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The purpose of this news page is to communicate to our wide network of students, alumni, staff, clinical and research partners the interesting news, accomplishments, and change that has occurred in the Discipline. We hope that this news page will serve as a vehicle that keeps us all connected. We encourage you to forward it to anybody who may be interested and to stay engaged with the discipline.

Why you're probably not 'addicted' to your smartphone

Smartphone addiction


Obsessively checking your smartphone apps might look like addiction, but is it? Dr Andrew Campbell, a University of Sydney expert in cyberpsychology, explains and offers evidence-based tips to reduce smartphone use.

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The term “addiction” is often bandied about when we think someone spends too much time on something we deem detrimental to their health and well-being. From checking our phones repetitively, to playing with specific apps and texting, the modern culprit is excessive smartphone use.

Worldwide, more than two billion people own smartphones and the average user checks their phone 85 times a day.

Obsessively checking our smartphone apps may look like addiction but, for most people, it is reinforced behaviour that could be broken without severe or long-lasting withdrawal effects.

Having said this, a small proportion of people may be more prone to behavioural addictions to smartphone functions such as online gambling, pornography, games and social media. Clinically speaking, you can’t become addicted to a device, but you can develop behavioural addictions to smartphone functions.

Read the full article here.

O-Week welcome to our first year Bachelor of Science (Health) students

O Week Welcome


The Discipline of Behavioural and Social Sciences in Health was very excited to welcome during O-week our first cohort of first year students in the Bachelor of Science (Health) in conjuction with the Faculty of Science. Students were welcomed to the University by talking about what the University offers in terms of services, resources and programs to meet their academic, social and personal needs.

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Whilst starting University is an exciting time for our students, it can also be daunting and overwhelming. Our BSc(Health) students got the opportunity to meet with their First Year Coordinators (Dr Krestina Amon and Dr Jennifer Fletcher) and senior students from the Belong@FHS Mentoring Program. Our FHS mentors answered questions about enrolment, lectures and tutorials, text books, and extra-curricular activities, to ease first year anxieties.

Students got to talk about and reflected on the question “This Semester I am excited about…” and shared responses such as “making new friends”, “independence”, “challenging myself”, “getting lost and finding my way around again” on a poster that will be placed up in the Health Science office at Camperdown. Following the session several first year students signed up to the Belong@FHS program to continue meeting with the mentors as they continue to transition into University life.

Meet the team - Behavioural and Social Sciences in Health

BSS Team


The Discipline of Behavioural and Social Sciences involves studying human behaviour, particularly within the context of health services and the social environment.

We caught up with the Behavioural and Social Sciences team at The University of Sydney to find out more about their areas of expertise and academic backgrounds.

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 Behavioural Social Sciences Team


"We are behavioural scientists with expertise in health and healthcare. We are multidisciplinary with backgrounds in sociology, psychology, epidemiology and statistics. We have a broad range of research interests that include perception, indigenous health, health policy, ageing and cyberpsychology. We have methodological expertise in quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods of research and are strong in designing applied health research. We're also proud to be culturally diverse

Our team is able to think critically, creatively, flexibly and ethically about problems in health. We recognise the messiness and complexity in people and our healthcare systems. We are active advocates for equality in healthcare, human rights and improving the quality of services."

From L to R back row:

Dr Farah Purwaningrum; Genevieve Steiner, Prof Stephanie Short, A/Prof Andrew Baille, Dr Rob Heard, Dr Tatjana Seizova-Cajic, Dr Grace Spencer, A/Prof Jennifer Smith-Merry, A/Prof Kate O'Loughlin, Dr Andrew Campbell, Dr Vanessa Lee, Dr Justin McNab, Dr Brad Ridout, A/Prof Steve Cumming, Dr Melanie Keep

From L to R front row:

Irene Mok, Trisha Corbett, Dr Krestina Amon, A/Prof Lee-Fay Low, Dr Leigh Wilson, Dr Zakia Hossain, Dr Rowena Forsyth, Dr Jennifer Fletcher

Learn more about each of our team members

Five minutes with Vanessa Lee

vanessa lee


Social epidemiologist Dr Vanessa Lee discusses how she made the transition from teacher in the Torres Strait to academia.

