College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Professor Melanie Takarangi has dedicated her career to solving critical puzzles of memory in the field of clinical cognition: Are traumatic memories indelible? If not, how and why do people’s memories of traumatic experiences evolve? How do people recognise when they are experiencing involuntary memories relating to a traumatic experience? Is memory for trauma shaped more by specific emotions we feel, or by the presence of other people? Do warnings about upcoming experiences change how people respond to, and remember, those experiences? The answers to these questions inform real-world legal (reliability of testimony) and clinical (mental health) issues.
Melanie leads an active, programmatic research laboratory based on the scientific culture of apprenticeship. She has supervised >50 undergraduate student researchers and many research theses (6 PhD, 27 Masters, 25 Honours), and in 2019 won the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in HDR Supervision. Her Honours and PhD students have won multiple awards (e.g., Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (SARMAC) “Best student poster” award [2015, 2019], Centre for Open Science SARMAC Student Open Science Prize , Flinders Best HDR Student Publication Award , Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Doctoral Thesis Excellence [2020, 2023], Australian Psychological Society Thesis Award , Australian Psychological Society Honours Prize [2016, 2020, 2022], and competitive national and international travel awards (including a Fulbright Postgraduate Fellowship ). They have served the academic community by taking on leadership roles themselves (e.g., in SARMAC student caucus) and gone on to develop their own successful careers in government departments (Veterans Affairs, Defence, Science & Technology, SA Department for Correctional Services, Corrective Services NSW) and in universities (Monash, Melbourne, Adelaide).
Melanie is a member of the Flinders Institute for Mental Health and Wellbeing, and Deputy Director of the Open Door initiative.
Before joining Flinders in 2011, Melanie spent three years as a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Forensic Psychology at the University of Leicester (United Kingdom). She completed her PhD and undergraduate degrees (Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Psychology, Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Sociology) at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand).
Melanie has been awarded funding that reflects her expertise in human memory, particularly as it translates to applied clinical and legal settings. Prior to starting at Flinders, she and her collaborators received a UK Economic & Social Research Council Grant to examine how intoxication affects women's memories for sexual assault. From 2013-2017 she led an ARC Discovery Project exploring how people remember and misremember traumatic events. From 2018-2021, she worked with colleagues in New Zealand on a Marsden Fund project aimed at understanding how traumatic memories come to be experienced as incoherent, a popular conceptualisation that lacks empirical support. She has also received funding from government and non-government agencies in Australia and internationally (Department of Veterans' Affairs, Defence Innovation Partnership SA, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education Research, Nuffield Foundation, British Academy).
Currently, Melanie is working on two ARC Discovery Projects: the first, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Sydney and the University of Birmingham, examines the reliability of intoxicated witness memory (awarded 2021); the second, on which she leads a team at Flinders, the University of Adelaide, and the University of Melbourne, examines the impact of exposure to distressing material via content moderation, and preventative strategies to reduce negative mental health outcomes resulting from this exposure (awarded 2022). Melanie also holds funding from the Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation to examine exposure to distressing social media content among adolescents and young people, and how to mitigate the negative impact of this exposure (awarded 2021).
Melanie is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the Psychonomic Society, reflecting her sustained and quality contributions to the science of psychology. She served as a member of the governing board of SARMAC from 2014-2022, and has served as an Associate Editor for SARMAC’s flagship journal, the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, since January 2022. Melanie regularly presents the results of her research at scientific conferences both nationally and internationally, is often sought out to review grants and papers in her area of expertise, and has provided expert evidence to the court in Australia and New Zealand.
At Flinders, Melanie has held a variety of leadership positions, most notably as the College of Education, Psychology & Social Work Higher Degree by Research (HDR) Coordinator (Associate Dean) from 2017-2022. Since February 2023 she has served as the Deputy Teaching Program Director (Psychology), with responsibility for leading strategic teaching development. At the undergraduate level, she has shaped third-year curricula including in forensic and applied cognitive psychology, and takes an active role in training undergraduates in research. She is passionate about mentoring early and mid-career researchers.
Melanie collaborates with a wide network of collaborators with interests in memory and clinical cognition in Australia and abroad (New Zealand, UK, USA, Canada). Her work as part of the Open Door research initiative—a multi-disciplinary hub that conducts and disseminates research aimed at improving policy and service provision for veterans and first responders—is being used to shape a best-practice approach to veterans’ experience at universities across Australia. Melanie is also involved with an incident management system (Rely) that helps organisations prevent, detect and respond to a range of workplace issues, from minor incidents through to serious misconduct. She provides advice about how to best help people feel safe to disclose traumatic events such as discrimination, bullying and harassment.
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