Experiencing university as a mature student from an Indigenous background, Laura Christie became involved in research on access…
My first introduction to university was through the experiences of my parents, both completing their higher education as mature students. My mum was the first in her family to go to university. When I was a child, she completed Years 11 and 12 through night school, before enrolling in teaching. Dad (my Indigenous side) achieved his degree in 1997/98; I believe he was the first of his siblings (at 55 years old) to go to university.
Growing up in Toowoomba, Queensland, we were pretty lucky. Mum didn’t have a lot of money but there was enough to pay for extra-curricular activities like ballet and piano. Dad was never able to contribute financially (they were separated from when I was about 4 years old).
I managed to go to TAFE after I finished school. While I’d always aspired to go to university, Mum couldn’t afford to keep paying for my living expenses in Brisbane so, at the time, I wasn’t able to convert the qualification to a degree.
Now in my adulthood, I am studying a double degree in Business (HR) and Behavioural Science (Psychology) at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
When I first started at university, I felt significant anxiety, self-doubt, feelings of isolation (being a different age to the majority of students) and frustration, notably around administration processes. These gradually dissipated; however, I still do feel a little “on the outer” with group work assignments.
As an Indigenous student, I have not experienced issues with the majority of students outside the Oodgeroo unit, although there are often raised eyebrows and questioning about my cultural identity due to my skin colour, which is very disappointing.
From my experience, I feel there is scope for improvement in institutional support and administration, counselling, and lecture and tutorial content, but I have received invaluable support from university and external programs. The QUT Oodgeroo unit staff and students, CareerTrackers (an Indigenous internship placement organisation) and Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) have been some of the most significant influences on my study and career.
Three years into my study I became aware that there seemed to be a significant lack of Indigenous perspective in the research that was out there, and I wanted to find out what it was like to do research and what it was all about. The QUT Vacation Research Experience Scheme (VRES) facilitated my involvement with a NCSEHE funded research project lead by Deanna Grant-Smith, Widening participation or widening the gap? Equity in postgraduate study.
Through the program, I have had the opportunity to sit in on project meetings to learn about the research process, shadow researchers, and contribute to the collation and review of literature relating to Indigenous postgraduate outcomes part of the report. One of the main strengths of the program is the teamwork environment which is like a buddy system to guide you through the process; the support of the team and administration/organisers also stood out for me. I was able to express perspectives in a way that is sometimes not possible in undergraduate essays/assignments.
I also participate in the CareerTrackers Internship Program which endeavours to develop students’ leadership skills. For the most part, my internship company has provided challenges enabling me to demonstrate my potential, and apply it to the working environment.
My measure of success is not so much about achievements, but rather how I deal with disappointment. Resilience in the face of challenging circumstances (both personally and academically), self-confidence, and strong beliefs, values and morals measure success more than any award.
I believe that my individual academic achievements will also be valuable to the community. I will return to country to do my research as a postgraduate, which will directly relate to our knowledge, interpretations, perspectives and culture.
On a family level, I don’t know what my kids think of all this. Perhaps they look at the work involved and think “No way”; perhaps they are inspired. The outcomes will manifest later when they start to apply life experience to their own decisions, most likely.
Indigenous students and researchers shouldn’t be afraid to apply the knowledge of their elders and community. My hopes for the future are to see more Indigenous Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students using Indigenous methodologies and being reviewed by Indigenous peers, and knowledge being applied to organisations to make wider changes.
This student voice story has been reproduced with the kind permission of the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE). NCSEHE provides national leadership in student equity in higher education, connecting research, policy and practice to improve higher education participation and success for marginalised and disadvantaged people in Australia. The original version of this student voice story is available at: https://www.ncsehe.edu.au/my-story-student-voice-laura-christie/