Aquero Lecture Series

The Aquero Lecture Series honours the Catholic intellectual tradition by inspiring progressive dialogue towards principled leadership in a global health paradigm that is constantly changing.

Past Aquero Lectures

Lessons learned from 50 years working with elite athletes

The first Aquero lecture of 2024, held on 18 April, was presented by the SPRINT Research Centre in collaboration with the Mary Mackillop Institute for Health Research.

Hear how optimal sleep and nutrition are two of the most critical contributors to elite athlete performance.

While athletes are often considered at the extreme of human performance, research in nutrition and sleep in athletes can provide valuable lessons for optimising and enhancing our own health and wellbeing. Learn how sleep benefits physical and mental health, as well as techniques to protect and enhance sleep. Discover, using a case study of an elite athlete, how to achieve changes in body composition - increased muscle mass and reduced body fat - for a healthier lifespan. Professor Louise Burle also unveils the newest addition to the ACU Health Precinct: a metabolic chamber.


Professor Louise Burke
ACU | Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research

Louise is a sports dietitian with 40 years of experience in the education and counselling of elite athletes. She worked at the Australian Institute of Sport for 30 years, first as Head of Sports Nutrition and then as Chief of Nutrition Strategy. She was the team dietitian for the Australian Olympic Teams from 1996 to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Her publications include more than 350 papers in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters, and the authorship or editorship of several textbooks on sports nutrition. She is an editor of the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Louise was a founding member of the Executive of Sports Dietitians Australia and is a Director of the IOC Diploma in Sports Nutrition.

She was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2009 for her contribution to sports nutrition. Louise was appointed as Chair in Sports Nutrition in the Mary MacKillop Institute of Health Research at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne in 2014 and took up this position full-time in 2020.

Professor Shona Halson
ACU | SPRINT Research Centre

Professor Shona Halson from ACU's School of Behavioural and Health Sciences has been a mainstay of Australia's high performance sport network. Her research focuses on recovery, fatigue and sleep and she has been a trusted advisor to countless elite coaches and athletes. Prof Halson was named as one of Exercise and Sport Science Australia's three Female Leaders in Exercise and Sports Science on International Women's Day 2019. Prof Halson's notable career milestones include being the Head Recovery Physiologist at the Australian Institute of Sport from 2002 to 2018 and being part of three Olympic campaigns with the national team.

In a busy, competitive and commercially focused world, many people may be uncertain or even afraid of compassion. It may trigger concerns that being soft, vulnerable or - particularly with self-compassion - even 'selfish' are signs of weakness.

The second Aquero Series Lecture for 2023, held on 18 September, explored cutting-edge research which asks, 'What is compassion, and is it good for everyone all the time?'

Compassion is defined as a sensitivity to suffering, combined with a commitment to try and alleviate and prevent it. There are three flows of compassion: having compassion for others, receiving compassion from others and having compassion for yourself. This last compassion in particular, self-compassion, has attracted keen interest from both researchers and clinicians in psychology.

A harsh self-critic is often the biggest influence on our life - the one that we may rely on to motivate us, to drive us to be and do better. It may also be an invisible influence - one we may not be consciously aware of as it simply feels like an objective truth.

There is, however, a growing body of evidence that suggests that treating ourselves - and others - with more compassion, kindness, respect and support leads to a variety of psychosocial benefits. Exciting methods of understanding data are emerging which celebrate the idiosyncratic uniqueness of each individual, and therefore reveal new ways of thinking about compassion.

This panel discussion, a collaboration between ACU's Institute of Positive Psychology and Education (IPPE) and the School of Behavioural Health Sciences, began with an experiential introduction to self-compassion and a brief overview of the theoretical model. The panel then presented recently published cutting-edge research and finished with a live role-play/meditation which demonstrated the the key concepts explored.


Professor Joseph Ciarrochi

Professor Joseph Ciarrochi

Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, ACU

Professor Joseph Ciarrochi is among the top one per cent of the most cited scientists in the world for his revolutionary work on the development and promotion of wellbeing. He focuses on psychological flexibility, or what he terms 'flexible strength': a cluster of skills that can be used to promote personal growth and build vitality and valued action. Examples of skills related to flexible strength are emotional intelligence, social intelligence, mindfulness, psychological flexibility, nonattachment, grit, equanimity, willpower and emotion regulation skill.

Professor Ciarrochi has given presentations and workshops all over the world on how best to promote wellbeing and peak performance. He is a research professor and all of his talks are based on the best available science. He works with a wide variety of groups, including people in organisational settings, adolescents, teachers, leaders and members of the public. His work focuses on finding the best way to:

  • develop character strengths such as courage, perspective taking and flexibility
  • assess and promote emotional intelligence
  • help people live more vital, meaningful lives
  • improve social relationships and social functioning
  • create supportive work groups and communities
  • help people to persist at what they care about and change their behaviour when the situation calls for it.

Dr Baljinder K Sahdra

Dr Baljinder K Sahdra

Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, ACU

Dr Baljinder K Sahdra's publications reflect her diverse substantive interests in psychological assessment, educational psychology, personality, developmental psychology, and mindfulness-related constructs and interventions. They also showcase various computational methods, including structural equation modelling, multilevel modelling, network analysis, mixture modelling, longitudinal analysis, text mining and machine learning advances in psychometrics. She has been awarded several prestigious awards and competitive grants (more than $7 million).

Dr Sahdra's research is published in top-tier journals, is highly cited and has been featured in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sun, Radio Canada International, Boston Globe, New York Daily Post, Huffington Post, New Scientist, The Guardian, ABC Radio and other major media outlets.

Associate Professor Keong Yap

Associate Professor Keong Yap

School of Behavioural Health Sciences (Psychology), ACU

Associate Professor Keong Yap is the National Course Coordinator for postgraduate psychology programs at the School of Behavioural and Health Sciences. He joined ACU in 2015 to assist in setting up the Master of Psychology (Clinical) course on the Strathfield Campus. Associate Professor Yap graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2002 with a Doctor of Psychology, majoring in clinical psychology. He is a registered psychologist with clinical endorsement and is also a PsyBA-accredited supervisor.

His research interests are in clinical psychology focusing on obsessive-compulsive disorder and hoarding disorder. He is also interested in examining the application of mindfulness and acceptance-based therapies (eg acceptance and commitment therapy) for these conditions.

Dr Madeleine Fraser

Dr Madeleine Fraser

School of Behavioural Health Sciences (Psychology), and Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre, ACU

Dr Madeleine Fraser's research interests are in clinical and health psychology. She is passionate about self-compassion and cultivating a healthy and supportive way of relating to oneself, as opposed to harsh self-criticism. Dr Fraser completed a Doctor of Psychology (Clinical) at Macquarie University in 2015 and a PhD at the University of Sydney in 2021, with a thesis titled 'Self-Compassion in Adolescence: A Protective Psychological Framework for Relating to Oneself'. She is a member of the Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre (HBMRC) at ACU.

Since 2015, Dr Fraser has lectured at ACU's Strathfield Campus in a full-time clinical psychology lecturer role. She supervises honours and master's research projects related to clinical psychology and with a particular focus on self-compassion. She is also an AHPRA board approved supervisor and facilitates group supervision in the clinical master's program. Dr Fraser is the lecturer in charge for units such as Abnormal Psychology in undergraduate psychology, and Ethics in postgraduate psychology. In 2017, Dr Fraser was the recipient of the APS Sydney Branch Outstanding Lecturer in Psychology Award and was awarded the 2019 APS Early Career Teaching Award. She is a registered psychologist with clinical endorsement and a PsyBA-accredited supervisor.

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