U21 Champion in the time of COVID -19: Axelle Marjolin, UNSW

Axelle Marjolin, UNSW, is the latest of our U21 Champions in the time of COVID-19, who have gone above and beyond to make life on their campus better for colleagues and students alike.   

She was nominated by Professor Dorottya Fabian, Associate Dean Research Training.  Dorottya wrote saying: 

Axelle Marjolin, UNSW
Axelle Marjolin, UNSW

'Axelle is a PhD candidate who has contributed exceptionally to Higher Degree Research welfare and research environment. She organised and chaired this year HDR Conference. Given the virtual situation she initiated contact with U21 to enable international participation. As a result, there were 146 presentations over two days from HDRs across 32 institutions, including 6 overseas institutions with well over 90% satisfaction with various aspects of the conference across the 75 participants who filled out the post-conference survey. The success of this conference is largely due to Axelle's organisational and leadership skills. To organise a virtual conference is no mean feat and the students receive little administrative and IT support. Importantly, some of the conference committee members withdrew form their volunteering around the time of abstract submissions and the finalising of the conference schedule, leaving Axelle to cope with most of the work. She remained friendly and supportive throughout, even when dealing with unjust and impolite criticism from potential presenters. Brilliantly, she secured 2 keynote speakers who spoke about careers post-pandemic and fieldwork during COVID. Both utmost on candidates' minds.

As the chair of our HDR Student Committee, Axelle has been innovative and consultative in revising regular events and introducing new ones to suit the virtual environment and ensure HDRs don't feel isolated, receive appropriate support and their voices are heard. She conducted and analysed a major survey of HDR needs, reported to Faculty and now being acted upon by the Higher Degree Committee. She has been an especially strong advocate during the initial onset of COVID when HDRs were losing their casual tutoring work and their research came to a halt due to inability of going on fieldwork. She established excellent communications channels to ensure Faculty was aware of candidates' emerging needs and that candidates were well-informed about various support schemes and webinars on how to do fieldwork virtually or how to reshape PhD projects.

Of the regular activities, she ensured that the welcome breakfast and other social events are continued to be offered albeit virtually. However, she has also established an additional MS TEAMS group for HDRs,  revised the annual thesis writing bootcamp into a monthly writing swap program and a weekly 2 hour "shut-up and write" online group. In addition, she is organising a practice session for Annual Progress Review presentation a few weeks prior to the scheduled reviews.

In sum, Axelle has contributed enormously to HDR wellbeing, over and beyond any former HDR Student Committee chair and under much harder circumstances. Her dedication and readiness to innovate are truly outstanding and lessened the impact of COVID on the faculty's research candidates. She ensured their training and skills development programs could be maintained and there were plenty of opportunities for them to socialise and not feel isolated. I strongly recommend her for the U21 Champion Award.'

Axelle responded: 'I am both thrilled and honoured to hear that I have been nominated as a U21 Champion! It means a lot to me to have this work recognized, and I’d like to thank Dorottya for her endorsement.

Chairing the HDR Student Committee has been one of the most significant events in my candidature and  while my only goal was to ensure HDRs have a positive student experience, particularly in these uncertain times, it is very touching to be nominated. This recognition is another example of the great support provided by the Faculty and especially Dorottya, to myself and the Committee.'

Congratulations Axelle on making 2020 a better place!