The two of us: Elisabeth Duursma & Kristen Burriel

Behind every great PhD candidate is a dedicated supervisor (or two)

Kristen Burriel is a senior social work clinician and relationship therapist, working with people with mental illness. She is also completing her PhD. Her supervisor is Dr Elisabeth Duursma from the School of Education & Early Start Research. Her research interests focus on the role of fathers in the lives of young children and the impact father involvement has on child language and development.

Meet the candidate

Kristen Burriel, PhD Student in Social Work At UOW

Kristen Burriel

Kristen Burriel

Can you give a description of the topic or question you are investigating?

My PhD explores the lived experiences of mothers with mental illness based on their accounts of attending supported playgroups. Motherhood is challenging, especially for those living with mental illness, but little research has been conducted on the experiences and mental health of mothers from their own perspectives in a natural community setting. 

My study aims to address these gaps in the literature, hence my main research question is: What are the lived experiences of mothers with mental illness? An exploration of their experiences from their narratives attending supported playgroups (POPPY).

How did you select your research topic? Where does your interest in this field come from?

I am a senior social work clinician and relationship therapist with over 35 years of experience working with families and in the field of mental health. My interest in prevention & early intervention has been ongoing since the start of my career and I developed a program called POPPY (Parents Opportunity to Participate in Play with their Young) over three decades in Australia. This program model is based on evidence-based practice for the importance of play and healthy relationship development in the mother-child dyad. I have previously published on this practice wisdom and presented at several forums including the Early Start conferences at UOW.

How did you find your supervisor?

I met Elisabeth when she was my lecturer in a post-graduate research subject which I attended early in my PhD candidature in 2017. I was always impressed by her research on parents, reading and fathers. Elisabeth is an excellent teacher, mentor and support for my PhD. I was excited that she agreed to be my supervisor.

How do you think your research can change the world?

I think my research is innovative and based in a real-world setting. The wellbeing of families and society depends on effective social support for parenting and especially when a mother experiences mental health issues. The African proverb-“It takes a village to raise a child” is very true and yet many mothers don’t get the support they need and struggle to raise their child in Australia and other countries. Often the consequences are negative for mothers when this situation occurs. I believe my research can demonstrate a better outcome and solution for this significant problem.

What advice would you give someone considering doing postgraduate studies?

I really feel that someone needs to believe in themselves and their research focus. They should be prepared for riding the waves of the PhD journey and respect their judgement within the framework of guidance from their supervisors.  Ultimately, the personal and professional growth that can be attained is awesome!

Meet the supervisor

Elisabeth Duursma, senior Lecturer in Education at UOW

Elisabeth Duursma

Elisabeth Duursma

Can you explain your area of expertise?

My expertise is in early childhood. I am particularly interested in the role fathers play in children’s early language and literacy development.

How did you find yourself where you are now professionally?

My PhD focused on low-income fathers reading to their children and the impact on child language, literacy and cognitive development. I found that when fathers read frequently to their children, this had a big impact on child outcomes. This study was conducted in the US and triggered my interest in father involvement. After spending 10 years in the US, I moved to the Netherlands for several years and then ended up at UOW. I held a non-academic job for quite some time but found I missed academia so I am glad to be at UOW in an academic position. Although I have done a lot of work in early childhood, the past couple of years I have become really invested in learning more about the role fathers play in children's lives, for example during COVID-19 and more recently in a project with two colleagues, Natalia Hanley and Amy Conley Wright on fathers in prison.

What makes a great PhD candidate?

Someone who is dedicated and passionate about their topic. Doing a PhD is not easy and requires a lot of hard work. A PhD candidate should be willing to put in a lot of effort and time in their PhD. Expect that there will be plenty of times that you might want to give up but that's all part of the process. In the end, I think it is all worth it.

How do you guide candidates on their journey?

I think candidates should take the lead in their own PhD journey. Supervisors are there along the way for guidance, advice and readjustments. I see PhD supervision as a type of mentoring, you want your PhD student to do well, learn new skills and progress in their professional life but also grow as a person.

What should candidates consider when finding a supervisor?

Find someone that you like or click with. It is going to be very difficult to go through your PhD if you do not like your supervisor. Mutual respect is also important, for both supervisor and candidate. Take charge of your PhD project. You own it.