Dr Morgan graduated with a PhD, despite 28 years of battling with debilitating cardiac and respiratory conditions.
12 December 2013

Graduation is a milestone achievement for any student, but University of Queensland PhD graduate Michelle Morgan has done it while fighting for her life.

Dr Morgan conducted her research and wrote her thesis despite 28 years of battling with debilitating cardiac and respiratory conditions.

This was during and in between extended stays in hospital, on either side of over 300 general anaesthetics, countless resuscitations and setbacks.

Yesterday she graduated from UQ with a doctorate in special education, specifically in adult literacy. 

Her research explored how young adults with the challenges of intellectual disability use literacy in their everyday lives, resulting in a model for how they could be supported to become researchers themselves.

Facing up to challenges is something that Dr Morgan has done more than most of us in one lifetime.

Speaking of her achievement from her hospital bed just hours before graduation, Dr Morgan said she had experienced a range of emotions leading up to this day.

“I went from feeling elated and relieved for having attained my PhD, to being overwhelmed at a most incredible journey in which my courage, optimism and strength enabled me to overcome absolute adversity,” Dr Morgan said.

“But most of all, the humility I felt from the incredible and endless support and encouragement from so many who have journeyed with me was second to none.”

The atmosphere in Dr Morgan’s ward yesterday was a buzz of excitement from hospital staff who have become her second family and been with her through the very worst.

“I am so thrilled to be able to share this with those who mean so much to me,” she said.

Dr Morgan’s research has contributed powerfully to the field of special education, specifically in the areas of adult literacy and participatory research with individuals with an intellectual disability.

Her Principal Advisor, Associate Professor Karen Moni from UQ’s School of Education, said Dr Morgan exemplified courage in the face of adversity.

“Michelle’s courage and refusal to let her ill-health prevent her from achieving her goals, and her persistence in working towards those goals, means that she is an inspiration to those of us who have the privilege of working with her – and a reminder that everything is possible,” Associate Professor Moni said.

“Michelle’s commitment to the young people she is working with, whose lives she is seeking to improve in the research she is undertaking, is also inspirational.”

Dr Morgan received a Pride of Australia Medal of Courage for Queensland in 2010 for these attributes.

“In life we have two choices: we can choose to sit and wallow in self-pity when we are dealt a less than optimal hand, or we can make the most of what we have by finding creative ways of overcoming adversity, knowing deep in our souls that anything is possible, and never, ever giving up on our dreams.

“Like the poet Robert Frost, I chose the latter, the path less travelled, and that really has made all the difference,” she said.

Dr Morgan’s sister, Sherryn Morgan, attended the UQ graduation ceremony earlier today and said it was the proudest moment of her life.

“Many times we have been told Michelle won't make it. For a year I slept with her partially completed PhD on a memory stick under my pillow trying to work out how I could get it finished for her because we didn't think she would survive,” Ms Morgan said.

“She is proof that anything is possible and when my day seems hard I look at her and realise that if she can do this I can do anything. She is my best friend, my hero and my inspiration.”

UQ Graduations

More than 7000 students will graduate from UQ between December 6 and 17.

This year marks 100 years of graduates at UQ, since the first degrees were awarded in 1913.

Queensland’s largest university has graduated more than 205,000 students, and has a proud cohort of alumni who have gone on to make their mark in more than 150 countries.

Media: Michelle Morgan – (T) 3232 7000 (Ward 4M Room 17). (E) michelle.morgan@uqconnect.edu.au, Associate Professor Karen Moni: (T) 3365 6872, (E) k.moni@uq.edu.au