PhD in graduating – how an experience at work inspired Jessica Borg

PhD in graduating – how an experience at work inspired Jessica Borg

PhD graduate Dr Jessica Borg’s experience at work inspired her to research how the construction industry can better support graduates entering the industry. Plus, she’s part of a growing a family dynasty …

At 26, Jessica Borg is the first project management student to go from undergraduate to PhD graduate in RMIT’s School of Property and Construction Management.

Along the journey came academic accolades, numerous conference presentations and a determination to improve the workplace experience of others following her path.

Towards the end of secondary school, Jessica knew she wanted to be a project manager, and enrolled into the Bachelor of Applied Science (Project Management) (Honours).

Jessica’s passion for project management and determination for success showed.

In 2015, she was awarded the prestigious Women in Project Management Award by the Project Management Institute and was a keynote speaker at the Australian Institute of Project Management’s annual conference.

She won the J N McNicol Prize in 2017, impressing selectors with her excellent academic record, initiative and leadership potential.

“They only award the prize to one undergraduate student each year, so it was an honour to be nominated and then win the prize,” Jessica says. 

news_jessica-borg-v2_1220px Dr Jessica Borg

Turns out Jessica didn’t have to wait long to realise her dream; after finishing the undergrad she had no trouble finding work in construction.

Although, her experiences as a graduate would shape her career and shift her towards academia.

“I’d just graduated and found myself in charge of complex, high profile, high value projects,” she says.

Jessica and her peers were all facing similar circumstances.

“We were equipped with the knowledge, however we felt somewhat thrown in the deep end, with many of us managing multi-million-dollar construction projects within a few weeks of graduating,” she says.

It was these experiences that inspired Jessica to stay with RMIT and complete a PhD on work-readiness in the construction industry.

She skipped honours thanks to her exceptional grades and nabbed a scholarship to support her research, which she conducted over three and a half years, while still working as a project manager.

“Fuelled by what my peers and I experienced when entering the industry, I wanted to investigate how graduates can best be inducted and supported,” she says.

“A lot of my peers wanted to leave the construction industry as soon as they arrived.”

Jessica spent the next four years interviewing construction industry employers, peak professional body representatives, educators, students and recent graduates, forming recommendations on how to best support graduates.

These included improving mentoring and support for people new to the industry and calls for better communication between employers, educators and learners.

“Although employers, educators and graduates could identify common problems, they weren’t sharing their experiences or recommendations with each other,” says Jessica.

“There were examples like graduates not knowing how to handle salary negotiations and employers not knowing what was and wasn’t being taught at university.

“Previous studies into construction graduates had only looked at the educators’ and employers’ perspective.

“But my research also sheds light on the experiences of students and graduates to get the whole picture.”

The industry is paying attention to Jessica’s research: she just designed the graduate program for a Melbourne-based project management company.

“It focuses on what I discovered graduates and employers alike need – things like mentoring programs and a proper support model,” says Jessica.

The program was a success and is now being renewed after positive feedback from the first cohort who commenced in February 2020. 

news_jessica-borg-cert_1220px Dr Jessica Borg at the 2018 World Built Environment Forum and RICS Conference in London.

A family affair

Aged nine, Jessica emigrated from Malta to Australia with her parents and siblings.

“In Malta, a lot of young people end up going to work and study abroad, but my parents wanted to keep the family together,” says Jessica.

So, her parents decided to move the whole family to Australia – Jessica’s dad was born in Australia but had moved back to Malta as a child.

“I’ve cherished being able to spend time with my family during the rollercoaster that was my PhD research! I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” she says.

Jessica did however still spend time apart from her family during her research.

From Scotland, to Germany and New Zealand, she travelled around the world to present at conferences, including a trip back to her homeland last year, which she describes as one of her PhD highlights.

“I grew up speaking Maltese with my parents at home and a lot of my family, including my grandparents still live in Malta,” says Jessica.

“It was wonderful to go and present at a conference that was being held in Malta; it was a trip I will treasure.”

Family is important to Jessica and she’s set about continuing a family dynasty of RMIT property and construction management graduates.

Jessica’s dad is an RMIT civil engineering graduate, youngest sister Frerique is in her final year of the Bachelor of Applied Science (Project Management) (Honours) and second-youngest sister Naomi is well into the second year of her PhD research – also in the School of Property and Construction Management.

“There’s a lot of project management talk at the dinner table!” laughs Jessica.

And the Borg dynasty could still grow – the three younger brothers are yet to decide on their tertiary studies, but Jessica says RMIT best be prepared for more Borgs.

Jessica is now an educator herself – she’s been teaching property and construction management in higher education for the past three and a half years.

“I’m passionate about project management and the construction industry, but academia feels like a better fit for me,” she says.

“I feel like I’m making more of a difference teaching the next generation of graduates at university and contributing to their work preparedness.”

With RMIT’s graduation ceremonies deferred or cancelled this year due to the pandemic, Jessica is looking forward to wearing her doctoral gowns at an in-person ceremony next year.

“While it’s a little disappointing that I have to wait until next year to formally celebrate my achievements, it will be worth it,” she says.


Story: Aeden Ratcliffe


Congratulations to RMIT’s Class of 2020. This year’s graduating class are like no other: strong, resilient, and inspired. RMIT is excited to welcome the graduates into our global alumni network, spanning more than 140 countries and 400,000 alumni.

15 December 2020


  • Student experience
  • Property & Construction

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.