Determination propels Judith Gullifer to professional heights

Close up of a smiling Judith Gullifer

Usually, when we tell someone’s story we begin at the beginning — a very good place to start. But not this time. We’re going to pick up Judith Gullifer’s story of determination somewhere around the middle.

It was graduation day. For most others, it’s the culmination of a few years of consistent hard work, unwavering focus and many sacrifices. A milestone achievement in their lives. For Judith, graduating represented all that – and so much more.

It was the realisation of a dream and, unbeknown to her at the time, the beginning of a different life.

Graduating with first class Honours from a Bachelor of Psychology, Judith had been told she was to receive the Australian Psychological Society Prize and was invited to give the valedictory address.

But there was one surprise still to come.

“I was introduced before my speech: Judith Gullifer, Bachelor of Psychology, first class Honours – then a pause – Australian Psychological Society Prize – pause – School of Social Sciences and Liberal Studies Most Meritorious Award – and all of sudden the audience cheered.

“I realised I had also won the faculty award. And my cohort clapped in appreciation. It was so emotional. Everyone was looking at me and smiling.”

It was one memorable moment from a day Judith will always remember.  

“To actually wear the cap and gown, to be walking across that stage and to receive my degree – which took me eight years to obtain – knowing that I did that through sheer determination, and with the support of staff at Charles Sturt University, was one of the most amazing things that I could ever do. And having my family in the audience meant it was one of the most moving days of my life.”

A rocky beginning

With such a distinguished academic record, it’s hard to fathom that attending university was by no means a given for Judith.  

“I remember at the ripe old age of 27, looking out my kitchen window onto our property, thinking to myself ‘I really want to go to university’. But it was the one thing I thought was out of my reach. At the time, I was married, raising children and living on an 8000-acre property 63 kilometres from the nearest town.”

But it wasn’t just a busy life and a little isolation that made Judith hesitate.

“When I finished Year 10 and was going into senior high school, one of my teachers said, ‘why don’t you just leave now and get a job as a check-out chick?’ That was the advice.

“I truly believed I was stupid. I actually believed that. And because I thought I was stupid, I wasn’t a model student. I was distracted. I just felt school wasn’t right for me. And back then, if you weren’t a high-achieving student you were left behind. So I failed. Miserably. I got 180/500. And hated myself for it – absolutely hated myself for it.

“So, I left school, got that job as a check-out chick, fell pregnant that year, married and moved to a property. That was destined to be my life. As wonderful as it was, I felt that something was missing.

“But then I had that moment, looking out that window.

“I started thinking about what I could do and how I could retrain. It was by sheer chance that I came across an ad in the local newspaper for a program called ASSIST that was being run by Charles Sturt University.”

Determination goes further than talent – with a little Assistance

Given she’d failed her HSC, Judith believed her opportunity to go to uni was lost. But Charles Sturt’s program gave her new hope.

“It was a 20-week program for people who were interested in going to uni but who hadn’t completed high school or did not complete their HSC.  

“It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. But I started my pathways program and, with the support from those at Charles Sturt University who helped me at every step, my confidence built. I actually thought ‘I can finally do this’.”

Judith initially enrolled in an arts degree.

“It was absolutely nerve-racking! Every assignment I did was scary. You question your ability to do it – especially being an older women and raising children. But, studying with Charles Sturt University I was immediately made to feel at ease. The academic staff were just so supportive. They made me feel comfortable to ask questions. That was a big part of what helped me survive university.

“And I remembered some very wise words imparted to me when I was growing up: determination goes further than talent. If you’re determined enough, and you want something badly enough, you’ll find ways to achieve it – especially if you have support systems around you.

“So for me to survive and to pass my degree I had to be determined and want it enough. And importantly, never be afraid to ask for help – because help is always there if you want it.”

As it turned out, Judith did more than survive; she thrived.

A change of focus

Judith originally wanted to study nursing, ended up enrolling in arts, and graduated with a psychology degree.

“When I graduated, I was asked if I was interested in applying to work for Charles Sturt because they had vacancies for Level A academics and were looking for someone to start up a counselling program.

“Though I was working as a counsellor at the time, I laughed it off and said ‘Don’t be so ridiculous. I’m married to farmer on a rural property.’ But on the drive home my husband asked, ‘Jude, why wouldn’t you do it?’ And I said, ‘Because we’d have to leave the farm and move to Bathurst – and the boys are fifth generation farmers.’

“But given the drought and the abysmal confidence in the farming sector of the time, we made the decision to absolutely turn our lives around – and we headed to Bathurst.”

It was a great decision.

“I became an academic, teaching psychology and finishing my PhD. I moved out of the School of Psychology and became a Sub Dean Learning and Teaching in the faculty. I then became the Associate Dean (Academic) in the faculty and I was asked to undertake a secondment with the Australian Psychological Society (APS).”

With the APS, as Executive Manager of Science, Education and Career Development, Judith oversaw the training and development of members, made up 24,000 psychologists across Australia.

Helping remote and regional communities

Drawing on her own educational journey and considering her vast experience in the field of psychology, Judith became an advocate for education and mental health services for those in remote and regional communities.

“Education’s absolutely crucial. We know it’s a determinant of health. We know people do well if they’ve got those opportunities. So having a university that can open those doors is just so important.

“And the mental health of our regional communities is really important. Statistics show that the further west we go from metropolitan areas there is an increase in the prevalence of mental health issues.

“Psychologists have such an important role to play in these small communities – not just for individual members, but for the community itself. We know that if we train psychologists in regional universities, the chances of them staying and working within those communities are great. So universities like Charles Sturt have a massive impact on the health services that end up being delivered in rural and remote communities.”

Playing her part in helping to address these health needs has also had a profound impact on Judith.

“My most memorable career moment was working for the community and seeing the difference you can make, particularly when you’re working with children and young people. Seeing them grow and develop – then become contributors to their community. And knowing that somehow you’ve had an impact. You’ve been able to shape that somehow.”

And it all began with a dream of going to uni. A dream fuelled by sheer determination and fanned by a strong system of support.

“So, as a failed HSC student, I believe anything is possible. Especially if you have the right people around you who believe in you and support you – then anyone can do it.”

Create a world worth living in

What does a better world look like to you? Does it mean finding a cure for illnesses, improving education, making new discoveries, leading a movement or developing innovative technologies? Or is it about having an impact in your local community and making a difference to the little guys out there? If you want to make a difference in a career you’re passionate about, you can with us.

Our wide range of courses will give you the skills and industry knowledge so you can be the change you want to see in the world. Follow your heart, get qualified and land a job you’ll love with Charles Sturt University. Let’s get to work!