Our 2020 Graduates

View of the Forgan Smith building from above

Graduation looks a little different this semester for the Class of 2020 at The University of Queensland. COVID-19 has meant the postponement of graduation ceremonies on campus. Instead, there'll be an online celebration. Here we learn about just a few of the students who have completed their studies.

Building a family and a better future in health communication

Juggling two small children and study in a strange country was the biggest challenge for aspiring doctor, Thi Thao Phuong Tran as she tackled her PhD in linguistics and health sciences.

The soon-to-be University of Queensland graduate said studying for a doctorate created problems for every candidate, but her family posed a particular challenge.

“My problem was trying to find the balance between study and family as I had one small boy and a new-born to take care of,” Ms Tran said.

“When we came to Brisbane, my first son was only 17 months old, childcare was too expensive and I did not have any strong connections or acquaintances to give me good advice.”

After passing the first PhD candidate milestone, Ms Tran sent her son back to Vietnam with his father, which gave her time to learn about Australia’s childcare, health and education system.

After a year, the family was reunited and settled happily in Brisbane.

She said the University offered her all the help she needed.

“At UQ, I had the opportunity to make full use of the first-rate education at the university with intensive courses and ample opportunities to develop my research, immerse myself in the rich and reliable resources and facilities here, meet and learn from the world leading professors and share my experience both professionally and culturally with like-minded friends,” she said.

With graduation looming, Ms Tran has returned to Vietnam, using her new skills in her work as a lecturer at Hue University of Foreign Languages.

With a new challenge in mind, she has set her sights on improving health care communication in Vietnam’s hospital out-patient medical consultations.

“I hope to continue doing research in the health communication field and that in future, I can guide and inspire the Vietnamese researchers to develop a research group and improve the health care services in Vietnam in general,” she said.

“I hope my research outcomes will contribute to improving the communication between Vietnamese doctors, their patients and families.”

Ms Tran said she’d encourage international students to take the leap and study at UQ.

“My time at UQ was the most wonderful in my life – I learnt a lot, became more open-minded, tolerated, sociable and even more confident.

“Though PhD life in a new country like Australia is hard at the beginning, it is wonderful for you to explore your strength, your ability and your resilience."

Phuong Tran holding a book while sitting in front of a shelf of books at the library

Phuong Tran in the library at UQ

Phuong Tran in the library at UQ

Phuong Tran standing next to her husband in front of UQ's jacaranda. She is holding her baby, and her husband is holding her other young son

Phuong Tran, her husband and their two sons at UQ

Phuong Tran, her husband and their two sons at UQ

Phuong Tran looking up at the flowering jacaranda trees at UQ.

Taking in the jacaranda at the St Lucia campus

Taking in the jacaranda at the St Lucia campus

Rosario standing in front of the sandstone in UQ's green Great Court

Rosario on campus at St Lucia

Rosario on campus at St Lucia

A group of students sitting at a table participating in a competition

Participating in a competition with fellow students at UQ

Participating in a competition with fellow students at UQ

Rosario wearing a hardhat and goggles while on an internship

An internship during her studies at UQ

An internship during her studies at UQ

Rosario in a UQ greenhouse with a series of plants as she works on her thesis

Rosario Perez working on her thesis in the greenhouses.

Rosario Perez working on her thesis in the greenhouses.

Collaboration is key for chemical engineering master

Learning to work with people of different views and backgrounds is what University of Queensland graduate Rosario Perez values most from her studies in Brisbane.

After studying a bachelor’s degree in food engineering at home in Argentina, the newly minted Master of Engineering (Chemical) was looking for a broader challenge.

She was keen to attend one of the Group of Eight universities, and chose UQ because the masters program allowed her to choose her own path.

“I’m super happy with my choice to study here – it was amazing,” she said.

“What I was looking for was to be able to work for any company and any process, because what I like and what I am passionate about is how to fix problems in the processing industries.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of industry it is, if it is mining, plastics, food or whatever.

“The bachelor gave me the basics, but then the master’s degree gave me another way of thinking, and to know a lot about how people work in different places.

