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Learning to learn again unlocks Julia’s career in research


Learning to know what she didn’t know was the reason Julia Robertson enrolled at TAFE Queensland. Now 12 years later, the brain tumour and stroke survivor is about to embark on a PhD with Griffith University. 

Living with a brain tumour wasn’t at all easy for the young mother but removal surgery and major strokes at the age of 37 left her with severe memory loss and some hearing and vision loss.  

Just 12 months post surgery, Julia’s desire to return to work saw her taking the brave step to enrol in a Certificate III in Business (BSB30110) and Certificate III in Business Administration (BSB30407) followed by a Certificate IV in Adult Tertiary Preparation (11240NAT) at TAFE Queensland’s Loganlea campus.  

“I came to TAFE because I needed to learn what I didn’t know. I didn’t want to get a job and then find out what I couldn’t do,” Julia recalled. 

“One of the biggest problems was the typing test – my left and right hand didn’t work in sync with each other.” 

Working with the committed team of teachers and support staff at the Loganlea campus, Julia began to figure out ways to “learn how to relearn” and create memories. 

“It was terrifying. When I first walked through the doors, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and that was really hard to deal with. I had achieved really well at school and now I couldn’t even add up in my head,” Julia said. 

“The first couple of days I was petrified.” 

“I quickly found out how supportive everyone was. They kept checking that I knew what was happening. It took me the first year for me to realise that things were never going to be the same and that I would never be the same as everyone else ... but I would get there.” 

Eventually, Julia said she began to access the disability support services available to her.  

“It took me a while to give myself a bit of a break and to understand that accepting support was not giving myself an advantage over others, but actually just bringing me up to where they were.” 

Graduation day was very special for Julia, with her team of supporters from the Adult Tertiary Preparation program by her side. 

“I didn’t know where it was going to take me but I knew it was going to be to bigger and better things. Without the confidence that TAFE had given me, I would never have had the confidence to enrol at university.” 
“TAFE Queensland is definitely the right place to go and try stuff – find something you are passionate about and just go for it, don’t let anything hold you back. You will get the support you need to succeed.” 

After graduating with a Bachelor of Psychological Science at the end of 2019, Julia commenced a Master of Global Public Health in 2020 and began working in research.  

She undertook a six-month non-clinical internship at Gold Coast University Hospital. Then, moved on to two research assistant positions (mostly data analysis), a position in the Clinical Trial Unit, and began working in education support with a student studying a dual degree in Psychology and Law.   

“After I graduated from TAFE, I decided I wanted to study neuroscience and find a cure for brain tumours but I realised I couldn’t achieve that so I thought if I couldn’t cure it, I can provide the psychological support that people need if they are going through it so they end up with less damage than me,” she said. 

“I have eight co-authored papers published and am still very much involved in research but my big news is that I have been accepted to the PhD program at Griffith University starting later this year,” Julia shared. 

“I’ve come a long way from brain surgery to a PhD!” 

Julia is pictured with ATP teacher Kerryn Hayman.