Susan Arthure – 2023 Recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Doctoral Thesis Excellence


Susan Arthure is from the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and is one of the 12 winners of the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Doctoral Thesis Excellence for 2023. Susan was supervised by Professor Heather Burke, Associate Professor Alice Gorman from Flinders University.

Susan’s thesis A long, long way from Clare to here: An archaeology of the Irish in colonial South Australia focused on the archaeological investigation of a rural community at Kapunda, South Australia.

We invited Susan to share insights into the PhD journey and what winning this award means.

What does winning this award mean? 

It’s a great honour to win the award. It gives me a profound sense of achievement and pride that I was able to carry out the research – with the support of my supervisors and archaeology colleagues – in a manner that has been recognised and validated by my examiners and the university.

Tell us about your research

My research focused on the archaeological investigation of a rural community at Kapunda, South Australia. This settlement, known as Baker’s Flat, was established by Irish migrants in the nineteenth century and persisted for almost a century. My research found that the settlers adopted a distinctive Irish land management system called clachan-and-rundale – farming the land co-operatively, making joint decisions about animals, looking after each other. It turns out that Baker’s Flat was the first complete example of a clachan-and-rundale system to be found outside of Ireland to date.

Tell us about yourself

I was born in Ireland and grew up in a small country town, in a landscape dominated by medieval ruined castles and cathedrals. I moved to Adelaide in 1987 with my husband, and we have lived mostly here since then. We have identical twin sons, who were both studying at Flinders when I was doing my Masters and then my PhD. We didn’t graduate at the same time though!

What led you to undertake a PhD? What inspired or motivated you?

I’ve always been interested in archaeology and history, maybe because of the landscape I grew up in. Our little town didn’t have a playground when we were children, so instead we played in the castle ruins and explored the local fields and rivers where there were many traces of how people had lived in the past. After a career based in information management and website design, I decided to do a graduate diploma in archaeology at Flinders. From the very first topic, I was completely absorbed and knew I wanted to keep going. My Masters thesis analysed a collection of objects from Baker’s Flat, and there were so many interesting findings and clues from this research that I wanted to find out more. Hence the PhD research.

My main motivations were a love of learning and research, and a passion for the topic. From my previous roles in information management, I have good skills at finding resources and managing projects. My Masters thesis really felt like a starting point, and I desperately wanted to know more.

Tell us about your PhD journey

I think doing a PhD is always challenging and a balancing act. I tried hard to treat it like a job, to turn up every day and work hard – this meant that I could take time off at weekends and for holidays without feeling (too) guilty. My family and friends were amazingly supportive; they’d ask questions and listen to my long answers, mostly without looking bored. Their pride in my work helped me to keep believing that the research was important. I was also fortunate to have two fabulous supervisors, Prof Heather Burke and Assoc Prof Alice Gorman, who supported me throughout.

This became particularly important in my last year. Just after I had completed my project plan for the final 12 months, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with a blood cancer. I had to throw the project plan in the bin and take two years off for treatment. Thankfully I’m in remission and I was able to get back to work on my PhD after that. I am deeply grateful for the love and support of my family, friends, supervisors and colleagues across that time and since then. I’m also thankful for the supportive staff in the Office of Graduate Research, who helped me navigate the forms and systems while I was on leave, and did so with great compassion.

What advice would you give to current or prospective PhD students?

Trust and enjoy the process, with all its ups and downs. It’s a great privilege to be able to focus for three or four years on an area of research that you are passionate about. Take the time to be part of the college too, by teaching or volunteering on other people’s projects – I have made lifelong friends through the process and learned lots.

Posted in
Awards CHASS HDR students in focus

Leave a Reply