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17 Apr 2023
Featured EMCRs
By SHAPE Futures

Meet Australia’s SHAPE EMCRs – Professor Philip Batterham

Phil Batterham is a Professor at the Centre for Mental Health Research, in the Research School of Population Health at the Australian National University. His research interests include implementing digital tools to prevent mental disorders, reducing risk of suicide, assessing mental health in the population, and reducing the stigma of mental illness. His excellence in his field is recognised in the award of three consecutive fellowships from the National Health and Medical Research Council since 2011, and the recipient of the Paul Bourke Award in 2015.

How did you come to be a mental health researcher?

I was interested in research since high school – I even did Year 10 work experience at the Centre where I am now based. I think I was attracted to the combination of rigour and creativity in research, as well as the focus on discovery and impact.

In my undergraduate psychology degree, I was always more interested in research than the clinical aspects, and I went on to do a Master of Public Health specialising in biostatistics. That led me to obtain work in a couple of research centres, and eventually to doing a PhD.

Tell us about your research

I am a mental health researcher. The broad focus of my research is to ensure that everyone has access to the supports they need to maintain and improve their mental health. Much of my research uses digital or methodological innovations, such as delivering prevention programs for depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation using online programs or apps, and applying advanced statistical methods to better identify people experiencing mental health problems in the community. I also conduct epidemiological and theory-driven research, trying to better understand the causes of suicidal behaviour and mental ill health.

Why does your work matter?

Mental illness affects nearly half of the population at some stage of their life, and most people know someone who struggles with their mental health.

By providing better resources and supports for people experiencing mental health difficulties, we can improve quality of life for the whole population, ensuring that people are best able to have a contributing and meaningful life.

What do you love most about being a researcher?

I love the stimulation and challenge of being a researcher – there are always more questions to ask and rarely a dull moment!

What are you working on now or intending to do next?

I’ve just wrapped up a couple of projects looking at how best to implement digital therapy into community and health settings. Next up I’m leading a longitudinal cohort study examining the health trajectories for people who experience suicidal ideation, and a trial to co-design and evaluate a new intervention to support help seeking among Australian workers.

What’s the one aspect you find most challenging about being a EMCR?

I graduated from my PhD 12 years ago, so I am well into the mid-career research trajectory. But even now, I still find that research can be a tough field to be in – lots of opportunity to expose yourself to rejection, which can be challenging at any career stage. It’s important to acknowledge that rejection is tough, but there is no wasted work – the experience of submitting grants or papers is integral to developing as a researcher, and there are always new opportunities to apply what you have learned along the way.

What’s one piece of advice or tip you have for EMCRs?

It may sound trite, but a research career is a marathon – it’s important to keep a steady pace and remain focused on your goals, but equally important to maintain balance so that you don’t burn out. And more specifically, use a template when you’re writing papers – the overall structure doesn’t change, so having the basics laid out can make it easier to get started.

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Australian SHAPE EMCR Network recognises Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the Traditional Owners and custodians of this land, and pays respect to Elders past and present. We acknowledge the continued cultural and spiritual connections to Country and community.