“The friends that I have from here are because I was part of a team with them for assignments.

“Engineering is tough and we had to spend a lot of time together, and that’s a good thing.”

Ms Perez also praised the sense of community on the St Lucia campus.

“I did everything – events, societies, market days, the cinema, UQ sports,” she said.

“Apart from the courses, there is a whole life here and there are things for everyone.

Rosario and a friend sitting on the edge of the UQ Lake

Enjoying a lovely day at the UQ Lakes

Enjoying a lovely day at the UQ Lakes

“I tried to engage in every activity I could.

“I did three student-staff partnership programs, I did the summer research, so I think I got my best from the University.”

Not even the disruptions to campus life caused by COVID-19 could prevent her graduation.

“The semester was super different, but I spent every single day in the library at UQ with some friends, and we got a lot of help from the lecturers.”

After a successful internship, Ms Perez and her partner are moving to the Central Queensland town of Gladstone, where she’s secured a position with Rio Tinto.

They’re also seeking permanent residency in Australia.

“We are very happy and will fulfil our dream of wanting to live near the beach,” she said.

“I’m not afraid of moving to another city or even to another country, because I have had that experience already.

“I don’t know what my life will be like in two or five years, because it’s changed a lot in the past two years.

“Back in Argentina I was working for manufacturing companies and I was in charge of people, so I would like to go back to that because I love being part of a team.”

As well as solving problems in different ways with skills learned at UQ.

Seizing an opportunity to make a difference with the UN

A job with the United Nations in her home country of Mongolia is the likely result of years of hard work for University of Queensland Masters graduate Soyolmaa Dolgor. The Masters in Communication for Social Change graduate plans to apply her newly learned skills in critical thinking in her new position.

“I am hopefully going to be a part of a national coordination team that will drive the UN’s development work to help create innovative development solutions in Mongolia, and my role will be in partnership building and public advocacy and communication,” Ms Dolgor said.

“This is an incredible opportunity for me to mature as a development communication practitioner and be able to apply my fresh academic insights in real practice in international development facilitated by the UN.”

Ms Dolgor chose UQ’s post graduate program because it allowed her to explore both international development and communications, but said it was a challenge to achieve high marks while raising her two children, now aged seven and nine.  

“I wouldn’t say it was an easy thing to raise two young children away from my family and home while undertaking a demanding academic program,” she said.

“The two years they spent in Australia will be the most eye-opening and impacting time for them.

“It was fascinating to see how they gracefully integrated into the new culture, new school and new environment in Australia.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also threw a spanner in the works.

“I had to help my children with home-schooling while trying to work on my master’s thesis, which itself was a greatly demanding task even in a normal situation,” Ms Dolgor said.

“Nothing is more important than my children’s well-being and education, so my priority completely shifted during the lock-down time due to COVID.”

While at UQ, Ms Dolgor threw herself into campus life, volunteering for various initiatives in addition to her hectic study program, including the HASS Student Leadership Program.

“Partnering with some student leaders, I had a wonderful experience in co-designing and implementing a mental health support program focussed on positive stress management for fellow students.

“I also had the opportunity to volunteer in the peer-writing mentorship program and supported some students in refining their essays – great learning experiences for me that I will bring to my future career.”

She advises future students to make the most of all the opportunities on offer beyond the classroom, saying it would pay off in their future career.

“There are great opportunities to develop yourself through formal academic encounters, as well as extra-curriculum activities such as volunteer programs in clubs, union and faculties.

“I had the most satisfying and enriching experience at UQ.”

Soyolmaa standing amid the greenery in the Great Court

Soyolmaa in the Great Court at UQ

Soyolmaa in the Great Court at UQ

Soyolmaa standing in front of a tent where she is working as a mentor at UQ

Mentoring on campus at UQ

Mentoring on campus at UQ

Soyolmaa at the Humanities and Social Sciences faculty at UQ

Portrait of Geethu George wearing a red shirt and black jacket

EAIT graduate Geethu George

EAIT graduate Geethu George

Geethu George speaking at a podium at a Friends of UQ Chemical Engineering event

Geethu George speaking at the Friends of UQ Chemical Engineering 'ThankYou' event in 2018.

