CBE PhD candidate awarded the Sir Roland Wilson Scholarship

Kathryn Brett

Kathryn has received the prestigious Sir Roland Wilson Scholarship for her PhD studies at The Australian National University (ANU) College of Business and Economics (CBE).

The competitive scholarship is awarded to high-performing EL1 and EL2 Australian Public Service (APS) employees to complete PhD research on topics of national significance. It provides the recipients with three years of full pay.

Up until recently, Kathryn had been undertaking her PhD part time, while also juggling work and a young family.

“Support from my family, along with guidance from my professors Sarbari Bordia and Karen Jansen, have been integral to my journey,” says Kathryn.

“The transition to full-time study will mean that I am able to focus on my research. I look forward to using this time to delve deeper into my studies and enhance the quality of the research.”

Kathryn’s PhD studies examine the flexible-work phenomenon. Her aim is to advance our understanding of flexible working to improve management practice and inform future policy development.

As a business, governance and research professional, she has over 20 years of experience across the public and tertiary-education sectors. Prior to commencing as a Sir Roland Wilson Scholar, she was working full time as a governance director in the Department of Defence.

In this interview, Kathryn shares the progress and direction of her studies, and her decision to pursue flexible-work research.

Q. Can you tell us a little about the research you have undertaken so far?

I have completed two studies in flexible working so far, as part of my PhD research. The first was an extensive literature review exploring why flexible working is important. I presented this research at the Academy of Management conference in 2022 with financial support from the ANU Research School of Management (RSM). The second study investigated how organisations represent flexible-work options to employees through their corporate websites. For my third study, I am collecting interview data to investigate employee experiences with flexible work. The aim is to explore how working flexibly affects career progression to senior leadership roles.

Q. How did your interest in advocating for flexible work develop?

I have always had a personal preference for working flexibly. As a Commonwealth employee, I have often had the privilege of access to some form of flexibility at work. This was usually through flex-time provisions and, more recently, remote work. However, I witnessed how managers often treated flexible work as a barrier rather than an opportunity, and how they often supported parents of young children rather than all employees. Managerial discretion seemed to result in the inconsistent application of policies, despite the intent that flexibility should be for all employees. This apparent disconnect between policy and implementation was the precursor to my research journey.

Q. Can you share some of the challenges and highlights of your time as a PhD candidate with RSM so far?

There have been many highlights and challenges during my candidature! One prominent highlight was the previously mentioned opportunity to present my research at the Academy of Management conference in 2022. Another significant highlight is the support and guidance I have received from my supervisor and the RSM staff involved in my journey. This has helped build my self-confidence, and improve my research and presentation skills. The most significant challenge has been juggling research with work and family, because the demands from each domain often felt relentless. I experienced two very difficult pregnancies during my candidature – impacted by hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe pregnancy related illness – and took periods of associated maternity leave. These challenges impeded my progress; however, the support and encouragement from my supervisor enabled me to juggle my research goals, amongst my health and family commitments.

Q. You are currently a Director (Governance) with the Australian Government. Can you share some tips or advice for balancing work and PhD studies?

Balancing work and study can be hard, so my top three tips are:

  • be organised and map out your goals for the year or the semester, then work backwards to plan which tasks need to be done each week to stay on track

  • stick to your plan to avoid unnecessary anxiety about deadlines, but also make sure your schedule includes some downtime to avoid burnout

  • don’t be afraid to say no. If you can’t help a friend or colleague, or take on an extra work commitment, then kindly state that you need to prioritise your research for the moment.


The ANU College of Business and Economics offers an extensive range of specialised programs. Click here for more details about the PhD program offered at the ANU Research School of Management.