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Rowena Barrett

Head of School (Management)
Faculty of Busines and Law

My research journey

Becoming a researcher was never an actual decision for me, but rather something I fell into as I get such a buzz from learning and realised how powerful information can be in helping others to change what they do. And luckily so, as it was through being a researcher that I met my husband!

I started out as a secondary school teacher of English and Maths, and in this role I was also a union representative. As part of the responsibility, I attended a Trade Union Training ‘negotiation skills’ short course, which is where I realised that my real calling in life was to study what ‘work’ means to people.

As such, I applied to and was accepted into the Post Graduate Diploma of Industrial Relations at Melbourne University, where I developed a love of a particular fountain pen that I used to annotate every bit of reading I could afford to photocopy; I collected newspaper articles and linked them to what we were learning in class; my hand was up when a question was asked; and I talked about my assignments with family members and friends using their experiences to embellish (not always to the best effect) what we were learning about.

I did not finish the course, as I transferred halfway through into a Master of Commerce (Industrial Relations) which I passed with honours. At this stage I had given up teaching and was offered a three year contract at Melbourne University as a 'senior tutor'.

While doing a PhD was not a requirement of my job, it was something I leapt into (head first unfortunately). I chose the wrong topic and spent a lot of time in tears when I realised the 'gap in the literature' was a gaping hole and not one I could do anything about mending. But I was surrounded by fantastic researchers, leading IR professionals and management academics, and they helped me understand that learning is a journey, giving me nudges so I found my own research path. I have stuck to that path and want to make sure I help others find their path and way along it.

My research focuses on small firms and largely on work, employment and management issues in these firms. I have also received funding from a range of sources to further this, including from the Victorian government, Australian Research Council and CPA Australia.

The challenge I have found with funded work is satisfying the needs of the funding body against the needs to achieve outcomes valued by your employing university. By and large I have done this with reports, conference papers, presentations to industry, journal articles, a book and other media writing resulting from these studies.

After working in the UK for three years, I am getting back into understanding the changes that have gone on the in the industrial relations system and the effect on small firms. And there has been a lot of change with a harmonised IR system introduced in Jan 2010, but not in Western Australia.

How do small firms interact with the regulatory framework? What effect does this have on the terms and conditions of employment within small firms? How do the changes impact on matters such as gender pay equity, skill development or the human resource management practices used? These are some questions I am currently pursuing as they are questions whose answers are of interest to organisations here in WA. But like everything the challenge is to balance research against other demands.

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