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Optimising endurance, performance & wellbeing in extreme work environments (Belinda Cham's research)

As part of a Curtin University Research videos series, one of our PhD candidates at the Future of Work Institute, Belinda Cham, had the opportunity to share about her research and how it makes a difference.

Belinda, can you tell us about what your research is about?

My research focuses on extreme work environments and how the requirements for performance are different in these unique contexts.

Extreme work environments are work contexts that involve a high degree of risk, physical/social isolation or confinement, and stressful work – e.g. long-duration spaceflight, polar expeditions and military settings.

Compared to conventional work environments (e.g. office jobs), extreme work environments require more than peak performance on any given day – they require people to be remain in optimal physiological and psychological shape so that they are ready to respond to challenges throughout a mission. This duration can range from weeks (e.g. a submarine mission) to years (e.g. the spaceflight to Mars). While there has been a lot of research that sheds light on how to facilitate performance on a short-term basis, we don't understand much about how to protect and enhance long-term endurance.

My research aims to unpack this need for 'endurance' in these unique contexts and determine ways to optimize both short term performance and long-term functioning and wellbeing.

How are you conducting your research? What methods are you using?

I'm mainly using data from field studies conducted in extreme work environments that either myself or my supervisors have collected over the last few years, for example long-haul shipping, the Navy.

Last year I was able to travel around Australia and overseas to run several field studies with the Navy where I geared sailors up with equipment and devices that monitored their work and rest activities and performance indicators during active operations and military exercises.

What is the expected outcome of your research?

My research will help to paint a picture of how people work and live in extreme working environments for long durations. With this knowledge, we can begin to think about how we can optimise workloads, respite periods and sleep not only for operational safety and performance, but also for the long-term wellbeing of the individuals who work in these environments.

Why did you choose Curtin to complete your research?

My main reason for choosing Curtin was to work with the world leading professors at the Future of Work Institute who have been incredibly inspiring and supportive.

Find out more about PhD opportunities at the Future of Work Institute.


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