Interview with Dr Rachel Winterton (John Richards Initiative, Wodonga Campus)

Photo by Rachel Winterton
This week's interview is with Dr Rachel Winterton, who is based mostly at La Trobe's Albury-Wodonga Campus.

We say 'mostly' because we know that Rachel clocks up many hours on the road as she is involved with many things that take her regularly to LTU's various other campuses!

Her active support of research culture-building initiatives, including the ECR conference on 26 September, is a hallmark of Rachel's positive, collegial attitude.

How did you end up researching in the field you're in?

Basically, it was a calculated risk that has turned out quite well!

My PhD is actually in historical studies (a social history of aquatic sport in nineteenth century Melbourne!). When I was three-quarters of the way through my PhD, I began to worry about employment, as most doctoral students do, and began scouring the job sites looking at what might be in store for me.

One particular job piqued my interest – a full-time, one-year research position at the John Richards Initiative, an ageing research centre at La Trobe Wodonga. Given that my not-yet-completed PhD was in history and they wanted someone in health sciences, I wasn’t too hopeful of getting an interview – nor was I sure if I wanted to move away from Melbourne – but figured putting together an application would be good experience.

Long story short, I got an interview, and managed to convince the panel that I would be perfectly capable of transitioning from historical research to the ageing field.  I agonised over taking the job, but figured it was only for one year, and by the time the year was up I would have some paid research experience in a different field and a completed PhD. Then I would be ready to begin life as a sports historian!

However, I found that I loved my new field, and I was lucky enough to have a very encouraging professor for a mentor – so I’m still here seven years later!

I’ve had some fantastic experiences, including a successful Australian Research Council grant, interviewing lots of amazing older adults, and working with researchers all over the world. Although it wasn’t where I planned to end up as a researcher, it has been an incredible journey.

What aspect of research do you enjoy the most? And the least?

I really enjoy writing articles. I don’t find it an easy thing to do, even after all this time, but I love the process.

At times I find it challenging and frustrating, but the glorious moment when you finally nail your argument is usually worth it.

I don’t particularly enjoy writing ethics applications, but I do like the sense of accomplishment I get when I finish them!

What's the best research moment you’ve had?

I was lucky enough to go to an international invited symposium in 2014 as one of 20 researchers doing work on volunteering and rural community sustainability. It was in a tiny town in the Rockies in northern Canada, so we were able to see what living in remote Canada would be like as an older person.

As well as being the most scenic conference I have ever been to, I met lots of fantastic researchers that have become friends as well as colleagues, and that I’m still working with today.

Do you have any advice to offer on scholarly collaboration and/or networking?

Make time to foster your networks. Select a few ways that you can do this that will suit you, and commit to them.

It’s easy to say that you don’t have time, as there’s always data to analyse or papers to write, but I’ve found that it is this networking that keeps me motivated and often gives me new ideas for writing, time management techniques, or research topics.

I’m involved with the La Trobe ECR network, a few Shut Up and Write groups, a journal writing group and a few of the Research Focus Area research clusters, and I block these commitments out in my diary as early as possible. I find by doing that, I usually manage to fit my work around it!

If I’m going to another campus (or another university), I always allocate an hour or so to catching up with colleagues for lunch or coffee, just to see what they’re up to. It’s a great way to keep connected to other academics, and for other people to keep you ‘front of mind’.


Rachel Winterton is a research fellow at the John Richards Initiative, La Trobe University, Wodonga. 

Her research focuses on how rural communities, governments and organisations are managing and responding to challenges posed by population ageing. 

She is internationally recognised for her work on rural ageing and voluntarism, and is currently completing a series of projects with international collaborators exploring critical perspectives on volunteering in ageing rural communities.  

Other research interests include the implications of rural retirement migration for rural service provision, rural age-friendly communities and the role of rural systems and structures in facilitating wellness for rural ageing populations.

Rachel tweets at @RachelWinterton.