Dr Carmen Naylor, wearing a grey dress and the blue and red graduation gown, stands in front of a green, bush background. Photo: Paul Jones

A love for Occupational Health and Hygiene spurs student to third postgraduate degree

A love for Occupational Health and Hygiene spurs student to third postgraduate degree

Fourth time’s a charm as Dr Carmen Naylor celebrates conclusion of PhD

It seems ironic that when Dr Carmen Naylor left high school, she had no real desire to go to university.

“None of my close friends were going to university, so I wasn’t that compelled,” she says, with a laugh. “I feel that this is quite unusual for someone to think like that… and then several years later have three post graduate degrees!”

Today (Thursday, 3 November), Dr Naylor celebrated her graduation from the University of Wollongong, with a Doctor of Philosophy in the field of Occupational Health and Hygiene. It is her fourth degree in 15 years, all of which have been undertaken at UOW.

Dr Naylor sees the humour in her love of learning after once being adamant that university study was not in her future. But life, as they say, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

“I initially started in the School of Health Sciences, studying Exercise Science and Rehabilitation. It was a four-year Bachelor degree. It was such a great program, and the team were so supportive,” Dr Naylor said.

“From there, I went into occupational health and well-being programs. I started looking at the idea of occupational health and hygiene and the preventative side of worker health protection, and following a fateful conversation with Professor Brian Davies AM I decided to apply for postgraduate study, gaining a scholarship through Safety Equipment Australia for a Master of Science (Research) with the OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) Program”

“That Masters helped me gain knowledge and learn new skills in the research space. I learned a lot about the different research methodologies associated with health sciences. My supervisors, Jane Whitelaw and Professor Brian Davies AM, were so enthusiastic and inspired me about the career path I should take.”

After finishing her Master of Science, Dr Naylor decided to take on the Master of Occupational Hygiene. Her interest in this area, she said, was motivated by a desire to ensure that a workers’ health and wellbeing is at the forefront of their role, rather than an afterthought.

“I loved exercise physiology and rehabilitation but I was really dealing with people after they have been injured or have a chronic disease requiring management. Occupational hygiene is about preventing occupational illness and injury. It is about anticipating health hazards in the work environment, and minimising exposures to chemical, physical and biological agents, to prevent illness in the first place,” Dr Naylor said.

“It’s the science behind worker health protection and such an interesting field. I like to say that occupational hygiene puts the health in OHS.”

After completing her Master of Occupational Hygiene, Dr Naylor was, believe or not, looking for another challenge. Her experience in research placed her in good stead for a Doctor of Philosophy. Her research is focused on the quantitative health risk assessment of metals on surfaces in the construction industry that could cause health impacts and/or disease.

With the encouragement of the team in the School of Health and Safety, Dr Naylor decided to take on a PhD, under the supervision of Dr Vinod Gopaldasani and Professor Brian Davies AM. Her work has examined the toxicological health impacts of metals that may be present on work surfaces in the construction industry, and how to quantitatively assess the risk these substances pose to workers. 

“Metals are naturally present in the environment. Some metals are also common in the fabric of building materials such as lead used in paint and primer products, or from industrial processes for example lead was also a product of combustion from leaded fuels,” Dr Naylor said.

“Metal dusts can accumulate on building surfaces and for construction workers who are removing or disturbing the fabric of the building, we want to ensure all pathways of exposure through inhalation, skin contact, or ingestion, are controlled as much as reasonably practicable.” 

“In my thesis, I was very interested in evaluating other pathways of exposure such as ingestion and skin contact from surface metals, as traditionally inhalation has been prioritised as the most important route of exposure in industry.” 

At the same time as she was undertaking her PhD, Dr Naylor was working for the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) as Leader of Human Health Monitoring, High Reliability. In the past few years, she also welcomed two children, a now four-year-old son and a daughter who is just about to turn one. To say it has been a juggling act is an understatement, but Dr Naylor managed to get it done, one day at a time.

“Initially, when I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I had just completed my PhD proposal and I thought ‘this will work well, they will sleep all the time!’. But then I realised it’s not that straightforward and you need to multitask. 

“I listened to a podcast and it said that if you have a big goal, you are failing every day until the point that you finish. I tried to take that idea with my PhD. I wasn’t thinking about the idea that I was working towards a PhD, but rather I was just trying to get it done bit by bit, 100 or 200 words a day. I tried to create smaller, more achievable goals. Every day I would sit and do a bit of work and I was hoping by the end of it I would have a PhD.” 

Dr Naylor said the support and encouragement of the UOW staff have been paramount to helping her take on each respective degree. And each time she has undertaken study, it has opened further doors in her career. 

“I’m very lucky to have an employer who has supported me and enables occupational health and safety professionals to create a safe working environment. My PhD has been a rewarding outcome. I have a lot more knowledge in how to quantitatively assess health risk to occupational hazards and feel more equipped with solutions to protect worker health.”

“Every time I have undertaken a degree at UOW, it has always led to rewarding career opportunities. It has helped me to perform to a better level in my work. 

“I would encourage anyone to pursue continuous education opportunities or try postgraduate study. There is always something new to learn.” 

For now, though, Dr Naylor said she has reached the end of her tertiary study. Or has she? 

“I think I have conquered a lot of the goals that I set out to. I have an appreciation of occupational health research and will continue to advocate for occupational hygiene practice. I will always have the mindset of trying to learn and develop. So I guess, never say never.”