How to turn a bad day at the office into a life-changing doctorate

Wednesday 25 January 2017

Almost everyone, at some point in their career, suffers from workplace stress. An unsupportive boss, dissatisfied colleagues, and unreasonable workloads are probably—unfortunately—all experiences you can relate to.

Chris Horan can relate. He describes his time working for a large international firm as being like “a cog in a wheel”, surrounded by cynical colleagues, and managers who could transform a great workplace into a terrible one overnight.

“I just had this belief that work shouldn’t have to be this way,” he remembers. “It shouldn’t have to be so frustrating.”

Chris decided to make a change, not just to his working life, but to yours too.

He started a Doctor of Psychology (Clinical) at ANU with the aim of bringing “meaningful change” to workplaces, whatever they might be.

His thesis looked specifically at developing the resilience of NSW Police recruits to manage the stresses of their job, a project funded through an Australian Research Council (ARC) linkage grant.

Chris designed, developed and trialled resilience training programs at the NSW Police Force Academy, incorporating workshops and exercises.

“I got feedback that the workshops were interesting but participants were saying, ‘I didn’t need it at the time because I was just in training at the Academy so I didn’t pay that much attention to it, but I wish I did because I’m really stressed now’.

“This got me wondering if we are wasting a lot of time running programs that people forget, and it brought to my attention the concept called training transfer—the extent to which training is applied and shapes a person’s coping skills going forward.”

Working with the ANU Technology Transfer Office, Chris developed a resilience eLearning module, and an app called ChangeBud, which harnesses technology to personalise the training and encourage practice.

“There are other apps out there but this is the first time an app was used as an adjunct to the training,” Chris says.

“It allows the training to be personalised according to the needs of each participant, including their stressors, symptoms, and coping behaviours, and where they are in the stages of change.”   

The ANU Technology Transfer Office encouraged in Chris an “entrepreneurial mindset”, he says. While finishing his doctorate, he established the Resilience and Change Academy to bring the learnings from his research at the ANU Research School of Psychology to as many workplaces as possible. His resilience eLearning module is currently being used by several Commonwealth Government agencies.

“I understand now what the factors are that influence resilience in the workplace,” he says. “And these are insights which, if shared, can lead to meaningful change for others.”

Discover how you can change your life—and the lives of others—with a postgraduate degree in psychologyfrom ANU.

Updated:  24 October 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RSP/Page Contact:  Web Admin, RSP