Scientist inspires cancer optimism

Behavioural scientist Christine Paul is investigating how hospitals' (and other tertiary health providers) approach to caring for cancer patients can be better implemented into telephone services.

Paul, who is collaborating with Hunter Medical Research Institute and NSW and Victoria's Cancer Council to collect data aimed at helping distressed cancer patients and their families receive optimal over-the-phone health counselling, says it's motivating to conduct research that has a clear application.

"There's a figure often quoted that it takes 10 years – often longer – for research results to get put into practise.

"This is a really exciting project for me because it is quite clear who will use the results, and that they are interested in the results and they're going to put them into practice."

Paul is a National Health and Medical Research Council fellow and associate professor at the University of Newcastle.

As a behavioural scientist who continues to make a significant contribution to cancer control, she says it's generally typical for her to have around half-a-dozen active research projects needing attention at any one time.


She's responsible for catching up with research assistants and PhD students to discuss challenges and solutions concerning the running of particular projects, examining project data and writing up reports, projects or presentations about findings in the data.

"Working with organisations like Cancer Council has kept my eyes open to how the research gets applied out in the real world but also what people in the real world are experiencing and wanting out of research."

Paul, who completed her PhD in behavioural science in relation to medicine at the University of Newcastle, has published more than 165 peer-reviewed journal articles that have focused largely on trialling and translating strategies for effective behaviour change.

Recently, she was awarded UoN's Overall Vice-Chancellor's Award for Research Supervision Excellence at the 2017 Vice-Chancellor's Awards for Excellence.

She says it's commonplace for her to support early-career researchers whose research ideas initially ponder huge global questions often impossible to answer in the course of a PhD. But her favourite part of her job is working with higher degree research students.

She's passionate about supporting them to refine their research questions to arrive at the heart of the questions that most need answering at the time.

"That process of thinking and re-thinking is a really valuable process," she says.