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Promoting a positive future in Australia's workforce | Grace Alumni

News - Aug 16, 2021

2015 Alumni and Academic Captain, Sophie Coulon, knew exactly what she wanted to achieve when she graduated from Grace.

For Sophie, her goals were grounded in a desire of helping others and seeing them thrive. This tall order was not one the new graduate took lightly, and now six years on, Sophie’s work is laying the foundation for the future of Australia’s workforce. 

In high school, I was originally interested in studying medicine at University. However, I realised that I was more interested in helping people thrive and be successful rather than just waiting until they were sick. That was when I started to think about other career options like psychology.

Yet her journey to this revelation was far from a smooth ride. At the time, this multi-talented high-achiever was feeling the pull towards many different potential career paths in pursuit of this goal.

In high school, I found it difficult to decide what electives to choose and which subjects I liked the best. There were elements of every subject that I enjoyed, making it difficult to rule out future career/study choices. By the end of Year 12, I decided I wanted a combination of everything!

After some valuable self-reflection, Sophie landed on the field of psychology – or more specifically, on the study of people at work.

Organisational psychology (or the science of people at work) offered that – Science for creating experiments, Maths for analysing the data, English for report writing, and Business for applying the research findings to workplaces.

When it comes to career pathways, Sophie has certainly steered herself onto the right track. Her chosen field not only provides a brilliant blend of her gifts and talents, but also fulfills her all-important aspiration of helping others.

How? Well now in the process of completing her PhD, Sophie is asking some big questions about the future of the Australian workforce. Her team is exploring how employers can create engaging environments for their employees and promote wellbeing among older employees.

I am currently doing my PhD with Associate Professor Courtney von Hippel (University of Queensland) on an Australian Research Council Discovery grant examining wellbeing and engagement at work. As Australia’s workforce is aging, it is really important that older employees continue to feel welcomed and engaged at work, so they are less likely to retire.

In the study, Sophie and her peers examine the interactions between employees under 30 and over 50 years old, to see how these relationships impact their work. By examining these dynamics, researchers such as Sophie can identify the best ways to aid and support Australia’s aging workforce.

Australia is predicted to have a labour shortage, which means that we need people to stay in the workforce and stay productive in the workforce for longer. Therefore, my research is focused on how to better engage and retain older employees. 

If you are in an organisation that is interested in keeping older employees engaged at work, I’d be more than happy to talk with you about partnering with the University of Queensland and future research opportunities! 

With schools being a hub for employees of all ages, it is unsurprising that Sophie has found herself back at Grace as part of her research. Though a lot may have changed since her student days, Sophie hasn’t forgotten some of her favourite memories at Grace, nor quit the habits she developed here that have helped her go so far.

[As a student] each week, I would hand-write my to-do list for each day in my school diary planner. It would be so satisfying to tick off the tasks as I completed them. I still use to-do lists every day. Although I type them in OneNote instead of handwriting them.

[At Grace] one of my favourite memories was going to Googa. I enjoyed bonding with the people in my house (Go Phoenix!) and challenging myself in a way that I don’t often get to in day-to-day life.

Sophie has certainly continued to challenge herself since graduation and now has firm aspirations for her future. When looking back on that student who struggled to select electives, Sophie imparts that self-reflection and investigation are the best tools available to students to tackle that daunting challenge of career planning.

If you were like me and struggling to decide what career/study choice to make, I would encourage you to write a list of careers that might interest and speak to someone who does it.

For example, studying engineering looks very different to what it is like working as an engineer day-to-day. To make sure you are going to enjoy working as an engineer, it’s important that you speak with an engineer and ask them what their average day looks like.

Sophie’s average day will likely continue to be ‘a busy one’, as Grace’s once Academic Captain continues to work towards an impressive new title – Doctor Sophie Coulon.

Though her study still has a long way to go, the effects of Sophie’s research are bound to have big impacts not just for the current workforce, but for all the future Grace Graduates who will one day join it. 

To learn more about this University of Queensland research study or how your workplace can get involved, contact Sophie via s.coulon@uq.net.au.

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