Aaron Tham’s Story
Hi everyone! My name is Dr Aaron Tham and I am currently a Lecturer in Tourism, Leisure and Events Management at USC Southbank. I have been at USC for 4.5 years and very privileged to be part of the multi-campus footprint of the university.
My PhD journey was prompted by the introduction of social media to everyday life. I was fascinated by how Facebook, and other platforms such as TripAdvisor changed Consumer-to-Consumer interactions and turned tourism advertising on its head. When I was attending a conference in Singapore, I had the pleasure of sitting next to who would then be my future PhD supervisor, so the stars had aligned and I embarked on the PhD in the middle of 2010. While this felt rather surreal, it was also perhaps whetting of my appetite to pursue research full time.
I then joined USC in the middle of 2014 and moved up from Melbourne in 5 weeks with my wife, 7yr old daughter and 1 yr old son. While waiting for the outcome of the PhD, I taught across all six/seven tourism-related subjects each year at the campus, where we started with a small cohort while leasing premises at TAFE Southbank. It was during this time that I also concurrently pursued other research and engagement activities, with much coffee meetings with industry and other government agencies in the tourism landscape in Brisbane and beyond. My passion in working with industry grew as I saw the developments within South East Queensland that validated my decision to move up from Melbourne. This provided a fruitful endeavour as our industry database has since grown to almost 50 active organisations that we call upon to deliver guest lectures, host site visits and even mentor students on internships. Despite the heavy presence of other universities in Brisbane offering competitive tourism degrees, we have nevertheless grown our numbers and offer students a highly personalised and applied approach to our curriculum.
The partnership with industry in Brisbane, and other links from my networks in Asia, has also led to several research and engagement successes. Two of my journal articles published in 2018 were co-authored with industry members from Queen’s Wharf Integrated Resort and Air New Zealand respectively. Other collaborations have also resulted in positive outcomes, and to have ten journal publications in the space of 20 weeks is a celebration of these engagements. This gives me a great sense of accomplishment and also inspires me to be on the lookout for further industry networks.
My primary research is in the area of emerging technologies, which has led me to research on issues such as AirBnB, Uber, Drones, Augmented/Virtual Reality and now onto Blockchains and Bitcoins. Being in regular attendance at industry forums has further fuelled my interest to embark on this research track, one that stays at the cutting edge of technology. While there have been some challenges in terms of gaining ethics consent where there may not be precedence in social science and looking like ‘The Stig’ from Top Gear as a precautionary measure within proximity of recreational drones, further honed my resolve that I was going to be a trailblazer in such endeavour. Recently, I was the successful recipient of the FABL Emerging Scholar of Distinction Grant of $10,000 to undertake the Blockchain and Crypocurrency project, and this is leading to an upcoming panel workshop in a two weeks’ time at the University South Australia.
At USC, I have been involved at the FABL teaching and learning committee and the First Year Engagement representing Southbank. These opportunities have opened up my horizons to meet others outside my discipline, and also allowed me to share some of the work we do with other universities in tourism, in terms of assessment, external benchmarking, and presenting some of these highlights to the committee. I believe that teaching/research/engagement are in a three way dance, and that inputs to any of the three dimensions should have its corresponding enhancements to the other two. As such, the next phase of this external benchmarking project is to take best practices into Asia Pacific, where other English taught tourism courses could likewise benefit, which in turn further generates research outputs and teaching resources.
Outside of USC, I am on 5 journal editorial boards and review manuscripts for at least 8 journals. Even after my undergraduate degree, I am a firm supporter that academia is about giving back to how others have laid the paths for research. Being invited to review manuscripts is a sign of others’ trust in what I do, and for me becomes an honour to therefore be the best I can be. While there may be times that other priorities take up my time and attention, I will direct editors as to who else may be in a similar position to undertake the review. Being an active researcher, I can relate to the timeframes expected of top quality journals, as it then allows the double blind review process to continue its path.
I am also the Vice President of the Travel and Tourism Research Association (TTRA) Asia Pacific Chapter, and contribute through the form of producing two annual newsletters, the conference paper chair for the last three chapter conferences and also work with destinations and other Asia Pacific universities to present compelling bids to host future conferences. Being invited to come onto the Board, and then take on such a leadership position is rewarding by linking up academic and industry communities in Asia, and getting to know how tourism research is developing across this fast emerging region of the world is truly spectacular. I feel intrinsic joy in terms of my geographical footprints – Employed by USC, working in Brisbane, and now a Gold Coast Business Events Linkage Grant Bid Ambassador.
To think that I had my PhD conferred in Dec 2016, while achieving all the above, continues to amaze me. USC has supported me with the entire endeavour and I am very honoured to be part of this family. Being an ECR is one where scholars are starting to find their feet by charting their own trajectories, and I have taken different opportunities to collaborate with diverse cultures, people and nations in a multidisciplinary approach. For current and future ECRs in the making, my recommendation is to explore a variety of areas so that you gain versatile skillsets, but at the same time pace yourself as each one of us works at our own speed.