speaker 4 00:13:01 No, it's all internal. Yep.

Speaker 2 00:13:04 It's probably because the external are the subject of the research. I guess that's, that's why it would be the case. Yeah. So look, it's such important topics, both of them. And you can see how the advancement of knowledge, but also action is gonna happen from both. So colleagues, I'm very interested. We've talked about your research about the impact of it and where it's derived, but how far down the actual course of your PhD are you? So first of all, Christine, where are you in your journey, your PhD journey?

Speaker 4 00:13:30 I'm the halfway mark, so I am at mid candidature right now.

Speaker 2 00:13:35 That's fantastic. It's gone so well, and you're already applying it as we speak, and yet you're only 50% of the way down. That's amazing.

Speaker 4 00:13:41 Absolutely. So I feel like I'm on the home stretch now. Well,

Speaker 2 00:13:44 As they say, you're either going out or coming back and now you're coming back. Yes. You can see the finish line. That's amazing. Yeah. Well done. Thank you. And re, Rebecca or Rebecca, I understand that you've just had that first milestone of confirmation of candidature yourself, which is what normally after how long?

Speaker 3 00:13:59 So it's usually within the first year. So that was last week.

Speaker 2 00:14:02 Oh, just last week. Yes. Oh, well, no wonder you're so feel like there's a weight off your shoulders. Yes, absolutely. You finished this competition and that Yes. And you're really revving it up to, to see this go forward. Yeah. Oh, congratulations to both of you. Fantastic. Could I just wind you back a little bit into what these competitions were? Because people will be interested to know. Probably not everyone even knows that there are such competitions. So if I talked about the, the three minute thesis, sometimes abbreviated to three mt I understand the University of Queensland was the originator of this. But tell us a little bit more. It's a three minute, what, what do you have to do in three minutes? Yep.

Speaker 4 00:14:35 In three minutes you are asked to describe your research topic. You are presenting it to a professional, intelligent audience. You are. So we're, we're moving away a little bit from presenting it to an academic audience. Right. So it is a little bit more in plain language. And also you are asked to describe things like your positionality, what you bring to the, to the research. And you have to do all of this in three minutes.

Speaker 2 00:15:09 Yeah. And, and so you did this internally first. Yes. Just run us through what happened. 'cause again, it's an interesting journey and, and progress. So how did it work?

Speaker 4 00:15:17 Yeah. So initially, at the moment, it's all online. So we were asked to produce a, a video of ourselves. It's very simple. You're only allowed one slide if you are going to use a visual, right? So you have one sort of powerful slide that you can use through the whole presentation. And I submitted my video for the semi-finals. Then as I got through to the finals, we get some feedback from the panel who have judged the video and we get a chance to do some refinements. We submit a new video if we want to. Yes. That is

Speaker 2 00:16:03 Did you submit a new one?

Speaker 4 00:16:05 I did. Oh, you did?

Speaker 2 00:16:06 I was just wondering.

Speaker 4 00:16:07 It was, we got some great feedback. Yeah. Yeah. And so I thought, okay, well this is a great opportunity for me to refine how I'm talking about this topic because most of the people I will be talking to about it are non-academic. Yes. From a non-academic audience. So I did submit that. And then after winning the VU final, again, you get some feedback, did a little bit of training thanks to Professor Tom Clark and Dr. Leslie Burch. Great for providing that. And then again, you get, I had a third iteration and I submitted

Speaker 2 00:16:44 A fantastic

Speaker 4 00:16:45 Minor changes along along the way.

Speaker 2 00:16:46 So three times three did three minutes and three iterations. So, and what was the time between the first time you gave it and then the third iteration? Like how many weeks or months were involved?

Speaker 4 00:16:57 I think it was about two weeks between each. We didn't have a lot of time by the time you got the result. Yeah. And then got the training and then you had to submit within a week of that.

Speaker 2 00:17:10 Wow. So it's pretty intense and pretty intense. Yeah. Yeah. It was. And then, then, and then what was the next stage after that? After the VU representation, you're representing this university, what did you do next?

Speaker 4 00:17:19 After that? The video was submitted to, for the Asia Pacific finals. So we competed against 50 other, 56 other university across Oceana. And unfortunately I didn't get through to the finals, but I was thrilled that I got that far. And,

Speaker 2 00:17:40 But I understand you did, you know really well. It was a, you know, top group of, of those being considered. It's amazing, right? Because it means a lot of people in other nations Yep. Would've seen your research as well. Yes. So that's, that's what it's all about, is sharing knowledge, not just within, but without. Yes. And I think that's fantastic. So that's, you know, congratulations for, whereas that's why we're having this discussion. It's so great to be able to, to meet, meet you and hear about it. Thank you. So the difference is here's three minutes and in your case, Rebecca or Beck, it was one minute, correct? Which is harder. One minute or three would you think?

Speaker 3 00:18:13 I think one minute.

Speaker 2 00:18:15 So there's just like straight in and you, when you were considering, like you went, I'm just winding you back when you're saying, oh, I was thinking of doing animation. Did you consider any other form?

Speaker 3 00:18:26 No.

