Meet Dr Lilani Arulkadacham - A trailblazer in democratising the study of psychology

Trailblazing women like Dr Arulkadacham are democratising psychology education - and through online psychology courses, Dr Arulkadacham hopes to empower more women to enter the field

When Dr Lilani Arulkadacham casts her mind back to some of her earliest days at school, she’s met with a mixture of emotions and feelings. A young person of colour growing up in Australia, she recalls “feelings of isolation”, which she says “briefly impeded her wellbeing and consequently had an impact on her academic progress”.

“Being a first-generation immigrant added an extra layer of complexity to my early school experience,” Dr Arulkadacham tells Missing Perspectives. 

“I vividly remember being unable to concentrate in class, my thoughts wandering to my peers' interactions while struggling to absorb the lesson. Witnessing others forming bonds while feeling disconnected highlighted the crucial role of one's wellbeing in the process of learning.”  

While many of us mightn’t stop to reflect on our earliest memories of learning very often, these experiences are always front of mind for Dr Arulkadacham, who has since pursued a career in the tertiary education sector and maintains a research portfolio in the scholarship of learning and teaching with particular emphasis on student wellbeing, engagement and retention.

Dr Arulkadacham is currently the Acting Director of Online Education within the School of Psychological Sciences at Monash University. She is responsible for a large portfolio of fully online programs on offer to students who wish to pursue a career within the field of Psychology and Mental Health.

The online nature of her courses is a key factor she emphasises when she speaks passionately about her work. 

Trailblazing women like Dr Arulkadacham are democratising tertiary psychology education- and through various online psychology courses available at Monash University, Dr Arulkadacham hopes to empower more women to enter the field.   

“Women in the field of psychology are challenging the status quo through their increasing representation in leadership roles within academic institutions and professional organisations. This is reshaping the landscape, as they influence decision-making processes and shape research agendas. 

“At Monash, I am fortunate to witness firsthand the impact, with numerous women producing groundbreaking research across various fields. Their work delves into critical topics such as gender biases, mental health disparities, and intersectionality, pushing the boundaries of our understanding of human behaviour,” she says.  

“Beyond academia, they are actively engaged in community-based initiatives and advocacy efforts, addressing social injustices and promoting mental health awareness, thus effecting positive change both within and beyond the institution.”  

Prioritising wellbeing to ensure students do well academically underlies Dr Arulkadacham’s approach to her work. While there were hardships during her primary school years which she reflected on earlier, there was an educator who was instrumental in shaping her teaching philosophy.

“A pivotal moment occurred when I encountered a teacher, who demonstrated exceptional attentiveness to her students' needs and well-being,” she explains.  

“Her simple yet profound gesture of reaching out to me during lunchtime, asking about my likes and dislikes about school, led to the formation of a meaningful friendship with another student. This newfound companionship alleviated my distractions in class, allowing me to focus on my studies and ultimately improving my academic performance.This personal experience underscored the significance of prioritising student well-being to enhance academic outcomes.” 

“Through my own love of learning I have become passionate about the student learning experience,” she adds. Dr Lilani Arulkadacham’s work has not only resulted in impactful research but has also catalysed innovative educational initiatives that have left a lasting impact on online student experiences at Monash University.

Online learning is a concept that more people have become accustomed to during and following the pandemic, but its appeal is enduring, particularly for women. It’s why Dr Arulkadacham is so passionate about advocating for it. 

“By offering online programs, Monash University transcends geographical limitations, allowing students from diverse backgrounds and circumstances to pursue tertiary education,” she says. “This accessibility is particularly crucial in today's fast-paced and interconnected world, where traditional barriers such as location, time constraints, or personal commitments often hinder individuals from accessing higher education.” 

Dr Arulkadacham refers to her own circumstances to demonstrate the importance of flexibility in education to accommodate lifestyle changes – which online learning can provide.  

“As a soon-to-be mother myself, I understand firsthand the daunting task of balancing multiple roles and responsibilities,” she says. “The idea of returning to study while being a parent or preparing for motherhood can be overwhelming, with concerns about managing coursework alongside caring for a child.  

“At Monash University's School of Psychological Sciences, we recognise and address these obstacles by offering a range of online psychology programs tailored to accommodate the diverse needs and responsibilities of women, including mothers juggling caregiving duties and employment,” she continues.  

“Our flexible class schedules are designed to fit around busy lifestyles, with options available during work lunch breaks or after putting children to bed. I have often logged into a class as an educator and have seen fellow mothers settling their babies while engaging in class and participating in group discussions. This truly highlights the importance of providing access to education for all students, regardless of their circumstances.”  

Ultimately, the most rewarding part of Dr Arulkadacham’s career is observing the drive and passion in her students, who feel empowered to advance their education thanks to the structure of online courses offered at Monash University.

“Witnessing their determination and resilience truly inspires me as an educator and reinforces my passion for offering students flexible learning opportunities that genuinely support and understand their needs.”  

To learn more about studying online at Monash University, click here