Geethu George speaking at the Friends of UQ Chemical Engineering 'ThankYou' event in 2018.

Geethu dwarfed by the huge machine she's standing on during her work with FMG at an iron ore processing facility

Geethu George in the course of her work with FMG at an iron ore processing facility at Christmas Creek in 2017.

Geethu George in the course of her work with FMG at an iron ore processing facility at Christmas Creek in 2017.

Engineering for a more sustainable future

Sustainability is the focus for University of Queensland Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) and Master of Engineering graduand Geethu George.

The high achieving student was inspired by her parents, both engineers themselves, to choose a path where she could help thousands of people on a daily basis.

“I believe chemical and environmental engineers are responsible for developing sustainable solutions to tackle critical issues like the recovery and management of water, waste, energy and resources,” Ms George said.

“I find this very interesting and I would love to know that my work can have a positive impact on the world.”

Ms George made the most of her time at UQ, working hard to achieve awards such as the RJ ‘Gus’ Wiles Scholarship for Overseas Study.

“I think that it does take a lot of work, but I believe anyone can do it,” she said.

“I’ve always aimed high when it came to my grades, which helps when I am applying for scholarships and exchange.

“I knew that I wanted to go to Imperial College London in my first year, which meant I had a couple of years to plan and prepare for the exchange.”

She said she would recommend an exchange to everyone. 

“It was the highlight of my university life,” she said.

“I think there are so many skills to gain from completing an exchange including improving your capability to adapt and openness to new situations and working styles, communication and teamwork abilities.”

She said UQ offered its students a lot of invaluable opportunities.

Geethu wearing high vis and a hard hat on site in front of an iron ore platform

Geethu George in the course of her work with FMG at an iron ore processing facility at Christmas Creek in 2017.

Geethu George in the course of her work with FMG at an iron ore processing facility at Christmas Creek in 2017.

“Projects that have a real industrial basis, frequent interactions with industry experts through my courses, field trips and helpful lecturers and tutors are the best things about studying at UQ.”

Ms George also became a Global Experience Student Leader, and took part in a Student-Staff Partnership.

In her holidays, she took FIFO jobs at remote mining sites for Fortescue Metals Group and Bechtel, as well as working with Transurban, PwC Australia and Woodside.

“I wanted to be self-funded and not rely on my parents, so I had to work extra hard – I took on multiple jobs while studying full time which was really challenging, but it enabled me to be self-sufficient and substantially improved my time management skills.”

With graduation looming, Ms George plans to start work in 2021 to gain more technical expertise, as well as continuing to volunteer.

Further study might also be in her future.

“I have enjoyed doing my master’s degree and could see myself going down the research route – possibly a PhD in the future,” she said.

“Ultimately, I would like to have a positive impact on this world.

“I think chemical and environmental engineering is the perfect combination to ensure that we are moving towards a more sustainable future.”

Above and beyond – Employability Award for graduates

Master of Biotechnology Research Extensive Haarika Chittoory is one of 53 UQ graduates to receive an Employability Award this semester.

The award recognises a student's enhanced employability development through their contributions to volunteering, work experience and extra-curricular activities within UQ and the wider community.

The program is coordinated by the Student Employability Centre and is available to all undergraduate and postgraduate coursework students.

Ms Chittoory said the highlight of her experience was gaining the ability to network with others.

“This program helped me develop so many interpersonal skills and gain the self-confidence to pursue my dreams,” she said.

“I am now in the practice of reflective thinking and learning and would definitely urge students to stay competitive and complete all the activities because it is absolutely worth it”.

All recipients have the Employability Award listed as a special achievement on their academic transcript.

Two students participating in the Employability options at UQ, standing holding signs in front a sign for the program

The Student Employability program is for those who wish to develop their employability through engaging in a diverse range of extra-curricular experiences. 

The Student Employability program is for those who wish to develop their employability through engaging in a diverse range of extra-curricular experiences. 

Media: UQ Communications, communications@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3365 3439.