Dr Irene Semos undergoes coaching to influence higher education in PNG

Wednesday, March 15, 2023
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Papua New Guinean (PNG) WLI alumna and post-doctoral scholar Dr Irene Semos believes she is better prepared to positively influence higher education in PNG after completing a workplace internship with a leading Australian university professor working in the curriculum leadership space.  

Over two weeks, Irene was coached and guided by Kelly Matthews, Associate Professor at The Institute for Teaching and Learning Innovation (ITaLI) of The University of Queensland (UQ) with a focus on analysing and contextualising best practice in higher education curriculum leadership.

The internship was made possible through Irene’s participation in the Women’s Developmental Leadership Program and supports her long-term development goals: which include to ensure higher education curriculum is informed and shaped by contemporary PNG issues and creates opportunities for young people in equal-power settings.

Sharing her internship experience, Irene reflects that the role of academic leadership in higher education curriculum is especially critical in PNG where demand for higher education has doubled in the last 10 years.

About the two-week internship at UQ

The purpose of Irene’s workplace internship was to learn from and be coached by Kelly in order to better understand the complexities of her work at UQ within the curriculum leadership space.  

“As an early career researcher, I am in the post-doctoral phase of my career after completing my PhD,” Irene explains, “Such a stage requires continuous conversations in the fields of my PhD which include higher education, curriculum, public health and indigenous research methodologies, and how they could fit into the role of my work as an academic.”

Irene is currently a lecturer at Divine World University (DWU) in Madang, PNG, where she is focused on the review of curricula within her faculty.

Throughout the two-week period, Irene followed a self-directed learning approach through which she reviewed grant applications and other documents relevant to the curriculum leadership space.  

“By looking through the guiding documents and policies of UQ, I was able to see how important reflective activities are,” says Irene, “[And how they inform] the way curriculum reviews are designed and implemented,” says Irene.  

Most importantly, Irene says it helped her to discover the importance of consultation and collaboration with the many stakeholders of each specific program, “so that they could find out how to enact changes to the curriculum, [and] where and when they were needed”.  

Every second day, Irene and Kelly then participated in a reflection session in which Irene “bounced off ideas and thoughts” while Kelly coached and mentored her on “how to approach them”.   

The pair focused on Irene’s development as an academic and a leader in higher education, building networks, and best practices in curriculum leadership.  

“Kelly coached me on the importance of working alongside people,” Irene says, “[And] that doing leadership work around curriculum involves a lot of “people work”.”

Coaching to develop a research grant and opportunities for PNG students

Identifying the power of, and applying for, grants was also an important part of their work together.  

“We were able to write up a grant that involves research on inclusion of indigenous viewpoints in the higher education curriculum of Papua New Guinea and Melanesia,” Irene says.

This continuous work involves professional development and networking in the higher education research and development space of Australia, Asia, and the Pacific.

Irene believes that the experiences she gained during the two-week internship “not only harnessed my skills and knowledge” but have also created opportunities to help her see how she can achieve her long-term goals for higher education curriculum for PNG and the Pacific.  

“By part-taking in this internship, it was important that I got feedback on my thoughts around leading a curriculum review and how to manage working with people through best practices of critical review and evaluations”, Irene says, “I will also use these skills to work alongside my colleagues at DWU and to also coach and mentor our tutors and staff.”

Irene recognises the importance of having “good mentors or coaches” to “enact my vision of providing “equal power setting” for young people through the curriculum” in higher education.

Grateful for having an academic mentor and leadership coach in Kelly Matthews, Irene continues to learn from her, “given her experience”.  

“Such internships and networking opportunities allow us to learn and work alongside great mentors and leaders,” Irene adds, “I am thankful for the experience to return to UQ in a different capacity and to see how UQ operates as a provider of higher in Australia and internationally.”

Irene also holds a Master of International Public Health from the University of Queensland.


Irene Semos is an alumna of the WLI Women's Developmental Leadership Program.