The Associate Professor Matthew Leach Session

In this Session, A/Prof Matthew Leach discusses how he married holistic philosophies of health with scientific rigor, how he ‘beefed up’ his PhD following the challenge of recruitment and a disappointingly small sample size, and how passion inspires motivation to get the end of what is often a very long process.

I realised something was missing (and that was what drew me to nursing) and that is scientific evidence base behind that. And so, I thought my mission then was to look at building an evidence-base for naturopathic medicine.

Listen to the Interview with Associate Professor Matthew Leach

Q&A with Associate Professor Matthew Leach…

What is the title of your PhD: The clinical efficacy & feasibility of using Horsechestnut seed extract in the treatment of venous leg ulceration

Where did you complete your PhD: University of South Australia

What year did you graduate: 2005

What undergraduate degree/s have you completed: Bachelor of Nursing (Honours); Diploma of Clinical Nutrition; Diploma of Applied Science (Naturopathy)

What is your job title, today: Education, National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine, Southern Cross University

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Interview with Associate Professor Matthew Leach

Tamara: Today we’re talking to Associate Professor Matthew Leach, who graduated with his PhD in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of South Australia in 2005. Following the completion of his thesis titled “The Clinical Efficacy and Feasibility of using Horse Chestnut Seed Extract in the Treatment of Venous Leg Ulcers”. His program of research is underpinned by three pillars of health, the consumers, the provision of care and the impact of that care. He held the position of Senior Research Fellow at UniSA for many years. In 2014, he was awarded a Research Fellowship at the Australian Research Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, and Honorary Visiting Fellow with the Faculty of Health at the University of Technology in Sydney. He is an accomplished author and speaker, and he is very passionate about scientific rigor in complementary medicine research. These days, you will find him at his new digs at Southern Cross University Lismore and welcome Matthew.

Matthew: Thank you for having me.

Steph: Just to set the scene a little, put this all into context, what are you doing right now? What’s your current role? What does your everyday life look like right now?

Matthew: I’ve only been in my new position probably for about four months now. I had to move interstate new university brand new centre, 10 million on centre, and pretty much the first person there and then the teams gradually built from that. My primary role there is as the Deputy Director of Education. Part of the industry, my program of research, I also oversee the development of brand new programs, not just in Naturopathic medicine, but also integrative medicine, lifestyle medicine, planetary health. So it’s quite a broad remit. That’s the underlying philosophy of the centre is that as long as it has, alignment with naturopathic philosophy, then it’s appropriate.

Steph: You spent a lot of time sitting at a desk, staring at a screen.

Matthew: I do at the moment, a lot of zoom.

Tamara: At the moment you’re actually in Adelaide,

Matthew: I am so are they, when they started closing the borders and we made the decision, everyone was to go home, for that time. We don’t know when the border is actually reopened, from, to staying here in very cold Adelaide.

Steph: This is a great way to start a job. You don’t get even onsite.

Matthew: From like 30 degrees down to like two degrees.

Tamara: Let’s go back to the very beginning. Are you a first-generation university student in your family or did your parents go to university?

Matthew: First-generation yeah.

Tamara: Brothers and sisters, did they go to.

Matthew: No, I was the first one, within the nuclear family. Interestingly, my mother followed suit pretty about a decade after that, as soon as I led the way I think she either.

Tamara: What did you, do what you wanted to do when you left high school?

Matthew: I kind of had two options. One was, I was looking at, teaching and I was looking at health kind of area. And I lived in wireless. It’s a regional town, about 20,000 people and they had a university there and the only health option there was nursing. And so that I’ll just do that. I wanted to do a degree, I wanted to get into health. I had studied that when I graduated from that and, into my internship, I started to realize there was something still missing from what I wanted in my clinical practice. At that time I was talking to a colleague who was studying naturopathy and the philosophy of retina, and it really kind of resonated with me around the ideas of holism treating the underlying cause, using innate healing ability of the body and so forth. Then, I went off and studied Naturopathy that type of thing on that, but then something again was missing from that.

Matthew: That was pretty what drew me to nursing. That was the scientific evidence based behind that. I thought my mission then was to look at, building an evidence base for naturopathic medicine.

