There are many reasons why we might choose to study at university. For Jamaican-born, Curtin PhD candidate Samantha-Kaye Christie there has only been one. It’s to achieve her concept of a “billionaire”: to change the lives of a billion people through her research and educational development activities.
Can you tell me about yourself?
I’m a 25-year-old Jamaican on a mission to change lives and even though I started my PhD in psychology at Curtin in April 2015, my journey to Curtin began in August 2012.
In 2012, I graduated from The University of the West Indies in Jamaica, studying a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. After graduating, I applied to Curtin, because I’ve always wanted to travel to Australia, but there was a problem in trying to apply to a PhD program with a bachelor degree. I got rejected because they said I needed a four-year degree, so I was really disappointed. I had to rethink my plan.
I did what any other Jamaican would do: I remained resilient! That’s something I really like about the Jamaican spirit: even though we’re a laidback culture, we make an effort to achieve our dreams. When I travel, I’m confident telling people that I’m a Jamaican. It’s a really good conversation starter, because people ask questions such as “Have you ever watched the movie, Cool Runnings?” or “Do you know Bob Marley or Usain Bolt?”
What did you do when you were told you couldn’t begin your PhD?
I applied for over fifty jobs in Jamaica. The only job I managed to get was a customer service representative in a digital communications company. I was grossly disappointed after graduating with a bachelor degree. But I took the opportunity.
I was excited when the company had an internal staff competition to submit a proposal for a community outreach program. My proposal was “Read to Lead”, a reading initiative in The Jamaican Christian Boys’ Home in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city. I did not win, but I independently implemented the initiative using money I saved from work. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I went to the boys’ home from 11am to 3pm, and then I went to work from 4pm to 1am. I deliberately chose those late shifts so I could engage with the boys during the day. I didn’t have any volunteers because I wanted to instil a sense of volunteerism. I would pair the older boys with the younger boys. On other days, I chose 6am to 3pm shifts.
In the evening [during those other days], I organised a motivational program under the governor general. The governor general wanted to implement initiatives to encourage Jamaicans to build up the nation with the mantra: “There is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica.” It was a good experience, because I got to work with CEOs and media personalities. It improved my public speaking skills and it was great to work in such a multicultural environment.
Did you choose to study elsewhere?
Yes, I went for my master’s degree. I applied for several scholarships and I got offers from Liverpool, Bristol, Oxford and a university in China. I decided to go to Liverpool and study a Master of Arts in Education. It was really a good experience.
The program was for a year. While I was there, I worked part time as a research assistant and cover supervisor across high schools in Liverpool, and volunteered as a reading tutor at a local primary school in Liverpool where I provided instruction to children with reading problems. I also had the opportunity to travel, which is one of my passions. I was able to travel to Wales, Manchester, Leeds, London, Birmingham, Coventry and Bournemouth among other places.
I was also selected to represent Jamaica at the Colloquium of the Association of Catholic Institutes of Education where I spoke about my experience in England as a Jamaican and about the history and culture of education in Jamaica. I also obtained a scholarship to pursue a short neuroscience research course at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (“Pompeu Fabra University”) in Barcelona, Spain after my master degree. These experiences strengthened my second application to Curtin.
What research do you plan to undertake at Curtin?
My research looks at how the attention network influences phonological processing and in turn how this influences normal reading development. The inspiration for pursuing this area of study was brought about by my brother, who has dyslexia. I just want to make a difference and help people in his position.
I’m now just waiting on my project’s ethical approval from the Department of Education. My supervisor and I are putting together a program, but I’m not able to begin until I’ve gained approval. I’m just making sure everything is in place so that we can hit the ground running.
What are your current social outreach activities?
My current initiative is called “Project Capability”. I want to raise an annual scholarship to help people with learning difficulties and contribute it to the Montego Bay Community College in Jamaica. The community college is where my brother and I went. Scholarships are often awarded to academically inclined people and people with learning difficulties don’t often receive these scholarships because of their learning problems. They’re still passionate and driven to achieve their dreams just like you and I, but they find it more difficult. I aim to raise US$2,000. I’ve already raised US$200. It went live on February 14, so that was my Valentine’s Day project.
As a UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund) child’s rights advocate, I’m expected to implement projects. This is based upon the global sustainable development goals of the United Nations, specifically goal four, which aims to ensure equal access to all levels of education. I’d like for people to share the campaign page onto social media so others can be encouraged to contribute.
Some people like making time to watch television. Others like reading. I like volunteering and will always make time for it.
What’s your dream and how do you plan to get there?
Essentially, I want to change the lives of a billion people through my research and my educational outreach. That’s my concept of being a “billionaire”. I want to focus on contributing to educational development, specifically for people with learning disabilities.
I want to use my experiences, what I’ve learnt in life, to help people apply for tertiary education opportunities. I want to encourage people to not give up, because sometimes you go through things in life that affect you negatively.
I was given a wonderful piece of advice from a friend. He said: “One never really has a bad day, it’s always a character building day.” I’ve had many character building days. I want to let people know that when one door is shut, you can give blessings and thanks in the hallway as you wait for the next door to open.