Mum of six athletes graduates with PhD

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Mum of six athletes graduates with PhD


Maureen O'Nell with Chancellor John Dobson

24 April 2013

Long-time school teacher and single mother of six, Maureen O’Neill, can now add a doctorate to her extraordinary list of achievements.

The 52-year-old from Little Mountain graduated from the University of the Sunshine Coast this month with a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) specialising in Education Studies.

With six children 10 years apart and the youngest now 15, Maureen spent the past three years completing her PhD thesis titled, ‘High performance school-age athletes at Australian schools: a study of conflicting demands’.

“For my graduation, I was lucky enough to have several of my children, my mother and family members in the audience and the rest watched my ceremony via USC’s live weblink,” she said.

“I’m the first in my own family to attend uni and the first in my extended family to get a PhD.”

Maureen, who now works as a research assistant and a consultant at USC, said the University offered her a plethora of opportunities as both a student and a staff member.

“I took a leap of faith in doing my PhD and it was a remarkable journey,” she said.

“I received brilliant supervision from Senior Lecturer in Education Dr Bill Allen and Lecturer in Coaching Science Angie Calder and amazing support from many USC departments.”

The degree was close to home for Maureen, who has guided school-aged athletes in several states through the struggles of combining high-level sport with educational attainment and whose own children have succeeded in both areas.

For example, two of her sons gained admission to university physiotherapy degrees, one while competing for Australia in kayaking overseas and the other on a rugby union scholarship.

Three of her children were identified in the National Talent Identification Development program and three others were involved in the Queensland Academy of Sport. Their sports ranged from water polo to rugby league.

Maureen said her thesis involved researching the perspectives of young athletes, their parents and their teachers at government, non-government and specialist schools in Queensland and New South Wales.

Athletes included current kayaking, lifesaving and gymnastics champions and former Olympic water polo players and swimmers and football greats.

“My study gave voice to young athletes and their needs and problems such as physical and psychological fatigue, bullying and tall poppies,” she said.

“It dealt with resilience and multi-tasking and identified some useful tactics when families are trying to find the balance.”

She said the next stage of research would aim to design a model of how schools could better accommodate high performance athletes.

— Julie Schomberg

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