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A PhD with a difference: Dr Cheryl Yam's journey from research to making real world impact

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Upon completing her Masters degree in Industrial and Organisational (IO) Pyschology, Cheryl found herself at crossroads: plunge deeper into the world of academia with a PhD, or jump into the workplace to tackle real-world problems head-on.

Cheryl found the best of both worlds at the Future of Work Institute. With its unique blend of academia and industry expertise, it allowed her to journey down both paths at the same time.

We spoke to Dr Cheryl Yam, our PhD alumni of 2021 who is now a Research Fellow at the Centre for Transformative Work Design, based at Curtin University’s Future of Work Institute (FOWI). She reflected on what inspired her to pursue a PhD, her experiences during her PhD at FOWI, and how her degree has shaped her career.

Cheryl’s curiosity into IO Psychology was first sparked during her Masters program.

"I was particularly interested that there are so many branches under IO Psychology – and all of them work in tandem to improve so many aspects of work – at the individual, team and organisational level," she shares.

FOWI became Cheryl's chosen destination for her PhD, due to its unique position as a world class research institution, paired with its really strong partnership with industry.

"My experience being involved in FOWI’s partnership with industry helped me to contextualise some abstract concepts in a more concrete manner – for example seeing how work design plays out in a real-world context really supported my learning."

One particularly memorable project for Cheryl was when she investigated how surgical teams can improve their performance in extreme surgical conditions.

"Picture a burns unit where surgical teams work in scorching 38°C temperatures, all for the safety of their patients," she explains.

"We know that working in these conditions have negative impacts on a whole array of performance and well-being related outcomes, and we were there to investigate how we might use work design to support surgical teams when their external environments deplete their psychological resources."

Cheryl is now leading a WA Government-funded project investigating mental awareness, respect and the safety of workers within the Western Australian mining industry: the Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety (MARS) Landmark Study.

"I think it is a really unique opportunity, to be able to progress research in a field that you care about, and at the same time having your research support a real-world organisation."

For anyone considering a PhD, Cheryl has some advice: "Speak to lots of people about their experiences, keep reading up on the research and maintain a healthy curiousity about why things work they way they do."

"Build up a really strong network and support system with your supervisors and colleagues," she adds.

Interested in embarking on your own PhD journey? Discover the scholarships on offer, read more inspiring stories and learn how you can kickstart your journey by visiting our 'Study with us' page.

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