Steph: Well, you really had a plan.

Matthew: I did, but I didn’t have kind of, it wasn’t foreseen those kind of happen as you go along. Yeah. Yeah.

Steph: Did you go to university straight from school?

Matthew: I did. Yes. Straight away. Yeah. I was very keen to be at university. Cause I wanted to as see myself in a leadership role in the long term. I thought university was kind of a pathway into that.

Tamara: It was no slip of the pen or anything that got you into a nursing degree. It was very much a decision that you made that you wanted to be in health, although I suppose you were limited by your regional status.

Matthew: Yep.

Tamara: So your undergraduate degree was nursing. What did you do after you finished nursing? Did you do an honours degree? Did you do a master’s degree? Where did you go next?

Matthew: After naturopathy, as I mentioned before, I wanted to build the evidence base for net med. At that time I realized if I wanted to do that with some appropriate credentials, to have some credibility in the field I needed to, build some research credentials behind that. I started, my honours at the time, which is kind of the fast track into a PhD. I wasn’t quite sure what I want to do at that point in time. That honours is really merging nursing and naturopathic medicine together. I kind of got the taste for research and thought, I want to take this further. At that time they’re offering a scholarship, so I went and did my PhD and again, that was merging nursing and naturopathic medicine together and they got a real taste for research and academia and that’s kind of furthered my path in that area.

Tamara: It, was it straight out to honours that you had realized that you wanted to do a PhD? Or did you have a few years out?

Matthew: No, I was back-to-back school, nursing, naturopathy, honours, PhD. So there’s no, there was no gap.

Tamara: How old were you when you graduated?

Matthew: My PhD. Oh God, I don’t know. That would have been mid-twenties. Wow. I think, I don’t know. It’s going back a while.

Steph: You knew you were interested in research and you knew the field that you were interested in researching in. Did then what your topic was going to be for your PhD or was that related to the funding that you got?

Matthew: It’s kind of, I think around the time we finished that honours, they had the call out for PhDs and they said, put forward a project idea that you’d like, and I originally thought of a different topic altogether. Interestingly, the research degree coordinator at the time, try to sway me away from that topic saying, no, I don’t think the methodology is right. I don’t think the question’s right. Cause I was looking at doing clinical trial and the school said we don’t really have support for people doing clinical trials. So we sway you maybe to do some qualitative research instead.

Steph: Quite different from a clinical trial.

Matthew: Me being, I guess, a quantum person or a numbers person. It was, it didn’t really align with my kind of underlying passion either. I kind of convinced the research to be coordinated that now I really want to do a clinical trial and it has to be in venous leg ulcers. It was originally going to be essential oils at that time. I changed my topic halfway through and did a herbal medicine.

Steph: Halfway through your PhD. Okay. We’re going to unpack that. What made you change your, treatment?

Matthew: I think when I went into it originally, I went into it with a, I guess, a nursing headset or biomedicine headset. I was like, how can I treat this? Like a drug, just treat the symptom. That is try and, reduce the, microbial load of the wound. Hopefully that would then in turn, improve wound healing. At that time it was conflicting with my guests. My naturopathic philosophy was that actually we need to treat the underlying cause of venous leg ulcers, venous insufficiency. I had to actually address the venous system and not the wound directly itself. That’s why to align better with this, with my philosophy of health. I completely changed intervention to do that.

Tamara: What was the question that you wanted to answer with your PhD?

Matthew: It’s going to be a, a clinical trial looking at the clinical effectiveness. Of Horse Chestnut Seed for venous leg ulceration.  I have that group, a matching placebo. They had the intervention taken orally for 12 weeks in conjunction with wound management provided by the nursing staff in the community. As there was a challenge in recruiting people for clinical trials a major challenge and I didn’t quite get the sample size that I needed. It had discussion with my supervisors and we thought we need to actually beef up the PhD. It’s maybe look at beyond effectiveness and look at a whole range of other things that look at maybe more feasibility of this as an intervention. Essentially became probably one of the first mixed methods research studies, I guess at the time was not really a methodology. It started off with a clinical trial. It became a survey of actually saying to consumers, medical practitioners, nurses, would you use it? Why wouldn’t you use it? Why would you use it? What will facilitate your uptake of it. We were looking at kind of translation of the evidence and the other one’s looking at cost benefit. So does actually having the addition of this intervention actually have a cost benefit for patients and for the institution as well.

