Discovering a passion for academic writing, Annabelle Savage applied to complete an honours year in 2023, which helped improve her self-confidence and prepared her for both life and a career in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

Studying a Bachelor of Business (Honours), Annabelle’s research focused on factors that influence mid-career gender retention.

“It is definitely apparent that what I have learnt in my research has already greatly impacted my career, and particularly how I choose to lead,” Annabelle said.

“It has allowed me to tailor my own leadership style as a junior officer in my first posting, to navigate different strategies and motivate my team to achieve both their goals and the requirements of the RAAF.

“I requested to undertake my honours year, combining my passions for academic writing, human resource management, gender diversity and retention.

“I hope by having completed my thesis, I am able to add value to existing organisational knowledge, which not only benefits mid-career women, but other dimensions of the RAAF and organisations broadly.”

Undertaking an honours year was not something Annabelle thought to pursue. But when completing a topic that briefly introduced her to academic research in her third year, she fell in love with the process of research and interacting with tutors to gain feedback and ways to improve.

“I started to meet with more senior RAAF women, to talk about current RAAF capability gaps and my interests in potentially completing a thesis. Unsurprisingly, the topic of women’s retention was a constant denominator – I knew that this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Annabelle said.

“My honours year had a lot of ups and downs – it was a huge journey, full of obstacles.

“The biggest thing I learnt was to become more responsive to constructive feedback, no matter the work required, in order to achieve the best research outcomes.”

Studying at UNSW Canberra was a memorable experience for Annabelle as she had positive interactions with tutors, lecturers and her supervisor, and it gave her the space to step out of her comfort zone and try something new.

“The most memorable highlights of studying at UNSW Canberra were the consistent morale events which were organised for the students, particularly the School of Business lunches where we got to do different activities, eat pizza and talk all things uni and uni life,” she said.

“It is the perfect time to set big goals and aim high. The chances are, you might find something which you become invested in and even passionate about.”

Completing an honours year requires self-motivation to complete tasks, as a majority of the workload is self-paced. Annabelle said that lots of café trips and study sessions with her peers increased motivation and morale.  

“Another piece of advice I would give, is to not be afraid to reach out to your peers when you need help,” she said.

“If you make time for people, activities and work-life balance outside of study, you are bound to have an amazing year – it’s worth it!”

A long-term goal for Annabelle is to complete a PhD and contribute to shaping emerging retention, diversity and management policies in the RAAF. In the short term she hopes to utilise her honours degree and undertake a personnel management posting within Air Force, either with the gender diversity and inclusion, workforce management or retention cells.