Higher Degree by Research

PhD Projects

PhD Candidate Project TitleAbstract Primary Supervisor/
Jennifer Sharp
Virtual Friends: The use of technology to reduce loneliness in space Space travel involves separation from others for extended periods of time, and loneliness is a fundamental challenge for people to live in this environment long-term. This research project will first provide a scoping review of the literature in relation to astronaut loneliness and the use of technology to facilitate social interaction. Then using a mixed methods approach interviews with people who have lived in isolated and confined environments (e.g., Astronauts) will be analysed to gain an understanding of their experience of loneliness and views on the utility of various types of social technology. Finally, the general population will be examined to identify whether social interaction via virtual reality, or with a voice-interfaced artificial intelligence program reduces loneliness. Broader terrestrial applications of this research will include using technology to facilitate social connection and reduce loneliness in people in rural, isolated, and remote locations, and those confined due to hospitalisation, disability, or pandemic lockdowns. Professor Anthony Saliba 

Dr Joshua Kelson

Dr Daryl South
Kirstie Northfield
Practical measures of adolescent wellbeing While navigating the developmental hurdles of adolescence, maintaining moderate to high levels of wellbeing presents a challenge for some teens. For adolescents to be given every opportunity to thrive, identifying those with low levels of wellbeing, and offering support is paramount. There are two key barriers to identifying those in need.  Firstly, the evaluative and reflective nature of the construct of wellbeing, making the adolescents themselves the most reliable reporter of their wellbeing. Secondly, the limited access that we have to adolescents’ own insights.  Currently assessments of adolescent wellbeing most often come from adults observing behavioural or social indicators, such as sleep patterns, mood, eating patterns, and communications with the teen.  These observations have not been validated as appropriate assessment criteria but appear to be the best available indicators we have. This study will systematically assess the ability that parents and teachers as proxy assessors have in reliably judging the wellbeing of their teen. This study will also characterise a more reliable proxy assessor. Working with Australian high school students, their parent and a related teacher, each party will assess the target adolescent’s wellbeing, by completing the Personal Wellbeing Index for School Children with reference to the target adolescent. By measuring the cross-informant variance (CIV) of wellbeing outcomes within the adolescent-parent and adolescent-teacher dyads we will quantify how closely the teacher and parent proxy can assess the adolescent’s wellbeing and their need for support. In addition, relationship factors, proxy’s level of distress or happiness and adolescent help-seeking attitudes and intentions will be analysed to understand if these variables influence the level of CIV in adolescent wellbeing outcomes. The potential real-world impact of this research may shift the way that wellbeing needs are identified, and lead to greater numbers of those adolescents in need of support being directed to appropriate programs.  The short and long-term effects of identifying and improving the wellbeing of adolescent’s are numerous.  These effects include greater connections in school, communities, and improved trajectories into adulthood, and they underlie the importance of this work. Professor Anthony Saliba
Dr Keith Harris
Elica Najdenska
Let me talk about wellbeing: Development of a scale measuring wellbeing for people on the Autism Spectrum (AS) Wellbeing has become a standalone area of study, and we now have a good understanding of how to promote psychosocial wellbeing in the general population. However, less is known about psychosocial wellbeing for people on the autism spectrum.  Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that presents with a deficit in social communication and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities. Many individuals will not proceed to receive a diagnosis of ASD but will be aware that they have traits on the Autism Spectrum. One way to encompass these individuals is via the Broad Autism Phenotype which is characterised by milder forms of ASD deficits, thus not meeting sufficient clinical threshold for an ASD diagnosis. This project will include both participants with an ASD diagnosis as well as participants who have self-identified as having autism characteristics. The term autism spectrum is used in this research proposal to include both populations.

While some studies (Feldhaus, 2015; Ikeda et al., 2014) attempted to adjust and validate existing scales of wellbeing for use with people with autism, such as the quality-of-life scale, others (Ayres et al., 2018; Cottenceau et al., 2012) suggest that what is required is giving people with autism a voice in building their own construct of wellbeing (McConachie et al., 2018). Adjusting a concept coined on research with a neurotypical population is still based on the assumptions that the understanding of wellbeing of the neurotypical population is the ultimate, correct and baseline understanding of wellbeing.

The proposed research will create a new scale of wellbeing based on direct reports from the AS population. The research will employ a mixed methods design, interviewing people with AS to elicit their views, thus directly informing the development of appropriate psychosocial wellbeing survey items. Traditional scale development methodology will then be used to develop and validate a scale to measure psychosocial wellbeing in an AS population. The scale has promise to support under-serviced regional communities, which often rely on Telehealth rather than face-to-face meetings due to lack of local services. Using a scale rather than verbal responses in a clinical setting for a population with social and expression differences, has potential to enhance accurate and reliable assessment, treatment planning and treatment provision. Improved wellbeing will promote resilience and increase contributions to the wider community bringing economic, social, and environmental growth, thereby eliciting flourishing communities.
Professor Anthony Saliba

Dr Donnah Anderson
Christine Antonopoulos
Implicit Bias Towards People with Disability in the Workplace The unemployment rate for people with disability in Australia has remained unchanged and lower than people without a disability for decades. People with disability face systemic barriers to obtaining meaningful employment and experience the effects of negative biases, including discrimination. This project firstly provides a systematic review and meta-analysis on implicit bias towards people with disability. Secondly, a qualitative approach is used to explore the perceptions of Australian employers towards hiring people with disability. Finally, a quantitative approach is used to explore implicit stereotypes, perceptions of job suitability, and associated factors such as personal values and experience with disability. This research will assist in understanding the longstanding issue of disability unemployment from a psychological and behavioural perspective. Dr Nicole Sugden