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Organ donation research earns Emily a University Medal


Brigid Veale
2 June 2016
An Honours research thesis highlighting the barriers to organ donation has earnt Emily Sharpe a Southern Cross University Medal and an award from the Australian Psychological Society for academic excellence.

Emily, Zoe Moore and Prachi Batra, who all completed the Bachelor of Psychological Science with Honours, will each receive the University Medal at the Coffs Harbour graduation ceremony on Saturday (June 4).

The trio will be among 146 students receiving their awards from the University Chancellor Mr Nick Burton Taylor AM.

Emily, who moved to Coffs Harbour from Sydney to complete her Honours year, said she was very excited to receive the Medal and the Australian Psychological Society award.

“It was a really good year. It was very hard to move away from everything in Sydney but I made a lot of friends and the staff were so supportive. My supervisor Dr Gail Moloney was amazing. The staff really wanted us all to succeed and they really pushed us,” Emily said.

Her thesis titled ‘The Effect of Attitudes and Registration Opportunity on Organ Donor Registrations’ found that while there was high societal support for organ donation, this had not translated into registrations on the Australian Organ Donor Register.

“I basically found that a lot of people have conflicting attitudes about organ donation and registration. There are a lot of misconceptions that make it hard for people to commit to signing the register,” she said.

Through her study Emily found that when people were offered an immediate opportunity to register, as opposed to a delayed registration, they were much more willing to commit.

“Half of the participants were offered an immediate registration opportunity (immediate condition), and half were offered a delayed registration opportunity (delayed condition), the latter mirroring current Australian registration practices. Significantly more individuals registered in the immediate condition (61.7%) compared to the delayed condition (11.6%),” she said.

A paper outlining the research has been submitted for peer-review and Emily is hoping the results of her study will lead to greater participation in the Australian Organ Donor Register. The research has also attracted interest from NSW Organ and Tissue Donation Service.

Four candidates for the Doctor of Philosophy degree will also be admitted at the graduation ceremony.

Tara Kocek, will be awarded her PhD for her thesis titled ‘The Influence of Executive Function on Externalising and Internalising Behaviours in Middle Childhood’.

Tara, who is now completing a Master of Professional Psychology, said she aimed to continue working with children, both in research and clinical fields.

“Without the involvement of volunteers from the community, which included both children (aged eight to 13) and their parents/guardians, I would not have been able to complete this important research,” Tara said.

Justin Gaetano, who will receive his award in absentia, completed a PhD thesis titled ‘The stimulus invariance of human sex cue processing: A cross cultural study using non face stimuli’.

Justin, who was also a recipient of a University Medal in 2011, went on to complete his postgraduate studies – inspired initially by his migrant father, who at the age of 51 started a nursing degree and is now working as a mental health nurse.

“I didn’t really have any interest in university until he started studying. I was working in a cheese factory in Bega. I thought if he can start studying at the age of 51 and he doesn’t have an academic background then so can I. That was an inspiration in itself,” Justin said.

“At times, it was incredibly tough. I would like to pause here and honour my supervisors and my family for supporting me throughout my PhD journey. To anyone who is reading this and thinking about pursuing a higher degree, I will share with you the advice of my father, a mental health nurse: the most effective way to look after others is to look after yourself first.

“Now I tell my own students every semester: the learning curve is rife with jagged peaks and depressions, so it is paramount that you care for yourself along the way to the summit.”

Also being awarded a PhD will be Bradley Jack, for his thesis titled ‘Conscious and not conscious processing of visual mismatch negativity’.

Desiree Kozlowski, a unit assessor and research associate with the School of Health and Human Sciences, will receive her award in absentia for her thesis on the subjective nature of social judgements titled: ‘The interplay between self-perceived gender and the perception of the gender of others: an examination of exogenous and endogenous factors contributing to judgements of sex and gender’.

Desiree is currently working with multi-disciplinary research teams from SCU and the University of Canberra on projects around mental health and emotion. She is also about to start a series of workshops, called PleasureLab, promoting pleasure and its relationship to human resilience, wellbeing and flourishing.

Dr Leigh Summers, the director of the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery and Museum, will deliver the occasional address.

The Coffs Harbour ceremony starts at 10am.

Photo: Emily Sharpe and Prachi Batra receiving awards at the Southern Cross University Honours Psychology Research Conference in 2015. The pair will both receive University Medals on Saturday.