Think again: the executive pathway to a mental health PhD

When you’re at the top of your game in your career, where do you go next?

Back to the classroom.

The Centre for Mental Health Research at the ANU Research School of Population Health has developed a new PhD pathway tailored to senior executives in the mental health sector so they can do just this.

“PhDs are well-suited to young people,” says the Centre’s Dr Sebastian Rosenberg. “So we needed to think about a way we could rearrange the PhD experience to better suit mature-age people, who might not have stepped foot on campus for twenty years, except perhaps to give a lecture.”

While promoting lifelong learning is in itself a worthwhile objective, Dr Rosenberg says that attracting experienced candidates back to university will benefit the mental health sector at a national level.

“Mental health has had many strategies, plans, policies and inquiries over a number of years—all of which conclude there’s a mental health crisis in Australia—but the findings from them have failed to be implemented.

“So we have very experienced people working in mental health who disappear when they move on from being the head of a commission or an inquiry, for example, and take all that knowledge with them.

“Their learnings are lost unless we can provide a platform to take their workplace experience and apply it in an academic context.

“Through this Executive Career Pathway we can build a solid foundation for better decision-making and policy-making in mental health in Australia. As someone who’s working towards positive change in mental health, this is potentially a huge gift.”

The pathway program includes the student’s employer as a “partner organisation” in the research process, which allows them to easily implement the student’s findings as policy.

“We’re asking partner organisations to reconceptualise the way they think about professional development,” Dr Rosenberg explains, “by growing their own in-house research expertise.”

In this way, the student translates their expertise into rigorous academic qualifications, and their employer also benefits by being able to position themselves best-practice early adopters.

Dr Rosenberg is speaking from his own experience. Back when he was Mr Rosenberg, he was a career public servant. It was while he was Deputy CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia that he started his PhD on mental health accountability.

When asked if his current role as Fellow at the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research constitutes a career change, he’s says absolutely not.

“Doing a PhD is not about closing one chapter and starting a new one. It’s about continuing to learn, explore and influence the important area of mental health, and my PhD has given me the expertise and authority to do that in an even greater capacity.”

For more information on the Executive Career Pathway from the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research, email

Related topics