Isabella graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy – Arts from the University of Melbourne in Media and Communications in 2016.

Isabella’s role is to coordinate the activities of the Students Helping Students Hub at Deakin University. She explains that the Hub is an umbrella initiative that brings together more than 20 peer-mentor programs. As Hub coordinator, Isabella provides best practice advice for new and existing programs, facilitates a professional development program for coordinators and offers professional development for peer mentors. Isabella also coordinates a peer-mentor program for commencing undergraduate cloud campus (online) students and supervises a team that is responsible for the day-to-day running of the program.

“My current role really suits me because I have a passion for learning and improving the student experience. Supporting students has always been my big thing and the contact with students is where my passion lies. The peer mentors in these programs are truly inspiring – they all have bright minds and genuinely want to help other students succeed.”

Dr Isabella Ofner
Dr Isabella Ofner

Isabella’s initial task in the role was to develop a number of frameworks to guide the training, rewards and leadership development of student mentors across the different programs at Deakin. She notes that in tasks like these, she draws directly on the high level conceptual and analytical skills developed during her PhD candidature.

“There was little available as a starting point for these tasks. It was a matter of “off you go!” I had to review a broad range of literature and create the frameworks by moving back and forth from the abstract to the concrete. I had to acquire knowledge very rapidly; while not an expert in fields such a social learning theory, I had the capacity to absorb that knowledge quickly, and to go wide and deep – always asking “what does this mean?”. The PhD taught me to question, not to take things at face value.”

Isabella was initially keen to pursue a career in academia but having experienced the challenges (and opportunities) of studying as an international student in Australia, she was drawn to supporting international students in higher education. In shaping an alternative career future, she was proactive in researching her options and building a network.

“I had the great fortune to be offered lecturing work during my PhD candidature and I learnt so much from working with the diverse cohort of international students. I explored the international education field by volunteering on committees, joining professional associations and most of all, by doing career research interviews – talking to people in the sector about their various roles and how they got to where they were.” Following her PhD, Isabella worked initially in a peer learning and engagement role specifically with international students.

Isabella doesn’t see a sharp dividing line between her career and academic life. “I still publish in my original research field of Tibetan Studies, but also in my new field of peer learning and student success. I attend conferences in both fields and am indeed co-organising a conference on Himalayan Studies for February 2019.”