Tamara: What did you get out of your, what did we all get out of your PhD? What did we all get?  

Matthew: I guess, it’s addressed a major knowledge gap in the field, and I think for venus ulceration, it’s one of the, most chronic long term health conditions of the skin conditions, internationally. I guess with that, I mean, I’ve seen, I saw patients in the trial. Who’d had an active leg ulcer for 30, 40 years. It had never healed in that whole time. These were, they did not look like a small little, tiny wounds, encompassing half the leg,

Steph: They’re having a huge impact on their quality of life.

Absolutely. Yeah. For these people that the mainstay of treatment was to have a multilayer bandaging. These were compression bandages as well. The middle of summer having four layers of bandages on their legs, then that caused dryness, irritation, discomfort. The heat of the whole thing. Compliance with that therapy is pretty low. I provide, I guess, an option to maybe look at another alternative that might be new either in conjunction with it or instead of for people who actually couldn’t tolerate that bandaging system. Venus Leg ulcer is an underlying problem with the venous system. It might be from prolonged standing, often associated, linked with varicose veins initially. Provisions where you’re standing up for long periods of time, pregnancy and so forth. Yeah.

Steph: Okay. You looked at the whole of the, a very broad scale project looking at underlying factors, the symptoms, the feasibility of interventions, the economic value of interventions. You had a whole package to deliver at the end of your PhD. So certainly, some value there. Would you say that pivot halfway through your project to widen your scope was the most challenging part of your PhD?

Matthew: I guess it did. It did push back my time fame a fair bit. Cause I think at that time I think I was tracking really well, but the project itself wasn’t resonating with me and I thought, and I, with a PhD, there are times where you will hate it as there’ll be times where you want to just throw it away. It’s just, it’s hard work. The thing, I guess, the method that I’ve always taught myself and certainly my students is if you want to stick with something, you have to be passionate about it. That’s where the challenge with projects for that given to students, projects that didn’t resonate with them in terms of an area of passion that is often looking at the end point and that being the parchment or that the title that I see not about the journey. I guess my key message from that is that you have to be absolutely passionate about it because there’ll be those times that you feel fall to the ground where you just want to give it up. You can’t stand anymore. That passion will keep me motivated.

Tamara: How long did it take you to complete your project?

Matthew: I think with that delay in change of project to about three and a half years. Wow. That’s great.

Tamara: Yeah, that’s actually pretty good. Yeah. So, and how was the data collection of work? We know recruitment is huge. Did that make the time any longer or did you kind of have a set time and you just recruited within that timeframe, no matter how many you got.

Matthew: That had to extend that a fair bit because the numbers were quite slow. At that time I had a lot of people who were gatekeeping and preventing people accessing the trial.

Steph: So in the hospitals,

Matthew: We had a process where we had to, at that time, we had to get consent from the person’s GP or their specialist, not so much now. That was more of an issue at that time. The ethics were a bit dubious around the whole process. We’re quite familiar with clinical trials, and we’re being overly cautious. They said, I want you to have every single person that comes in, the expression of interest is have a GP sign off or dermatologist sign off. I think the biggest barrier to uptake was GP or Medico refusal.

Steph: Because they didn’t take it seriously or they didn’t have the time or investment.

Matthew: One. They didn’t understand the treatment. Two, there was definitely a bias against herbal medicine, of them saying it was witchcraft, unnecessarily. A lot of it was they believe from what they read, that there was a safety risk. The thing is the Horse Chestnut Seed is safe. The leaf isn’t and we’re using the sea, but they were reading stuff about the leaf.

Steph: They came in with preconceived ideas that they weren’t willing to shed.

