Belinda Gibbons was running her own business and raising two daughters when an opportunity arose to take up a casual role as a tutor and lecturer at the UOW Faculty of Business.
It set her on a path that led to a higher degree research journey which, she says, was “an amazing, yet quite confronting, life learning experience”.
Her first challenge was settling on a thesis topic which would draw on her industry experience in IT and corporate management, as well as have real impact, when complete. She settled on a project which would evaluate an alternative approach to teaching and learning responsible decision-making in undergraduate business education.
“I sought to answer the research question: what is the impact of a web-based systems approach to responsible decision making in undergraduate business education?
“Literature on integrating disciplinary knowledge that includes societal and environment decision-making and specifically the use of a systems sustainable model, in undergraduate business education, is an area of limited insight”.
On meeting the impact challenge, the result is clear: one of the main highlights of her PhD is that the approach it outlines has been engrained in the undergraduate capstone business curriculum at the Faculty of Business.
Belinda is proud of the fact that among the outcomes of her research degree – the process of which she describes as “a rollercoaster ride with way more double loops than I expected” – she has contributed to a growing body of research on the dynamic forces that exist between business, environment and society.
As well, it has “provided educators with a systems sustainable model for delivering an interdisciplinary student learning experience that integrates experience and feedback through simulation”, which can be applied in other learning environments such as secondary education and industry training.
Recognition of her achievements include being inducted as a Fellow of the Wollongong Academy of Tertiary Teaching & Learning Excellence (WATTLE), and receiving a Faculty team award for Outstanding Contribution to Teaching and Learning. She was also privileged to be asked to deliver the graduation ceremony address for UOW business students in July 2015.
More recently, Belinda has been given a Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning, formerly known as an OLTC Citation. These citations are a part of the Australian Awards for University Teaching and are a national award at the highest level.
As well as meeting the rigorous requirements of a PhD in terms of time spent on pilot studies, literature reviews, writing and maintaining self-motivation, Belinda encountered a number of personal challenges throughout the four years of completing her thesis.
Academically, she found the transition from industry-writing styles to academic writing styles hard and tackled a challenge integrating her statistical analysis with quantitative data she gathered.
With the benefit of hindsight, the three most important aspects of higher degree research study she say are supervisor support, a good editor and a supportive family.
“Researching as a single mother of two beautiful young girls took on new meaning. I studied as they studied and my thesis came everywhere with us. Each day my girls would ask ‘how many words have you written today Mum?’.
“Not only was it a part of my girls life, but my Mum’s, my sisters and brothers-in-laws also became very aware of my studies and provided that support that allowed me time to write.”
Now that her thesis has been completed and her doctorate conferred, Belinda reflects on it as “an integral part of my life”.
“I look at my thesis and see so much growth in myself. So much happened throughout the pages – if only they could talk.
“I am very proud of what I achieved and the impact that my research is having in business education,” she said.
Now, she is a permanent lecturer in the UOW Faculty of Business and coordinates the final year undergraduate capstone subject, in which students engage in a web-based simulation designed and developed during her thesis.
Belinda’s advice to those considering HDR study, or currently in the throes of thesis writing, is to take every opportunity to learn as much as possible about different research techniques, to publish and network, and to present throughout the process.
Finally, she says, enjoy what you are doing.
“Your research is important and your whole support network needs to come on the journey with you.”