Dori’s fulfilling PhD journey at RegNet

Dori Patay_RegNet

What started off as a dream working in humanitarian aid steered Dori to various paths in public health, health governance, followed by a postdoctoral study which eventually led her to the love of her life.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you are currently doing.

I was born in Budapest, Hungary, and I’ve lived and worked in countries all around the world, before ending up in Australia. Now, I am living a happy life in Sydney with my fiancé and my cat.

I am currently working as a Research Fellow at The George Institute for Global Health. In this role, I lead a World Health Organization commissioned research project on food industry engagement in Pacific Island Countries. In addition, I support a project on strengthening food and water security in the Aboriginal community in Walgett, NSW, and another on scaling up nutrition policies in Pacific Island Countries.

How did your interest in health and governance came about?

I used to dream about working in humanitarian aid or development in lower middle income countries (LMCIs), and it took most of my twenties to achieve this dream. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy and a postgrad diploma studies in Health Care Management, I pursued a master’s in Health Care Policy Planning and Financing. My fascination with health governance started during my master’s research, when I focused on the strengthening of governance mechanisms around tobacco control in Hungary. My grandfather died of lung cancer when I was very young, and he was an avid pipe smoker, thus my interest in tobacco control.

After my master’s degree, I worked at a Hungarian non-government organisation providing primary health care services in poor communities across various African countries. I noticed the weaknesses of governance mechanisms in public health and managing health care systems and realised that without strengthening health governance, many LMICs will continue to suffer from the rise of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). I found it particularly troubling how many people smoke and consume foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fats, cheaply available even at the smallest food stalls.

Driven by this experience, I decided to pursue a doctoral degree so I can be of better help in strengthening health governance in LMICs, particularly for tackling the rising NCD epidemic and learn to better regulate unhealthy commodities.

How did you end up doing a PhD at ANU RegNet?

In the winter of 2016, I come across RegNet and Prof Sharon Friel’s profile, and I instantly knew that I found the school I’m looking for. I approached Sharon and after a Skype interview we were both convinced that I would be a good match for RegNet and the Menzies Centre for Health Governance.

I will never forget the day when I received news that I was accepted into RegNet’s doctorate program. When the deadline of receiving the application results came, I anxiously waited for a notification from the ANU HDR office, but no e-mail came. At 3pm my time (in Hungary), I directly messaged Kate Henne, RegNet’s current Director, who was then RegNet’s Education Convenor. She immediately replied at which must have been around midnight in Canberra, letting me know that my application was successful, and I was even granted a double scholarship to cover my tuition fees and provide a bursary. This was a day that truly changed my life.

How has RegNet and its networks helped you in your research?

RegNet is an exceptional institution itself because of its unique atmosphere and wealth of knowledge, representing multiple disciplines. RegNet prides itself in providing a safe and highly nurturing space, where a PhD student is not exiled into a small basement office, accommodating few other students, but where we were all integrated into the RegNet family.

Throughout my PhD years, I felt very well supported by not only my peers but the other academics in the school, regardless of their field of work. I have developed great friendships with many academic and professional staff during these years, which was particularly important during the harder periods of the PhD journey, especially when one tries to write up the dissertation.

The networks provided by RegNet allowed me to nominate Fiji and Vanuatu as my case study countries. ANU has a very good reputation in the Pacific, and through my colleagues at RegNet it was easy to find the people who later became instrumental for my fieldwork.

My academic skills have undergone a major development during my PhD, and this is primarily thanks to my supervisory panel at RegNet, Prof Sharon Friel, Prof Susan Sell, and Dr Ashley Schram. In addition, the multiple academic activities in the school and of course, my course work also provided an excellent interdisciplinary lens which is now not only essential in my work but elevates me from the crowd of the academic work force. Every time a potential employer saw RegNet and the names on my supervisory panel, I felt that they see a guaranteed high-quality researcher in me. Previously I thought that only the ‘Dr’ before my name matters, but now I know that carrying the RegNet brand and the names of my supervisor on my CV also makes a big difference.

What are some of the highlights of your time at RegNet and ANU?

I have had a great time with my PhD mates in RegNet during my program. I was lucky to have the best room-mate ever, Janice, to share an office with, and I sorely miss the fun times we had with our team of students and early-career researchers.

Besides having a great social life at RegNet, I joined the ANU Mountaineering Club (ANUMC) which provided me with endless adventures on the weekends. I mean, who has time to worry about assignments, when there is a snow covered mountain to climb or a river with dangerous rapids to paddle on? I left Canberra and ANU with great sadness, and I continue to miss that amazing lifestyle RegNet and ANUMC provided me.

The other highlight during my doctoral program was during my fieldwork in Vanuatu where I met Ollie – now my fiancé – who was living in Port Vila, working as an airline pilot. For the next one and a half years I ended up spending a lot of time in Vanuatu, which was actually very good for my research, until we moved to Brisbane where Ollie transferred to another airline. If it wasn’t for love, I am pretty sure I would be still living in Canberra.

All in all, I can say that RegNet has changed my life twice over. Not only by making me move to Australia and equipping me with the knowledge and skills I so desired, but by indirectly introducing me to my fiancé.

Any advice for potential students who are thinking of embarking on a PhD?

I would advise to anyone who think about doing a PhD to do it! Finding the right supervisor with matching skills and interests is paramount, and so is choosing the right institution. As sometimes doing a PhD can be very stressful, joining a university club, such as ANUMC, early on during the program can ensure that you make plenty of friends and have hobbies that will later on help you relax and keep a work-life balance.