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Turning research into genuine change

DLS PhD student takes top spot in 3MT competition.

PhD law student Paul McGorrery is the 2017 winner of Deakin’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

Currently researching the ‘criminalisation of behaviours that cause purely psychological injuries’, Paul says the incentive for participating in the 3MT competition was both the challenge of public speaking and the opportunity to share his research with a wider audience.

‘Research is just research if no one ever hears about it. The 3MT competition is a unique opportunity to get the message out to as many people as possible, and it can help turn research into genuine change.’

Taking out the top spot in the prestigious 3MT competition on 2 August, Paul’s research has been inspired by a diverse career.

He completed an undergraduate law degree in Melbourne before working in Canberra as an in-house government agency solicitor on workers’ compensation and OHS matters. He then returned to Melbourne to take up a new role with the Office of Public Prosecutions where he says he discovered his ‘real passion’ – criminal law.

‘I worked on murder trials, negotiated plea deals with defence lawyers, and wrote complex legal memos about whether people should be charged with homicide offences. I also worked with some of the finest people in the legal profession, people as compassionate as they were intelligent,’ he recalls.

His next move was to the USA to complete a master’s degree in law (before sitting, and passing, the New York bar exam) which led to a US-based university teaching appointment, and then an ‘extraordinary’ opportunity to work with the Constitutional Court of South Africa in Johannesburg.

‘I worked for Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who holds a well-earned reputation as an intellectual giant with a heart of gold. I also worked alongside 30 other legal researchers – whose combined passion and intellect continues to inspire me – on matters of national, and sometimes international, significance,’ he says.

At the end of the six-month appointment, Paul returned to Australia to commence his PhD studies with Deakin and a new position with the Victoria’s Sentencing Advisory Council – a role he describes as both challenging and rewarding.

‘It includes working on recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence, investigating sentencing outcomes for a whole new category of offences, and providing advice to government about a sentencing guidelines council for Victoria,’ he explains.

Paul considers his PhD research to be a ‘by-product’ of his collective career experiences.

‘I started in workers’ compensation law, where 33% of all money paid out to injured employees was for psychological injuries caused by their workplace. Then I found myself working in criminal law, where psychological injuries caused by someone else were almost an afterthought.’

He says this sparked what could be described as a ‘personal crusade’ to highlight the issue of psychological harm in the criminal law.

‘Some of the victims in the matters I prosecuted were so courageous, and so brave, in spite of everything that had happened to them. But you could also see that they had been made less whole by the offending … I felt like there was something more that I should be able to do for them. I felt like the people who caused their suffering needed to be held accountable, and needed to be told “look at the damage you have done”’.

Describing preparation for the 3MT competition as ‘practice, practice, practice’ – with countless cups of coffee – Paul says he’s grateful for the Faculty of Business and Law providing him with the opportunity to polish his presentation skills.

‘After winning the heat, the faculty generously gave me the opportunity to work (over multiple sessions) with Dr Jon Hopwood, an expert in communication and presentation skills. Together we managed to hone my presentation to make sure I was delivering the best message possible. And of course, we then practised some more!’

Delighted with the win, he says the added highlight of the 3MT competition was meeting the other Deakin finalists.

‘I can’t emphasise enough how much of an honour it was to have met each of the incredible people who presented on the day, and how humbling it was to have been chosen to represent Deakin at the finals.’

Paul continues to publish articles around his field of interest, and teaches (online) with several universities across a range of subjects including legal ethics, professionalism in practice, legal writing and criminology.

Across his career and research, he says his ongoing focus is the personal conviction that ‘people matter’ – and he’s most happy when helping others.

‘That passion is the biggest driver of my PhD research. We are literally in the middle of a revolution in how we define and respond to family violence. No longer is family violence protected by the privacy of the home. No longer is family violence restricted to physical forms of abuse. And no longer are governments standing idly by while this travesty continues. My hope is that the 3MT competition, and my PhD with the Deakin Law School, can be a part of that revolution, and make this world just a little better.’

*Paul’s views are his own and do not reflect those of his employer.