I'm from Queensland, from the Torres Strait and Cape York. My people are from the Yupungathiand Meriam nations. I graduated from an early childhood education degree and began working for Education Queensland, which saw me travelling all around Queensland as a teacher for 10 years.

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I first came across epidemiology when I was delayed at an airport many years ago and struck up a conversation with fellow a passenger, Professor Haswell from the University of Queensland, who was travelling to the Torres Strait to study diabetes in children under the age of twelve. I offered to help her collect the data and later travelled to Cairns to learn how to analyse the data. From there we created a range of programs to teach children how to try sports, clean the beaches, measure the seaweed, and use trees to reduce beach erosion - important knowledge due to our connection to the land, the water and the sea animals.

Things grew from there - I got funding from the government to continue this program. We introduced sports programs, had nutritionists come in and demonstrate how to prepare healthy meals, we stuck a food pyramid on the walls and explained what sugar did to the body. I even got my bus licence because some parents didn't want their kids walking home in the heat.

Professor Haswell encouraged me to document this work and submit it as a research proposal to the University of Queensland for entry into a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree. This process happened at the same time that my grandmother was encouraging me to do something more for our people.

My grandmother took the time to teach me about our cultural ways of doing, knowing and being. I remember listening to a radio program prior to the commencement of the Northern Territory intervention with her. She looked at me and said "they don't know how to look after our people - our people are dying; our children are dying. Vanessa, you have to go, you have to teach them our culture in their language." After trying to convince her that she had other grandchildren who could go, I realised that her mind was made up.

During my MPH an opportunity came up to look at Vitamin A deficiency in pregnant women in Bangladesh. I found myself living in Bangladesh for five months doing this research, and after combining our research with another study that looked at iron deficiency in children we were able to attract the attention of the World Bank to fund nutrition programs for pregnant women and children across Bangladesh; these programs resulting from our research are still in place today.

This experience made me realise that if I could make those kinds of changes internationally, I could make them for my own people. After I returned to Australia, I applied for a scholarship at Griffith University to look at how the Aboriginal community-controlled health services worked with government and communities. Halfway through my PhD, I applied for a position at the University of Sydney. I have since completed my PhD and am a qualified social epidemiologist. I work closely on best cultural practice in health service delivery with a particular focus on linkages and services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and communities.

"When you take away culture, you take away someone's ability to live. We're trying to work out ways to give people back their identity so it can make them stronger." - Dr Vanessa Lee

I like Sydney, I feel like it can be my home away from Cape York and the Torres Strait. I have experienced racism and inequity at the University, however on a larger scale I want to drive change that is already happening here. I've joined the University's culture taskforce, an excellent initiative that demonstrates how willing the University is to make change. We're working with HR to look at the code of conduct and the processes of managing staff, and the ways in which academic and professional staff work together. When I think about enacting change, I think about my culture. The systems in Indigenous culture are constantly changing, kinship adapts and I've adapted my own cultural values to align with living in Sydney. One of the reasons I joined the taskforce was because I want to be one of the key players to make change at this university. As the oldest university in Australia, we should be supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their research. No one should have to come to work and experience racism and inequality. We should make the most of our incredibly intelligent and talented cohort of multicultural colleagues. There's strength in unity.

Throughout my career, I've taught students who have since committed suicide. I was appointed as one of the directors of Suicide Prevention Australia last year to bring public health and social epidemiology into suicide prevention. We don't just look at the suicide, we need to look at the why - why did someone commit suicide and what was happened in their social world to make them take their own life? Indigenous Australians have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Just in the last couple of months in the Kimberley, 11 children committed suicide. That's terrible. You wouldn't wish that on any community. We've been working with different bodies trying to work out what these children are missing and what they need to feel happy. And you know what we're finding? A lot of these kids are missing their culture. When you take away culture you take away someone's ability to live. We're trying to work out ways to give people back their identity so it can make them stronger.

