A PhD student convincingly explained her study on the importance of social inclusion to problem gamblers to win the $1000-first-prize in Victoria University’s annual three-minute-thesis contest Friday.
Gabriela Byrne beat nine other VU finalists in the competition, which gives doctoral candidates three minutes to present their thesis topic to a non-academic audience.
Gabriela’s win means she will compete at Brisbane’s University of Queensland next month against champions from other universities across Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong for a shot at a $5000-first-prize in the Trans-Tasman finals.
Gabriela is herself a one-time pokies addict who is now reformed. She has been pro-actively developing and managing projects that support other problem gamblers for the past eight years.
She linked her research to a ‘rat park’ study that showed drug-addicted rats would not continue consuming drugs if they were placed in an enriched environment.
About 200,000 Victorians suffer from problem gambling, but 75% of those who complete reform programs relapse because they are not socially connected, Gabriela said.
Before embarking on her PhD thesis entitled Preventing Problem Gambling Relapse through Social Inclusion, Gabriela created The Free Yourself Program which sold more than 10,000 copies since its publication in 1997.
She also founded ‘Dare to Connect’ a relapse-prevention program. Problem-gamblers meet weekly with volunteers to enjoy fun activities and meet people outside gambling.
Gabriela is in the fourth year of her PhD candidature in the College of Business. She is supervised by VU’s Dr James Doughney and the University of Melbourne’s Professor Alun Jackson.