Over the last week or so I have been thinking about outreach – why should we do it, and why is it important?
There are the usual fiscal arguments about outreach. About bums-on-seats and income. But for me, the financial flow-on is just a happy coincidence of the real reason we do this.
For example, I have been talking to people like Mary Watson from Wiyillian ta, Dominic Dates from Wollotuka, and my old colleagues from the Tjabal centre, and I am constantly struck by how important it is for us to engage in our indigenous community. We currently have 21 students who identify as indigenous in the BPsyc(Hons), and 13 in the BPsycSc, that’s a tiny portion of our student cohort. It is estimated that we need 800 indigenous therapists across Australia to cope with current demand, yet we have less than 100. Connecting with indigenous colleagues, institutions, students and communities is vital in order to get that little snowball of information and awareness rolling so that indigenous students all over Australia will consider Psychology as a profession, go on to study psychology and then go on to work in community. Our staff and students; Stefi, Jesse, Olivia and April – for example - are doing a fantastic job in establishing and nurturing these connections, and we support them all the way.
Outreach is also about our obligation as scientists and educated people, and I was reminded of this a few days ago by Bryan. We have all studied for many years. We are all experts in our fields, we are all superb scholars. Our education and expertise affords us a social responsibility that goes beyond our teaching and research commitments. Pseudopsychology is alive and well in the community and being adopted by schools, hospitals, community groups, the media and individuals. As learned people, we roll our eyes and scoff. But without us out there connecting with people and sharing our knowledge, we leave a knowledge gap that gets filled with pseudopsychology, and in the end – we have only ourselves to blame. Examples of what we can and should be doing – Frini was out talking to victims of stroke and their families this week about some of the science behind stroke. Also this week, Emina went out to a local primary school to talk about social influence because the kids are submitting a Premier’s prize application for a project to reduce plastic waste. Bill has been out to talk to indigenous kids at the Ourimbah Insight day, Michelle goes out in her own time and talks to community groups about dementia. And I am sure that there is a lot more that we all do that we just consider to be ‘part of our job’.
So why is engagement so important? Yes, it is about forming relationships that will provide research opportunities, placements, attract students, and contribute to communities that need psychologists. However, it is also a mechanism that allows us to share our knowledge, to give back to our communities. Collectively, we have a great deal of specialised knowledge, and with that knowledge comes responsibility. I would argue that it is our responsibility and obligation to give back to our community, and personally, I feel very privileged to be in a position to do so.
Have a great week everyone