Five minutes with Xuan Luu

4 August 2014

Xuan Luu is a PhD candidate in the Disability and Community Faculty Research Group in the Faculty of Health Sciences. He is also a Postgraduate Teaching Fellow in the Discipline of Behavioural and Social Sciences in Health.

What is your background?
I finished my honours year in psychology and decided to do my PhD on a whim. I emailed my supervisor and started a few months later, so it was all very rushed and I wasn't quite sure what I was getting myself into! I'm now two and half years in and loving it - it's great to have the freedom, time and space to really explore what I'm interested in. I've also been teaching a couple of third-year units in the Bachelor of Health Sciences degree since 2012, which has been challenging but ultimately extremely rewarding.

What research are you working on?
My research looks at improving online counselling for young people who are bereaved and going through grief and loss. Online counselling is still fairly new, so it's important to get a better understanding of what works well in this area.

My research aims to find out what online counsellors, in their experience, see as 'good practice'. I'm hoping to use this to inform education and training for counsellors who are looking to integrate online work into their practice, particularly with bereaved clients. It's taken me a lot of time but I'm finally getting insights that really better my understanding of what I'm doing, and will be useful for the research and mental healthcare communities as well.

What are the highlights of your teaching role?
I've grown to really love teaching third-year students - they're at the tail end of their degree and trying to decide what they're going to do next. I love using teaching to guide them and help them be certain of what they're doing in a time when they're thinking, "What am I doing? Why am I even here anymore? What's coming after this?"

How do you keep your students engaged in the classroom?
I teach my subjects online, so it can be harder to engage your students than if you were teaching face to face. I'm quite a bubbly person so I try to convey that as much as possible online - I use a lot of emoticons! In the first few weeks I really try to gauge what students want out of the subject and what they expect from me as a teacher. As the semester goes on I get a feel for what they like and what they don't like, and I balance that with the way that I teach.

Congratulations on your team's Vice-Chancellor teaching and learning award for theBelong@FHS peer mentoring program. How is the program helping support students?
I'm so incredibly proud of the team and all that has been done with Belong@FHS! The program is focused on peer mentoring, is degree-specific, and is facilitated across the disciplines in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Senior students mentor new first-year students enrolled in the same degree. It's all about encouraging first years to feel that they belong in the faculty community, enhancing their appreciation for diversity, and easing their transition to university. Mentoring teams (usually two mentors with six to eight mentees) get together regularly throughout semester for lots of food, social events, and discussions about university life.

Do you have a mentor at the University, and what have they taught you?
The teaching colleagues I work with in particular are mentors for me - they are incredibly supportive and are always helping me improve my teaching. At the end of semester we catch up and have wine and celebrate how things have gone for the semester - it's as much the informal aspects of these relationships as the formal aspects that I find really helpful.

What advice would you give other early-career academics?
I highly recommend the Institute of Teaching and Learning's Graduate Certificate in Educational Studies. You get to know so many other early-career academics and learn together as you teach.

Outside of the formal learning environment, my advice would be: don't be afraid to ask questions. The University is a real community of teachers and academics - it's important that you know the support is there, you just have to reach out for it. Other teachers have probably been through the same things that you're going through at some point in their career. Also, don't take student feedback (particularly negative feedback) completely to heart. It's difficult not to take it personally to begin with, but as time goes on you learn how to use that feedback as a really constructive mechanism.

What are your interests outside of work?
I'm actually an internationally competitive Irish dancer. No one sees that coming! I train three nights a week and I often go interstate and overseas to compete - I was in London over Easter for the world championships, which was an amazing experience. Dancing is a great creative and emotional outlet, particularly when frustrations are running high with work.

You're only 24 now. Any plans to take some time off after your PhD and relax for a while?
It has crossed my mind! It's been a bit of a long journey through school, undergrad study, honours, then straight onto my PhD and teaching. I'd consider taking some time off to travel and just get out of my headspace for a while and see the world. But, the good thing is I've found what I want to do now, so when I've finished my PhD it wouldn't be a matter of "I'm so glad that's over - make it stop!" I'd be happy to stay here and keep doing what I love.