There's strength in unity - we come together, we work together. In my experience, when a non-indigenous person develops an initiative for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program, they lack the knowledge and experience of our culture to make the initiative succeed. At the moment, we're working on a First Nations Women's Alliance Against Violence to help women to understand that violence is unacceptable. We're developing frameworks ourselves and involving a range of women. The platform is based on our culture and that's what will give it strength. We're happy to share our culture, but it's offensive when people try to dictate to us what our culture is when they haven't lived it. That's one of the major strategies needed to work with a range of organisations.

There was a point in my career where I was struggling. I was experiencing a lot of discrimination and inequality in the workplace. I was feeling angrier and angrier, and I had no outlet. I came across a women's writers group at Newtown Library. Such incredible women from all walks of life. One woman read a poem about her experience of heroin, another wrote a poem about her best friend who had died at the hands of an abuser. I realised that the work I do as a social epidemiologist - they'd done it through poetry. I went home after that writing group and sat down with a pen and paper and wrote until the sun rose. I've been writing ever since. I've published six poems now, three in the Australian poetry journal about the stolen generation. I wrote it in the context of someone who had been stolen. Poetry has helped me to combine art and health and at the same time I have allowed myself to heal by letting things go.

Last week's participant, Margaret Allman-Farinelli, asks: Do you believe in making New Year's resolutions? Why or why not?

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. Why do you need a resolution to make a promise to yourself? Why can't you just do it because you want to better yourself?

And finally, please share a question that you'd like to ask our next 'Five minutes with' participant.

How are you making the University a safer space for 2018?

"We're happy to share our culture, but it's offensive when people try to dictate to us what our culture is when they haven't lived it."

Women's Rowing World Championship



Following the U23 Australian rowing team trials in April, I was selected to be the bow woman in the U23 Women's quad to compete at the World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria (July). To be part of the U23 squad was a big transition for me, as last year, I was in the U19 squad and I was aware that this quad would be older, wiser, fitter and stronger than me.

The U23 National quad was essentially the same as the Open age quad, but the bow woman was replaced by me in the younger age group. This Open quad had just been very successful in World Cups 2 and 3, and when I joined them, we only had 10 days to train together as a 'new' quad before we competed in Plovdiv.

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Our training took place at the AIS-owned European Training Centre on the banks of Lake Varese, Italy. It was a great relief to me because, up until the girls' arrival, I had (by necessity) been training in a single scull.

The training in Italy was invaluable for reasons other than team spirit - the temperatures we trained in were approximating those of our World Championship races (we knew that our races would take place towards late afternoon in Ploviv, the hottest time of the day).

In our heat we placed second against Great Britain (their quad was to be our greatest rival), allowing us to progress directly to the A final two days later. The long break between races was difficult for us because, as a new crew, it would have been very beneficial to be able to train and practice more, but we were not allowed onto the course to do this.

The A final was scheduled as one of the last races on Saturday, 22nd July. In the 2 days prior, we had discussed the importance of needing to 'come out of the blocks' at top speed, in order to be level with the top crews in the first 1000m.

We knew, based from boat data, that our crew had one of the strongest second 1000m speeds. After a disrupted warm up we struggled during the first 1km to find a sustainable race rhythm, causing us to be in 3rd place behind the GB and German crews respectively.

We began to increase our stroke rate significantly with 750m to go, and this is where we began to advance on the German crew which, up until that point, had had just under a boat length's advantage to be in 2nd place. In a nail biting final 500m, the 2nd and 3rd placings changed several times; Germany, Australia, Germany, Australia.

Whilst technique went out through the window, and arm drive ceased to exist, our Aussie crew snuck ahead at the last hurrah, finishing 0.66s in front of the Germans in second place, 2 seconds behind the winning GB crew.