Ricky Mentha is an Indigenous Research Fellow at the Baker IDI (Heart and Diabetes Institute) based in Alice Springs. He has worked as an Aboriginal Health Worker, community development officer and an academic researcher. His current focus is on chronic disease management and prevention, particularly cardiology.
Professor John Wakerman is the Inaugural Director of the Centre for Remote Health, a joint centre of Flinders University and Charles Darwin University, in Alice Springs. He is a Public Health Medicine specialist and general practitioner, with extensive experience in remote primary health care services as a medical practitioner, senior manager, researcher and advocate.
Ricky Mentha (pictured left):
During my time as a trainee researcher at the Centre for Remote Health, John Wakerman was my primary supervisor. He gave me great support and spent a lot of one-on-
one time with me. Weekly supervisor meetings helped to plan work and identify and target areas of developing professional capacity and research terminology and meaning. He pushed me to explore and retain research knowledge then use it to teach by facilitating research workshops in partnership with more experienced non-Indigenous and Indigenous researchers.
The opportunity to network with non-Indigenous and Indigenous researchers was also beneficial; this was achieved by attending and presenting at primary health care research conferencesand other forums. Support for attending quantitative and qualitative research courses was also vital in my professional development.
John Wakerman (pictured right):
When Ricky started as a research trainee, we were starting a ‘sensible drinking’ research project with Australian Football League (AFL) Central Australia. We were able to link his on-the-job training plan with the research project plan and cover a range of research topics, from research design through to fieldwork and analysis. He also attended research training workshops in Port Augusta, offered by the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia.
Ricky and I had regular planning meetings when we would talk about how
things were going with the project and what was happening. Having regular meetings is very important. Being available at other times is important, too, so you can respond quickly to questions and issues. Ricky brought his expertise and long experience with [Central Australian] footy to the planning and research. I incorporated training as we went—for example, looking at data sets; explaining why we designed the project as we did; what were the ‘confounders’ in the data and how to deal with them; how to tell if there was a causative relationship between the variables we were measuring. I would talk about the theory of what we were doing as we went along and link it to the research processes. I always tried to stretch Ricky and push him to new learning and it worked well for us. Being enrolled in the Master of Remote Health Management program helped him to develop skills to write up the results, develop a poster to present the findings, present the findings at conferences and submit a paper for peer review.
I really enjoyed working with Ricky. I learned a lot from him about the AFL world and the best way of working with the people involved in the research. Without Ricky’s contacts, insider knowledge and communication skills, the projectwould have been a lot more difficult. And he has been able to follow up with his contacts and ensure that the AFL picked up the findings.
From Supporting Indigenous Researchers: A Practical Guide for Supervisors Alison Laycock with Diane Walker, Nea Harrison & Jenny Brands 2009, CRCAH, Darwin, chapter 6, pp. 110–11.