Our newest PhD graduate, Dr Belinda Cham



Congratulations to our newest PhD graduate at the Future of Work Institute (FOWI), Dr Belinda Cham, PhD!


Belinda first started her research journey in 2016, working with FOWI Professor of Practice Karina Jorritsma on submarine crewing systems.


Belinda is a valued team member at our institute, and we are excited to have her continue her impactful research into submariner endurance with us as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow.


We had a conversation with Belinda to find out more about her PhD research and current activities.


Can you tell us more about your thesis and its findings?

My research focuses on how the demands and constraints of extreme work environments impact workers' endurance - or their ability to sustain high performance over long durations.


Extreme work environments involve dangerous work, physical/social isolation or confinement, and stressful living conditions. Examples of these environments include long-duration spaceflight, polar expeditions, and military settings.


As part of my research,I examined data from over 70 submariners to monitor their performance over several weeks. My findings highlighted that human functioning and performance in these extreme settings are shaped by a combination of work, non-work, and sleep experiences, where stress and fatigue can carry over and accumulate from one experience to another.


What inspired you to undertake your PhD?

Before the PhD, I was undertaking project work for the Defence Science Technology Group focused on submarine crewing systems. Over the course of this project, I was intrigued by how submariners sustained high performance over the course of long missions, despite the challenging working and living situations they faced. I realised there were lots of interesting and unanswered questions in this area. For example, what is the impact of being constrained to work, live, and sleep all in the same physical environment over extended periods? And how do people continue to perform in the face of constant exposure to unpredictable danger and stress? The desire to shed some light on these questions was the trigger for undertaking the PhD.


Belinda was featured in the 'My #CurtinResearch Experience' series for her PhD research. Video credit: Curtin University.


What are some of the highlights of your PhD journey?

A big highlight of my PhD was being able to conduct field studies, which meant I was able to engage directly with the submariner workforce to collect data over several submarine operational activities. I travelled nationally and internationally to meet up with various submarine crews to gear them up with measurement devices. I was lucky enough to travel to the 2019 Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the world's largest international maritime warfare exercise held in Honolulu, USA, for these field studies.

What are you currently working on as a post-doc researcher?

As a post-doc researcher, I've continued to work with the Defence Science Technology Group and the Submarine Force on a program of research. My current research examines how work design (i.e., the content and organisation of tasks, activities, responsibilities, and relationships within a job), impacts long-term submariner sustainability (e.g., burnout, well-being), and how we might be able to re-design their work for better outcomes, and to support the future transition to the new nuclear fleet.


Belinda was part of the FOWI Work Systems Design team named 2021 Eureka Prizes finalist. Video credit: Hamish McNair, Curtin University.


Published in leading journals Organizational Psychology Review and Work and Stress, Belinda's PhD research was supervised by John Curtin Distinguished Professor Mark Griffin (Director, Future of Work Institute), Dr Daniela Andrei (Senior Research Fellow, Centre of Transformative Work Design), Dr Michael Wilson (Forrest Prospect Fellow, Future of Work Institute) and Dr Sam Huf (Defence Science Technology Group).


We would like to especially thank Defence Science and Technology (DST), the Royal Australian Navy and Curtin University for their support in Belinda's research.


You can read Belinda's publications, titled:

  • Endurance in extreme work environments (link)

  • Investigating the joint effects of overload and underload on chronic fatigue and wellbeing in full (link)