Mum points way to a dream career
IT took PhD student Fiona Allanson time to appreciate the old adage that mother knows best.
Her mother’s job in the field of workers compensation convinced her that her daughter was destined to study the complex subject of acquired brain injuries.
Ms Allanson has since completed her honours degree and has now won the Lyn Beazley Brightwater Scholarship, which is enabling her to complete her PhD at Brightwater Care Group’s acquired brain injury facility in East Victoria Park.
“As you do when you’re 16, I just ignored her,” she said.
“When I finished school I did communications, did one year and realised I hated it.”
Ms Allanson switched to psychology and one day had a breakthrough moment while listening to a lecture about attention problems after brain injury.
“I suddenly realised I was on the edge of my seat, thinking, ‘tell me more’, she said.
“I had to go home and tell mum she was right.”
Brain injury patients, such as the 45 people living at Brightwater, experienced problems with their memories and ability to plan, problemsolve and make decisions.
“I’m seeing if we can target those skills through intervention and training, taking a scientific, systematic approach to deciding what to focus on,” she said.
“Every person is different and every injury is different, so designing interventions is difficult.”
Ms Allanson’s work begins with mathematical analysis of previous research to isolate what skills – for example, verbal, written or visual memory, or “executive” cognitive functions such as “thinking about thinking” – are most important to everyday functioning.
Ms Allanson says she al- ready feels at home at Brightwater, having worked there in a disability support role while studying for her degree.
She has helped residents relearn life skills, such as dressing, cooking, planning, keeping track of appointments and navigating public transport, the kind of skills she hopes to further build by developing more effective treatments.
“I’ve found working here to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” she said.
“There are no ‘eureka’ moments, but over a long period of time, you realise you’ve made a difference.”
Fiona Allanson says working with people with acquired brain injuries has been very rewarding.