Swinburne University of Technology: Getting on the same wavelength with community mental health

As a psychologist, or indeed any kind of researcher or professional, it’s crucial to make complex information broadly accessible. Why? So that you get your message out there – loud and clear. So that you can make positive change. And what better way to do that than by delivering your message straight into the homes, cars and ear canals of your audience?

That’s precisely what Swinburne’s Department of Psychological Sciences did by joining forces with one of Australia’s largest community radio stations, Radio Eastern FM.

When Chair of Psychological Sciences, Professor Monica Thielking, reached out to Radio Eastern FM with the idea to collaborate on a psychology student and staff research focused radio program, the enthusiastic response from the station spearheaded a series of meetings. Those meetings led to a formal partnership between Swinburne and Radio Eastern FM to deliver fortnightly radio interviews, now known as the Brainwaves program.

Bill Page, host of Radio Eastern FM and Swinburne’s ‘Brainwaves’ program in the studio.
Bill Page at the mixer at Radio Eastern FM. His segment ‘Private Collection’ features ‘Brainwaves’, a show created with Swinburne’s Department of Psychological Sciences. The show helps students sharpen their communication skills by translating complex research into accessible, easy to understand, and empowering information about mental health.

Bill says he loves working in radio because first and foremost, he loves music. But he also enjoys the sense of intimacy it creates with its listeners, who in the case of Bill’s segment, are wildly diverse in their lifestyles and interests.

“There’s a whole gamut of people who listen to the show,” says Bill.

“A lot of people ring up for the company. Sometimes they talk about their life. You can tell there’s some lonely people out there. We can become a bit of a connector.”

At first, Bill was a little unsure about featuring ‘straight and narrow’ academic types on his program. He was worried that any jargon creeping in would make the audience switch off.

But that opinion quickly changed.

“The Swinburne psychology researchers and PhD students are incredibly qualified. They are interesting, down to earth and committed to helping our community,” says Bill.

“The topics are fascinating and provide real value to our listeners.”

Making waves in the community
Bill has received heartfelt feedback on how Brainwaves is improving the lives of people in his local community. Like the recent widow who hadn’t been getting any sleep. In the dark hours of night, time became elastic. Her restlessness was intolerable. But listening to Brainwaves, something changed.
After the episode featuring Professor Greg Murray talking about sleep and mental health, this widow rang Bill to say thanks. Her voice rang with hope that with this newly acquired knowledge, at last, she might be able to be enveloped in a good night’s sleep once more.

It wasn’t just the dulcet tones of a voice floating through a speaker that produced the soporific effect – it was the empowering knowledge she now held onto.

Radio creates the vision for crystal-clear communication
Brainwaves was making a positive impact on the community. So, it was only fitting that off the back of Swinburne researchers’ success on the show, our PhD students had the same opportunity.

According to Professor Monica Thielking, in a way, the Swinburne staff were the ‘test-dummies’ and used what they had learnt to ensure a smooth learning experience for their PhD students to take over the show’s reins in 2022.

“Together with Radio Eastern FM, we created training for our students on how to present on radio. They conducted Q&A sessions, recorded these sessions and then listened back to them to see where they were strong and where they could improve.”

The students, of course, were also avid listeners to their supervisors’ segments, which covered everyone (and everything). From Professor Monica Thielking presenting on psychological science as a discipline, Professor Greg Murray on the power of sleep, Jordy Kaufman on children’s use of technology – and topics from gender euphoria to the benefits of letting go. The act of listening was, in itself, an act of acquiring knowledge.

Research Director for the Department of Psychological Sciences, Dr Julian Oldmeadow, is leading the programming and training of staff and student presenters. He says the ability to be not just a researcher, but a translator is critical.

“Being able to communicate to the general public about psychological research and evidence-based practice is incredibly important as a professional,” says Dr Oldmeadow.

One of the students who will soon take to the airwaves is Paul Lund, who was recently awarded the Swinburne Student Achievement Award.

Paul will present his research on how working arrangements, whether that be working from home or in the office, affected wellbeing and personal motivation. The results are surprising (and sorry, there aren’t any plot spoilers on offer here).

Paul says the opportunity to present his research on Brainwaves is invaluable.

“Brainwaves is a wonderful platform to highlight actual industry findings on the effects of hybrid working on wellbeing in the context of a pandemic lockdown and the opportunities for future research.”

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