Matthew: Yep. Yeah. As, as a PhD student where you are, you’re still a student you’re still early in your career, that’s quite challenging being faced by people saying, no, this is not good enough. This is not a good trial. You’re not a good researcher by virtue of that. So it was challenging. I mean, it highlights, I guess, the challenges of doing clinical trial or any piece of research or the PhD altogether.

Tamara: Yes. You just added layers of complexity to yours by the topic as well. You’re a challenging PhD plus being a controversial area. How did you keep on going then if you had coming up against these challenges and it feels like having done an RCT myself, it’s a different challenge every day. How do you keep going? How did you keep going?

Matthew: I think I’m passionate was definitely the one. I think the right that I had in terms of be able to choose my topic and stay with my topic and even modify my topic. That was kind of what kept me going, because I had to take ownership. Then I chose this topic. I need to see it through. I think, the supervisors were quite nurturing as well and that’s really important. Cause I think there are times for you to feel really low and think, I’m a failure, this is not good enough. You had, your supervisor giving a bit of a reality check.

Steph: Yes. I guess research is hard.

Matthew: Absolutely. Also realizing that it’s the results aren’t necessarily the end game for a PhD. It’s about the process. It’s about a research training program, not about a Nobel peace prize

Tamara: You are not going to change the world with your one little project. I do remember you saying that to me.

Steph: You were able to pick your supervisors?

Matthew: No. I started, because there was no one else in the whole school had any clinical trial experience, there’s one that had a little bit of experience. By default they had to be the principal supervisor.

Steph: You really did set yourself up for problems.

Matthew: Doing mixed methods at a time when mixed methods didn’t exist into an institution where they didn’t have any experience with doing clinical trials was a barrier.

Steph: On a topic that people didn’t accept.

Matthew: I just love those roadblocks the whole entire way.

Matthew: I guess adding to that also had supervisors changed every year and so in my first year there was a person who was in a senior position that more qualitative again, they didn’t have any clinical trial experience. Cause most of the people in the school didn’t have, RCT experience. After the first year she thought, I don’t think it’s a good alignment, my expertise with your project. She handed me over to another person who had extensive expertise in clinical trials and then he came in for the second year and then something happened here to lead the institution. Didn’t want to continue with his PhD candidates and tried to find someone else who had expertise around economic evaluation. So that was my final year.

Tamara: That is actually a difficult, another one, another challenge, a challenge because your relationship with your supervisor is very, is the foundation of your whole experience really? I mean, you don’t really want to say it’s make or break, but it can make all the difference,

Matthew: Oh, absolutely because they’re your guide throughout the entire process. And they’re almost the reality check. Could it be times where you can often just go on a complete divergent and getting excited about something and they’ll draw you back

Tamara: Based on your experience as a student and your role as a supervisor, how would you describe the life of a PhD student?

Matthew: Oh that’s an interesting one. I think, I think every gene is different. I have been a research degree coordinator for about four years. I’ve seen the other side of it as well. In terms of the administrative side, also seeing different people’s journeys and different experiences with different types of supervisor setups. I think the absolute key for accessible PhD one is about the passion. Be absolutely driven and know what your end goal is as well, not just the PhD, but you want to do beyond the PhD and how does prepare you for that pathway. The other thing is, I think you can probably do this more so now than previously is choose the right supervisors because you’ll be with them for the entire, that process, whether it be three, six, eight years. Don’t be afraid to do a bit of personal need check, are they a good alignment with my personality? Are they kind of aligned with my interests? Are they thinking beyond just a successful completion? Are they thinking about my career? Are they finding the opportunities for me to either do some teaching or to be part of grants or be part of papers as well.

Steph: Yeah. It’s more than just that one product that you create that the PhD thesis, it’s all of the experiences you get along the way. Yep. Yeah. Every good PhD relationship should actually be a longer term relationship. Yeah.

Matthew: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Mentor.

Tamara: Good. How did you get to where you are now? Like what was your path?

Matthew: My pathway. I guess I’m certainly, I think the thing about the PhD is it opens doors, sorry. It unlocks doors that necessarily open them. I think for me, the PhD provided, I guess, access to academia and academia provided, I guess, opportunities for, developing pedagogy, experience in teaching, in research, and understanding, administrative processes around education or research. Like I think building on from that, research, it provide opportunities then to access funding schemes, to attend conferences, to write papers, to build a track record in their field. Collectively all those things, the education, the research, the engagement then provide you with a pathway for moving forward. I think those, all those elements there create the pathway to where I am now.

