Life as a graduate researcher: Josh Cubillo


Through his PhD, Josh Cubillo wants to educate and empower non-Indigenous teachers in urban settings, so they can integrate Indigenous knowledges into their curriculum.

3 Minute read

Meet the researcher

Tell us about yourself and why you decided to do a PhD at the University of Melbourne

I am a Larrakia, Wadjigan, and Central Arrente man. I am originally from Darwin, and moved to Adelaide to complete my Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education. I never saw myself as academically gifted, but I had teachers who believed in me. And my parents instilled in me a sense of social justice and the ability to make a difference.

After graduating, I taught Indigenous history and geography in secondary schools in Adelaide. Then an opportunity came up in Melbourne to complete my Masters by Research. I completed a critical analysis on the extent to which Indigenous knowledge is embedded in the Australian curriculum. After my Masters, my supervisors (Professor Elizabeth McKinley and Associate Professor Nikki Moodie) encouraged me to start a PhD.

I also work full-time in an Indigenous engagement role at the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences (MDHS).

Describe your PhD research and what you are hoping to discover

I am working to better understand what ‘learning On Country’ means. I hope to educate and empower non-Indigenous teachers in urban settings, so they can integrate Indigenous knowledges into their curriculum.

This will help students to appreciate the places they inhabit through an Indigenous lens. This impacts our sustainability efforts, our understanding of history, and our role in the local community.

For my research, I am working with traditional owners to determine what ‘learning On Country’ means. This will inform the way we integrate Indigenous learning into the school curriculum. I will then run professional development sessions for non-Indigenous teachers, from a mix of independent and public secondary schools. Pre and post interviews will gauge a shift in their understanding, and any impact on their classroom teaching.

Teachers are often scared of saying the wrong thing when it comes to Indigenous knowledge, so they shy away from teaching Indigenous content. I am hoping to show that, with increased understanding of Indigenous knowledges, non-Indigenous staff feel confident to include On-Country learning in their classroom curriculum.

Describe the support structures that exist for Indigenous graduate researchers

It has been heartening to receive such widespread support from academic and professional staff (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous). Completing a PhD can be daunting – wondering how you will manage your family and workload, and the financial pressure. The support makes a big difference.

Financially, there are great opportunities for scholarships.

The IGSA offers an informal support structure. It’s a place where you can meet a culturally supportive and like-minded network of graduate research and coursework students. And through Murrup Barak, you can connect with the wider Indigenous community at the University.

What has been the biggest challenge of your graduate research experience?

The hardest part was learning how to write academically. But the University has some really helpful resources. I have attended writing retreats through the Indigenous Graduate Student Association (IGSA), and discovered valuable library resources.

My Masters by Research also had a coursework component. This enabled me to improve important skills, such as research, data collection, writing and presenting.

Where are you hoping your PhD will take you, in terms of future career aspirations?

I am not really sure. There is flexibility to take the academic route, or move towards policy / government work. My ultimate dream is to establish an On-Country school in an urban setting – nothing like that exists as yet.

What advice would you give to people who are considering coming to the University of Melbourne for their PhD?

Just do it! But make sure you are really passionate about your research topic. It needs to be something that will sustain you for three years.

Also, try to find paid work that aligns with your research topic. You don’t need to mentally swap between the two.

And find hobbies to help you switch off. I love playing footy and guitar. My family also helps. I have a partner, who has her own hairdressing business, and three small children. Playing with the kids is a great distraction.

First published on 16 February 2022.

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