Staff Profile, Debra O'Connor

What do you enjoy about working at NARI?

I enjoy working in an organisation with strong social justice values and a world-class reputation in ageing research.  I did not know too much about ageing before joining NARI but have learnt a lot and have become committed to improving the life of older people.

I see my contribution to this goal as ensuring that organisation is geared towards supporting the researchers  in their endeavours.

My background was originally in social work and I started my working life as a social worker in mental health and then primary health. 

Later I taught health sciences and health promotion at La Trobe University and my position before NARI was as the  deputy CEO in a large  community health service. I find that my work at NARI brings together many of the skills and experiences I have acquired throughout my career.

What is your specific expertise? 

My strengths are in strategic management and organisational development.

When did you come to NARI?

October 2007

What is the initiative you are most proud of?

Critical to any working life is to have a pleasant environment to work in and robust systems which support the work that researchers are involved in.

I am proud of playing a significant role in renovating the buildings, re-branding NARI, and setting up better systems to support the work of the research staff.

What do you think NARI brings to the Australian ageing research agenda?

I think NARI is front and centre of the Australian research agenda bringing a history of innovative and trusted research which has had a deep and lasting impact on health services and policies. 

NARI is not fettered by bureaucratic or academic structures and researchers at NARI have a breadth of skills and knowledge that enable them  to focus on the ‘whole person’ not just on segmented aspects of health conditions and health systems.

What have been NARI’s main achievements over the past three years?

We have established the Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration (MARC) which brings together researchers in the ageing sphere to work and collaborate together.

Our linkages with international groups are growing and are particularly important we live in an increasingly globalised environment. We have strong working relationships in Europe and increasingly in China and south Asia. I have recently returned from China which offers new opportunities for a nimble organisation like NARI.

Working with our Ambassadors Dr Patricia Edgar and Dr Don Edgar to develop a productive and healthy ageing agenda has been inspiring. Working alongside older people is a keystone to NARI’s success and this is particularly evident with our Ambassadors.

The last few years has seen us to develop a more extensive research and education program focussed on ageing in CALD and indigenous groups.

If you could say one thing to a teenager today, what would it be?

Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions.

When you are not working, what are you doing?

Singing in the chorus of Melbourne Opera Company and choirs. I am also President of the Wye River Surf Life Saving Club.