Speaker 2 00:18:27 You just sort of went, I think that's the way I'd like it. Yeah,

Speaker 3 00:18:29 Yeah, yeah. It wasn't really animation that I did. So I, I looked at other videos and they were proper animation, which is over my head. So mine were just little graphics that moved. Okay. So I think animation is a bit of a stretch,

Speaker 2 00:18:42 But you know, sometimes slightly less ambitious animation is more people-centered as well. It can look too slick otherwise, you know, it can look too produced. 'cause after all it's about the ideas and the power of them. So one of the things we will do when we finish this podcast, we'll make sure the link to both is there so that people who listen to this can also see the work you produced. You know, in other words, they can be the, their own judge, but give you feedback on what happened. I can tell you this, the great thing about the one minute or three is it's very like, as you would know, any professional career, so think about it, if you're briefing a cabinet minister, they want the equivalent of a one or at most three minute briefing. If you're briefing the CEO of a bank, ditto.

Speaker 2 00:19:22 If you're briefing someone you know, who's a coach of a sporting team and they want to sum, summarize what the strategy's gonna be, it is distillation is one of the great skills of the 21st century focus and distillation. And you know it, and you've both done it. It's fantastic to see. And I guess one of the other great skills is translation. So if you had to translate it into something beyond the thesis, what's your goal? I'll come back to you Christine. What would be your ideal world if you could translate this into what you would see as being the best thing you could do with it?

Speaker 4 00:19:52 From the knowledge that we gain from this research? Yes. I hope that it reaches this women who are experiencing this in silence. Yeah. Yeah. I want to be able to validate this experience for them. Especially because it is something that has been really difficult for them to articulate and come to terms with. Yeah. And ultimately I wanna be able to use the knowledge that we gain from interviews with victim survivors, Christian counselors, clergy and religious leaders, to, to inform victim and trauma informed policy and practice. Yeah. To enforce change for us to be able to predict and intervene and respond to this with the confidence and credibility that we need. Yeah. And I would like this to be something that is not just within Australia. This is, this happens across the world. And then to be able to work with other faith communities and look at faith-based abuse overall.

Speaker 2 00:20:59 Right. So that's really interesting, isn't it? Taking it beyond and above and beyond. I mean, is it, is it the case too that is, has anyone else done this work? Is it the first time?

Speaker 4 00:21:09 It's not the first time, but it has been a while. And so there have been, there has been some excellent research. Yes. Not just within Christian community, even with the Jewish community and Muslim community as well. Yeah. So it is something that people have started to look at. Yes. But the, the depth of information and knowledge there is much more to be understood export.

Speaker 2 00:21:39 And, and as you know, sometimes it's, it's come up in, you know, in the news, in, you know, various, you know, forms of sects as well as it become newsworthy. And these things, would it actually change the way that say pastors or priests or whatever the name is, are trained in the first place?

Speaker 4 00:21:53 Yes, I believe so. It, in fact, I, I work two days a week 'cause while I was doing my PhD and I do this training with pastors and I do this training with counselors as well. Yep. So I've already started to incorporate some of the research that I've been drawing on past research to inform the recipients of my training on what this area actually looks like and what we can be doing differently.

Speaker 2 00:22:25 Incredibly valuable to think it's almost in flight as you research it, you know? Oh, absolutely. That's brilliant. Yep. So again, coming back to yours as well, it'd be wonderful to think, wouldn't it, that we could influence planning and change because of course a lot of these infrastructure developments are being rolled out over the next 20 to 30 years. Massively. And you know, it's almost like where you bring together architectural planning, human planning, human geography, and even health planning, you know, the actual public health impact. So would you have, do you do much work with Western Health in that regard because of where they are in the west of Melbourne or not?

Speaker 3 00:22:59 Not at this stage. I mean, that could be something in the future, but most of my work will be with the EPA. Right. Okay. Yes. It's more looking at the environmental side of it and how pollution is impacting health.

Speaker 2 00:23:11 Yeah. 'cause you would think that they would be Absolutely. Just really looking forward to the results of this so much that they could a apply in future, you know, permissions and planning approvals and that sort of thing. Is, is that the aim as well to, you know, kind of activate it through them?

Speaker 3 00:23:25 Yeah, so ideally in the future, in a few years time when I finish my PhD, the EPA will be able to use my research when the government comes to them and says, we wanna build a new road here. What do you think? Sure. And then they can use my research to help guide their advice to the government. And yeah, hopefully we can reduce these inequalities in mental health.

Speaker 2 00:23:46 I think that's so important, just so you're both aware. And we love this fact that we've got now three or four very important NGOs on our campuses that all have to do with their mental health. Oh. So they're either in, in flight now already or, or imminent. So for example, lifeline Australia is physically with a whole building on our St. Alban's campus aspect, which is autism spectrum. It's both research and practice. Ditto also at St. Alban's, right next door to Lifeline. Wow. And also Headspace will have a full building at the Werribee campus, which is imminently opening as well. And so, you know, the whole mental health impacts both of you Yep. Would be, you know, people might come to the fore and come to our attention through such clinics Yep. And approaches, working in partnership with them is a really good thing too. So I think it, in both cases, it, we would be worth considering how that could work. Yeah,

Speaker 3 00:24:37 Absolutely.

Speaker 2 00:24:37 Yeah. It's great stuff. Look, colleagues all can say is, I'm inspired by the work because it is so vu and so important. And so you, I can see the, you know, the, the motivation, the passion you have for it. And I just wanna thank you on behalf of all of us and all colleagues at vu. It's been wonderful to get to know you and to hear about the importance of your work. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank

Speaker 3 00:24:56 You for, for having us. For having us. Yeah.

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