Steph: You stayed in the university system, after you finished your PhD.

Matthew: I did practice nursing for about 13 years. I continued that for probably one or two years after my PhD. Partly because I liked the term having, the doctor while you’re a nurse doctor nurse, that there’s kind of an interesting terminology, but also there was, I guess, a level of respect amongst your peers that you’ve taken it to the next level. You’re often challenged a lot of things in practice. But I felt that in clinical practice there was, again, there’s something not quite there for me, kind of another element for me was I think the research component was putting missing in clinical practice and that’s where I got driven into going into academia. Yeah.

Steph: Yeah. Cause a lot of, academics don’t actually have a clinical background, even academics in health fields don’t necessarily have clinical backgrounds. Has that made a difference for you in being an academic?

I think in terms of the education side of things, I think there’s a level of respect from students that you’ve gotten a clinical experience. They like, they kind of believe, okay, you’ve been there, you’ve experienced that we can take what you say is a bit more than somebody reading the paper, you’ve actually lived that experience and they kind of value that. I think the clinic spirit is also something you can then translate into research and look at the, so the biggest thing that I think at the moment around research is not just doing research but also translating that into practice. I think coming from a clinician’s perspective, you can understand that translational aspect rather than to stopping. Okay. I published my paper. I’m moving on to the next project is about okay, publish the paper, how to get those findings into practice and how I can start changing practice to improve patient outcomes.

Tamara: You’re a bit of a machine when it comes to publishing. Did you publish out of your thesis?

Matthew: At the time, there was no such thing as a PhD containing publications. I think there’s probably one colleague who’d had just started that; one of the first in the institution who had done that, and experienced major challenges around, this is not a PhD. What are you doing here?

Steph: I haven’t written 80,000 words on a single topic. Is it really a PhD?

Matthew: Exactly, and then trying to find examiners actually supported that as well? so at that time, I guess I had supervisor of a very traditionally focused and they’ll thinking around, I’m just gonna support you in creating a thesis, a traditional thesis containing chapters. I knew for me that a thesis itself is often just a glorified doorstop.

Steph: A very impressive one.

Matthew: It’s a fantastic piece of work and great to show your parents, but yeah,

Tamara: This is what I’ve been doing with the past four years.

Matthew: It’s your first book, I guess, but most people don’t actually read a thesis unless you’re maybe another PhD candidate wanting to look at a lot of detailed information.

Steph: Absolutely. It’s it can just be trapped then behind in that binder on a shelf,

Steph: Gold sparkly writing on it.

Steph: Three and a half years of your life summarized.

Matthew: When the TV crew come out and you pretend you’re reading something,

Steph: Oh, I just happened to have this out?

Matthew: I think that in terms of having an impact, I had to then translate that into stuff that the public would see. At that time I was really driven to getting into academia. I knew that to be an acting academic, I had to have a track record and part of that track record was having publications. My supervisor didn’t really push me in terms of let’s get some publications out there it’s pretty much just focused on your thesis and get that done. In my own time, so I did thesis, the normal thesis, but it also added to that creating five publications simultaneously at the same time to say, I want a track record when I finished this and I managed to get them all done. Even I think finished my last paper, I think about 10 years after my PhD. It doesn’t matter even if it’s on during your PhD or just after your PhD, but even way after your PhD.

Tamara: Did you enjoy your experience, your PhD experience?

Matthew: Yes and no. I think I’ll, I think the thing about the PhD, which should never ever have again, is the opportunity to spend that entire period of time that three to four years focusing on one project that you absolutely love.

Tamara: You can’t do that out in the world.

Matthew: No, that’s right. I think the thing that I really missed is the time we actually, all literature, every single paper has been published in that field and you are the expert in that field. As you graduate, you’ll be doing more and more pieces of research. Write more papers. You can’t look at those in the same level of detail you did in the PhD. I do miss that level of immersion you get from that.

