For UniSA’s 150,000th graduate, Sally Perrin, crossing the stage at graduation ceremonies with a Bachelor of Psychological Science this month was a triumph over adversity.
Perrin epitomises the kind of student for which UniSA was founded 25 years ago this year – capable, intelligent, with a passion to learn, but someone whose background would probably have been a huge barrier to university entry.
She left home before completing high school and had to earn her own living and fend for herself from the time she was about 16 years old.
Within a short time, she was also caring for her younger sister, working and studying hard to complete high school.
“I could see that education was a path out of poverty and ignorance and I was determined to take that path – I am the first in my family to go to university and to complete my degree,” Perrin says.
“When they told me I was the 150,000th graduate I was absolutely delighted – it feels like a real honour, something quite special.”
Perrin completed her degree part-time over six years and is now enrolled in an honours degree in psychology with a clear plan to continue on to Masters or PhD study.
“I really want to be able to combine research and practice and I want to work to support vulnerable people,” Perrin says.
“I think when you see how front line services operate for marginalised people, you realise they are structured on a business model and that’s a long way from the evidence-based science.
“I’m very interested in epigenetics and the brain and how environmental factors in a person’s life and the interplay between physiological and psychosocial factors influence how people develop and their mental health.
“I am looking to research stress and epigenetic changes, mainly in children and adolescents, and one of the areas I am very interested in is sleep and circadian rhythms.”
Perrin says exploring a simple variable such as sleep is quite powerful.
“Imagine a child in a family where there are ongoing arguments. They can become fearful and sleep-deprived. When they go to school, they are overtired and inattentive and might be labelled as lazy or disengaged. They may find it difficult to make friends because of their poor performance in class and their overtiredness. This again isolates them from positive rewards – the things that give the brain the right stimuli for high function.
“I want to research more in that space and ultimately, to be able to combine research and practice in my life so that I can apply the knowledge where it is most needed.”
Perrin says how the research can be applied to support improved services and better support for people with mental health and other disadvantages is a great motivator.
“I think UniSA is the kind of university that actually does inspire you to want to make a difference,” she says.
“I have had some very valuable support here in an everyday sense from the great people who work and teach here and also with bonuses such as the equity scholarship which I was awarded last year and it paid for a much needed new laptop.”
Perrin graduated on April 5 at the Adelaide Convention Centre as one of almost 5000 new UniSA graduates from across South Australia.
Find out more information about the Bachelor of Psychological Science here.