By Professor Ian Anderson’s reckoning over 150 Indigenous research higher degree students have graduated from the University of Melbourne’s Professional Certificate in Indigenous Research since it was introduced some 10 years ago.
Professor Anderson, the first Indigenous student to graduate with a medical degree from the University of Melbourne, is Director of its Murrup Barak Institute for Indigenous Development.
The raw figures for the professional certificate are impressive, both in terms of the number of graduates and the longevity of the course, and some of the stories behind the statistics are even more so.
“It’s fair to say that the summer school is the critical factor in the impressive completion rate of Indigenous postgraduate students in Australia,” says Professor Marcia Langton, widely published anthropologist and geographer, and the University of Melbourne’s inaugural Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies.
“Before its introduction, people were crying out for a course of this type. Over the 10 years it has been offered it has attracted Indigenous scholars from all over Australia, young and old, and virtually all of them have gone on to do amazing things,” she says.
Ann-Maree Hammond and Victoria Close are two recent Indigenous graduates who credit the Professional Certificate in Indigenous Research with their increased confidence to persevere and succeed in their studies and academic careers.
Ms Hammond, who is studying for her Masters degree at the University of Southern Queensland while carrying a heavy teaching load as the sole Indigenous employee on the USQ’s Springfield campus, believes the time spent in Melbourne helped her explore important methodological approaches and contextualise the foundations of her research.
“I valued the contribution from like-minded, powerful Indigenous research students from a range of fields and knowledge systems,” she says. “It was empowering to learn about academic career pathways, and the support from academics and supervisors was world-class in terms of sharing and supporting early career Indigenous researchers across Australia, of whom I am one.”
Dr Victoria Close graduated in the same cohort as Ann-Maree Hammond, and is one of the older Indigenous research students the program attracts. Dr Close recently completed her PhD and is working at the Centre for Australian Indigenous Knowledges on the Toowoomba campus of the University of Southern Queensland.
“I believe that my time in Melbourne lent a lot to the successful completion of my PhD,” she says. “On a more personal level, I sincerely value the time spent in Melbourne, and the ongoing support and mentorship I have received as a result.
“One of my great regrets at losing everything in last year’s floods [in Brisbane] was that I lost my photos and mementos of my wonderful graduation. But I have my memories and thank all involved for them.”
The first iteration of the research training course was established and hosted by the University of Melbourne under the auspices of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, the peak body to which Australia’s premier social scientists aspire to belong.
“Over the 10 years the course was further developed as a formal professional certificate under its current title,” says Professor Anderson. “The original course was designed with dedicated input from a host of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars from universities across Australia.
“A lot of people have been very generous in committing their time and investigating intellectual and academic wills to providing an environment that fosters the development of emerging Indigenous research leaders.”
This ongoing evaluation has resulted in the development of a new research-intensive program to be hosted by the Murrup Barak Institute every winter. The Graduate Certificate in Indigenous Research and Leadership, an interdisciplinary coursework program, will build on the knowledge and skills acquired in the professional certificate.
“This development is another great and necessary achievement,” says Professor Langton. “In the course of my frequent travels I often come across graduates who’ve studied with us in Melbourne, and they are always incredibly positive about it.
“Recently in Sydney, one of the students I ran into told me the summer school gave her the inspiration to finish, and that now she has handed in her PhD, she’d like to volunteer in the course and provide the support which she found so valuable to new students.
“Now the winter intensive subject will round out students’ experiences and give them valuable skills in research leadership.
“Over the past 10 years, we’ve continued to consolidate and refine our programs,” says Professor Anderson, “focusing on the quality of content and contemporary relevance.
“With the introduction of the Graduate Certificate in Indigenous Research and Leadership, we’ll continue our significant contribution to the development of Indigenous academics across the Academy.”