Steph: Is the job you have now, the job that you thought you would have when you were doing your PhD.

Matthew: Oh, interesting. When I first went into academia, they did have a naturopathic program at the university only for a couple of years. Yeah, at that time that’s kind of, I thought I saw this opportunity then to potentially grow in that particular area, build a pretty big program and then become a leader in that particular field. That kind of program then dissolved for a number of reasons. I was kind of stuck into doing other nursing, allied health kind of pieces of education and research. I never thought that… so there was a time as well, happening over years and years, that many of the programs that were available in universities were gradually being dissolved as well and moving back to the private sector. For me, I’d never saw, there’d be a role for me, a senior position in naturopathic medicine ever in academia. When this opened up, last year as I, wow, this is the perfect opportunity.

Steph: Is this is this like a turning point for academia? Do you think that this is now your field is taking more seriously?

Matthew: I don’t know if it’s taken seriously yet. I guess that’s part of our role, I guess, as leaders in the field is to shift that. I guess certainly for me, when I had that epiphany around, I want to build the evidence-base for naturopathic medicine, that mission still stands. Yeah.

Tamara: This is the way to do it in academia where people respect to the answers you come up with. Right.

Matthew: You’re seen as being much more objective and critical rather than just being, conformist. There was a lot of respect being, I guess, in that position where you are, but also being able to shape education in the field. I guess the directive I’m putting into my programs is, has to have a very strong element of evidence-based practice, around critical thinking, reflective thinking, clinical reasoning, not just doing, but actually thinking, and acting appropriately.

Tamara: If you hadn’t done your PhD, what do you think you’d be doing?

Matthew: I guess, I mean, if the PhD, I think it was the pivot point for me to get into academia. I mean, that’s, there are other ways to get into academia I’m going, I’m probably would have done clinical practice a bit longer. Maybe not being as happy, maybe regretted that, I could’ve got into academia, but the thing with academia is that unless you have a PhD, you can’t climb the ladder. You’re often stuck at a level A position for that. You maybe couldn’t be where you are today with. Absolutely. It’d be either stuck in clinical practice. It’s not a bad thing but it didn’t quite meet my needs, or I had maybe a lower level in academia as well. Again, wouldn’t have been completely satisfied in terms of having that leadership role.

Steph: The leadership role is going to open up those opportunities for you to actually have an impact and collect the evidence. More than that, put it out there, make sure people are hearing it, that it makes a difference.

Matthew: Absolutely. Yep.

Steph: So what is a PhD to you.

Matthew: A PhD. I think the thing that I always tell, pretty much student and, new applicants, is it, think of it as a, a research training program. Don’t think of it as a degree or an award. I think, people often think of the actual project itself as being the PhD. But it is about the whole entire journey. I mean, obviously thesis is a critical part of that, cause that’s what you actually get examined on, but what experiences can you capture during that journey. It’s about how do I write critically and academically that will be accepted by my peers internationally? How do I problem solve, how to become a critical thinker? How do I work collaboratively? So with my supervisors and other people, how do I act ethically? How can I look at all information we’re exposed to not just within an academic research sense, but also way beyond, academia also in the real world. How can I think critically and critically around that? I do.

Tamara: So your field is emerging. How do you think the universities could go about better promoting what it is that you do, in your field to help people understand that the purpose of your research and the value?

Matthew: I mean, like, I think you mentioned the other start, my area of research is in health services research, and that was probably as quite deliberate. I’ve used that terminology. Cause a lot of my research is principally in complementary medicine, naturopathic medicine, but because there is, I guess, the, those names are tainted in some respect, there are biases associated with that, I had to make the decision to say, okay, what is an, a more appropriate terminology that captures my my area of research, my focus of education, that’s probably more accepted.

Steph: Not quite so weighed down with preconceptions.

Matthew: Absolutely. I’ve kind of pitched myself in that area. That’s how I think of when I applied for the position, I pitched myself in that particular space. Cause I guess that’s, you kind of push those biases aside. I come in with a bit, I guess, forget those preconceptions. This is my vision, my scope of practice. Through the avenues of health service research through evidence-based practice, then driving change in complementary medicine and naturopathic medicine as well. That’s almost like acting in stealth really until you’ve created that solid evidence base that actually the truth.

