Using data to understand social dynamics

18 Nov 2020 | 4 mins

About Luke Barber

Luke is a fourth-year Bachelor of Philosophy student and Fogarty Foundation scholar. He is currently completing his honours in economics, an area he chose because of a keen interest in the way internet data and econometric techniques can help us understand the human psyche, political movements and conflict. His honours thesis examines the way major Australian media outlets report on Islam and asks whether this reporting may be stimulating online interest in radical far-right views.

He held major roles with both Teach Learn Grow (TLG), including the role of inaugural Coordinator Support Manager, and Fogarty Futures. He also completed internships with the political section at the US Consulate General in Perth and in Diversity and Inclusion with Avivo (facilitated through the UWA McCusker Centre for Citizenship).

Luke spent some time on exchange in Madrid last year to improve his Spanish and develop a greater understanding of European politics, economy and culture.

On being a Fogarty scholar

I have been involved in a number of initiatives during my time at UWA. In particular, standout experiences include my involvement with Fogarty Futures, Teach Learn Grow, internships with the US Consulate General and support services provider Avivo, as well as a year-long study abroad experience in Spain. Fogarty Futures has been a particular highlight for me. Working so closely with other Fogarty scholars to develop a unique program aimed at inspiring and enabling high school leaders is a very humbling experience.

The community surrounding the Fogarty scholars, alumni and the broader network has been a privilege to be part of throughout my time at UWA. Not only has this allowed me to attend engaging events, workshops and conversations with a very impressive list of speakers, it has given me access to opportunities I certainly would not have had otherwise. In particular, I am grateful for the opportunity to network with my fellow scholars and to rely on them for advice or just as a sounding board for ideas.

"There are just so many unknowns in this current environment; however, I do know I am inspired and enthusiastic enough to persevere through inevitable challenges.

The best aspect of my UWA experience to prepare me for the future has been its multifaceted nature – the combination of practical workshops, lectures, extracurricular opportunities and overseas exchange."

Luke Barber
Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours) student
Luke Barber

Working with Teach Learn Grow

I was also fortunate enough to be part of an organisation called Teach Learn Grow (TLG) during my studies. TLG is an organisation that is part of a movement to ignite change in education and end educational inequality in Australia through one-on-one tutoring and mentoring. This is a fantastic organisation with an exceptionally noble goal: to bridge the gap between educational outcomes for rural and regional Australia, as opposed to metropolitan Australia. Being involved with such a great cause, while surrounded by energetic individuals who volunteer with TLG, is a huge positive of my university experience. While at TLG, I was tasked with developing an entire new team to streamline work and relieve the burden on volunteers during my final semester.

While in tutorials and lectures I learn about complex and evolving real-world situations and the latest frontiers of research, my extracurricular activities have complemented this with more tangible experiences and skills. Work with TLG taught me skills in recruiting, training and managing others. Work with Fogarty Futures taught me the logistical skills required to put on a conference and helped hone my skills in financial sustainability. My internship with the Consulate General gave me a firsthand look at small-scale diplomacy.

Next steps

For my generation, I think the future feels uncertain and scary. There are just so many unknowns in this current environment; however, I do know I am inspired and enthusiastic enough to persevere through inevitable challenges. The best aspect of my UWA experience to prepare me for the future has been its multifaceted nature – the combination of practical workshops, lectures, extracurricular opportunities and overseas exchange. Degree-integrated internships left me with what I believe to be a well-rounded skill set I could apply to a number of potential pathways.

I plan to finish my last semester of my degree and then look to options around further study. Through my honours research this year, I have developed a passion for utilising new data in innovative ways – particularly in terms of understanding political and social unrest. My focus has been Australia's growing far-right movement and, using a variety of data taken from online sources, I have been investigating a hypothesised link between interest in the far-right online and the way the Australian media reports on Islam. I believe this area of research has huge untapped potential and will only grow.

I also hope to return overseas to study at some point in the not too distant future, though my original plan to complete this coming semester in Singapore and then study in Indonesia through the New Colombo Plan scholarship has obviously been put on hold.

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