1 August 2022

The University of Canberra's annual Big Research Pitch has a winner

| Aiden Rothnie
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Assistant Professor Claire Pearce

Assistant Professor Claire Pearce has won $7000 in funding from the University of Canberra to pursue research into why there is a shortage of occupational therapists in mental health. Photo: Supplied.

The University of Canberra (UC) has announced the winner and finalists of this year’s Big Research Pitch.

Five early career researchers from UC competed for a share of $14,000 in funding for their particular research topics.

Claire Pearce, an occupational therapist and Assistant Professor at UC, was awarded first place by the panel of judges and has been given $7000 for her research into attracting and retaining occupational therapists to work in mental health.

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Assistant Professor Pearce said, from her experience as an occupational therapist, mental health was often an overlooked and underfilled position among occupational therapists.

“What I noticed was that it was becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain occupational therapists within the mental health workforce, despite the fact that the incidence and prevalence of mental health generally in our community is rising,” she said.

“No-one has actually sort of sat down and thought, ‘why is it that occupational therapists aren’t working in mental health, even though there’s a proven role and a significant demand?’ So that’s when I began to develop a research plan.”

Assistant Professor Pearce plans to discuss the issue with people who are currently in the workforce and have lived experience with occupational therapy and mental health.

The $7000 will be put to use broadening the perspectives that Assistant Professor Pearce can access and include in her research.

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“The example that I’m thinking of now is to work with consumer academics, people who have an academic skillset and experience with mental health, as well as other occupational therapists so we can really formulate research that is meaningful and not doing more of the same,” she said.

“A great opportunity that has come from winning this funding is the ability to reach more people. This morning I’ve already had people reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, I’d be interested in coming on board’ or ‘Hey, here’s another funding opportunity’.”

Often it’s difficult for early career researchers to gain funding, in what Assistant Professor Pearce described as a “vicious cycle”.

“The reality is that you need to have credibility and face to get the big funding, which is understandable. You have to have evidence of your work, but how are you supposed to get that work done with no funds?” she said.

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