Steph: Surprise guys, we are actually talking about this field that you guys wouldn’t accept.

Tamara: If you’re talking to people who are about to finish their degree what’s and they’re contemplating a PhD, is it is now a good time to be doing a PhD do you think? What advice do you give to an, to someone who’s listening, who you don’t necessarily know personally?

Matthew: Well, it’s a good thing about a PhD is that it’s not a direct entry program. You’ve got to get steps to get there. The thing is about, think about where you’d like to be in the short term. What is it you’re really passionate about? You might be about like myself, you might be really passionate about health, but not have a particular area of health that you’re passionate about. It might be about engineering or computing, whatever it is, allow that passion to resonate and embrace that passion. Once you’ve had a chance to experience in that undergraduate platform, then you can make decisions around where you want to go from there. You might think actually I don’t think research is for me. It might not be appropriate pathway for you, but then you might think I can actually research is for me. The thing about the PhD, you don’t have to necessarily be in a particular area of your expertise. I could have done a PhD in medicine or engineering, whatever it might because it’s looking at those transferable skills and PhD, not so necessarily the content aspect. I know people who have worked in health, moving over to, into environmental science or genetics. I think no don’t feel yourself, locked in it live for now in the moment. If somebody’s really passionate about, and then make the decision as epiphanies happened.

Tamara: What about school students who might, there either trying to think about what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives, cause there’s that pressure to do so, and also maybe those students who are heading into your 11 that need to think about subject choices and with that additional pressure, what do you say to them based on your experience?

Matthew: Well, it is not so different to what career counsellors often say is that, if you’re thinking about going to university, think of what type of degree you’re thinking about generally, and you might not actually know – we know people kind of will change careers. Most people change careers, change degrees, in their life. At that apparent point in time, what is it that you really would like to pursue? if it is nursing, then think about what my prerequisites are to get into that degree. Most degrees don’t have prerequisites anymore. They’ve often just dropped off of the system.

Steph: You can pick them up in first year if you need. Absolutely.

Matthew: I think that one of those prerequisites that I need to actually go in there and make that transition into university a bit easier. Don’t necessarily think, okay, I need to do these things now. Cause I’m thinking of 10 years down the track, think of what you need in the immediate short term. While you’re doing your degree, think about what are my next steps.

Steph: Yeah. Because opportunities will arise. New information will come. Very few people that can actually are lucky enough to know and make that decision. And that is the right decision for the rest of their lives.

Matthew: I think I put it on until I was putting mid to late twenties that I realized what I wanted to do. So, at 18, 17, 18, you don’t know what you want to do. And you think I like to be working in this area until actually living in and working that area. You don’t really know if it’s right for you.

Steph: Thinking about the myths around PhDs and maybe of the myths around academia, is there anything that, you think people believe that is incorrect about PhDs or academia that you would like to set the record straight on?

Matthew: There was one thing that my supervisors, the research degree coordinators or the professors, everyone in the school would always keep drumming into you. You’re doing a PhD, the doors will open once you finish that PhD. I heard that day in day out and it got to the point where you start to believe it and you think, okay, once I get my graduation, once I’ve finished that I’ve got my parchment, all these opportunities would arise.

Steph: They will be lining up.

Matthew: Yeah, I will be head hunted. And it didn’t happen. That was part of that because that’s part of it was that they lead you to believe that. Also maybe I wanted to believe it, but I think no on reflection. I think the reality is I think the PhD unlocks doors, but it’s through those additional experiences you gain, it gives you the strength to push the doors open. It’s just a step into, future opportunities. Excellent. Okay. Well thank you very much for your time.

Steph: Thank you for giving your time today, Matthew:  – you have been very generous. Think it’s really important to hear about these stories from people who are in the field about the realities of PhD life and academic life.

Tamara: Understanding that we don’t all sit in a little over in our ivory tower with our hounds-tooth coats, dusting ourselves off with our thesis.

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