Lucy Sullivan

Winter Research scholar
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

My love for animals has always been an important part of my identity, especially as a horse and dog owner (pictured: Molly the Labradoodle). During my first year as an occupational therapy (OT) student, I realised that my passion for animals and future career in OT could be intertwined! I was introduced to animal-assisted therapy by my lecturer, Dr. Jess Hill, and her therapy dogs, Elsa and Loki. My curiosity was sparked and led me to pursue additional courses on therapy dogs, driven by a desire to learn more.

The Winter Research Program presented me with an exciting opportunity to work on the project titled "Understanding the human-animal bond between pet dogs and their owners through the lens of attachment theory." I was honoured to be collaborating with experienced and passionate researchers including Dr. Jess Hill, an animal-assisted occupational therapist and expert in human-animal bond, and Professor Pamela Meredith, an occupational therapist, psychologist, and attachment theory expert.

If researching about dogs alongside industry experts wasn’t enticing enough, I also partook in the program to gain insights into real-world research practices at UQ. As a first-time researcher, I approached the experience with some apprehension and uncertainty about the expectations. However, the program was specifically scaffolded to provide students with a taste of the research world. I also felt very supported by my supervisors, Jess and Pam, who fostered a warm, welcoming environment. Their approachability and enthusiasm reassured me that my contributions to the project were valued. Embracing a positive attitude, I approached each assigned task as an opportunity to learn and grow personally, academically, and professionally.

Leading the data analysis process, I was immersed in both qualitative and quantitative data analysis – from researching characteristics of 60 different dog breeds, to conducting thematic analysis of survey responses, followed by gathering descriptive statistics and frequency data. This experience has enriched my understanding of the human-animal bond and attachment theory, whilst having the privilege to see everything come together into a soon-to-be published research paper.

Over the past 4 weeks, I gained valuable knowledge and skills relating to research and employability, as well as confidence and direction for future career pathways as a graduate next year. The most important lesson I learned was to embrace the ‘give it a go’ mindset by being brave enough to try something new and injecting each opportunity with curiosity and passion. This mindset is applicable to every opportunity in life and can lead to surprisingly rewarding outcomes. In my case, only good things have come from this research experience, so I strongly encourage anyone to apply for a UQ Research Program.

Find a project that aligns with your passions and give it a go!