Dr Spelten shares passion for research

Dr Evelien Spelten is passionate about challenging the stereotypes of rural university campuses, and says the growth of La Trobe University Mildura as an academic research hub is one way to break these down.

La Trobe's senior lecturer in public health and regional research co-ordinator Dr Spelten moved to Mildura from Amsterdam four and a half years ago and started off coordinating the social work program, but her enthusiasm for research soon became her focus.

"I like doing research and developing things and I could see there was a lot happening in the community.  I could see the potential and surreptitiously maybe, I started working on developing the research culture here."

She moved into the co-ordinator role and is an advocate for not only making the community aware of research that occurs locally, but also motivating colleagues to engage in their own research.

"It's interesting to see how many people want to do a PhD or a Masters but haven't really been facilitated because the focus of the university has been first of all, teaching. A lot of people think it's just undergraduate work here but there's also other areas. Teaching and research are the two pillars of any university so we're now trying to really get the research going to encourage that too."

Dr Spelten said Sunraysia has a number of potential research areas, one of which is the Murray-Darling Fresh Water Research Centre.

"Health and wellbeing is another obvious one, and a lot of organisations do evaluation research on any initiative they take to see whether it works or not, but they don't always know where to start. However I think that many realise now there is a real benefit to connecting with the university. It's also nice to see the impact of the work you are doing."

She praised Sunraysia for its community improvement work, and said the smaller size of the region had its benefits for research.

"During a palliative care project I did for Sunraysia Community Health Services, we actually found the small community was an advantage because it was easier to make links to align the services," she said.

These links will hopefully assist Dr Spelten's current research project which is looking at violence against health care workers.

Working alongside a Masters student who is a local paramedic, Dr Spelten said the project will examine perpetrators of the violence to assess the issues and areas where action needs to be taken.

"We know there are plenty of interventions but we know from the systematic review we're doing that none of that is being evaluated properly," she said.

In undertaking research, Dr Spelten said natural curiosity was necessary along with internal motivation.

"Research is not going to make you famous, and it can be tedious and boring, but it adds to your knowledge. I say that to students who, when you start talking about research, don't want to know about it. But if you're a social worker and you want to make a case about domestic violence or child abuse, if you can find the numbers it has a lot more impact."

With a background in organisational psychology, Dr Spelten's work includes co-investigation of the National Study into Nursing and Midwifery in the UK which she focused on the health of 24/7 workers.  She was also one of the first to research cancer patients returning to work, and she established a Midwifery Science Department at VU University in the Netherlands.

With such an extensive resume of work behind her, a move to Mildura was a "calculated risk".

"It was a challenge because I knew I would have to start from scratch.  But I was surprised at the great support from the campus."

This article was written by Natalie Cavallaro of the Sunraysia Daily.

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