In touch with … Kathina Ali

As one of the recent recipients of a Flinders Impact Seed Grant, Dr Kathina Ali, explains her research into the mental health and wellbeing of vulnerable populations, and developing new digital mental health programs.

What is your current role at Flinders?

I joined the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work in May 2019 as a Research Associate in Psychology whilst still completing my PhD in Clinical Psychology at the Australian National University in Canberra. My research focuses on investigating the mental health and wellbeing of vulnerable populations as well as developing and evaluating innovative, evidence-based digital mental health programs. I have a strong interest in eating disorders, where my research focuses on help-seeking, particularly barriers towards help-seeking for eating related concerns and online prevention programs.

I am also a certified trainer for the Be Well Plan, a 5-week facilitated mental health intervention which helps individuals identify strategies to build strong levels of mental health through evidence-based activities. This has been developed by our team in collaboration with the Flinders Órama Institute for Mental Health and Wellbeing and the SAHMRI Wellbeing and Resilience Centre.

What journey brought you to this point in your career?

My first degree was in tourism and hotel management, but I quickly realised my interest in psychology and helping others. Before moving to Australia, I lived in Singapore, where I completed my MSc in Psychology online at a German university. Then a friend told me about a PhD scholarship opportunity in Australia in the area of young people, mental health and technology. I had never planned to do a PhD, but the topic was in line with my interest and previous research experience, and living in Australia sounded very exciting. I started my PhD at the Centre for Mental Health Research and transferred into the Clinical Program at ANU, where I completed my clinical training. When I commenced at Flinders, I was very excited about combining my passion for research, clinical work and teaching in the area of mental health.

What was your favourite part and hardest part of being a postdoc?

I like the flexibility and diversity of the research I’m doing. For example, I recently initiated and led a study investigating the impact of the COVID-19 Australian international border closure on mental health and wellbeing of those who have been negatively affected. Within one day, we had 400 people involved and within weeks we had more than 4,000 completed surveys. Because psychological distress was extremely high in this group, we are now offering them participation in the Be Well Plan.

Being a postdoc provides an opportunity to pursue new research avenues while continuing to work on other projects with your team. So far, I have thoroughly enjoyed my postdoc experience. Of course, there are always tasks that have to be done that take time away from the actual research, but I believe the benefits of working in a great team with great supervisors and a lot of flexibility outweighs any difficulties.

What is something you are proud of?

I’m very proud of the work we have done over the past two years with colleagues at the SAHMRI Wellbeing and Resilience Centre. Together we developed the Be Well Plan, which helps individuals to identify strategies and skills, that helps build strong levels of mental health through evidence-based activities. This has allowed our research to have a real impact on university students and the community by improving their mental health and wellbeing.

I’m proud to be part of an amazing team that cares about making a difference to people’s lives. I’m also very proud to be able to enjoy my work and still spend time with my little boy and give him the attention that he needs. This is another great aspect about being a postdoc – the flexibility allows me to spend time with my son when he most needs me, and I can work when he is asleep!

What are your future ambitions?

I’m happy to be currently combining my research, clinical practice and teaching. I’ve lived in Germany, Portugal, Singapore and Australia and have found there are always new opportunities available in each place. I hope to continue having a positive impact on other people’s life with my research, clinical practice and teaching.

How do you like to relax or spend your spare time?

I love eating, travelling and spending time with family and friends. During my PhD, we went on a motorbike trip through Laos and more recently we travelled in a campervan through Tasmania with our 3-year-old son. I love these experiences. They allow me to explore new food, spend time with my family and completely detach from work.

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