Monthly Archives: July 2017

I had the pleasure of hearing Sacha Judd speak at Creative Mornings in Auckland recently.  A snippet from her talk that has stuck with me is

We’re all equally passionate. Our passions aren’t treated equally.

I admit that to fully understand the context of Sacha's talk I had to dive into Google and work out who Harry Styles is (since I am not always a popular culture whiz!).  After the talk,  I started to think about the passions that young women may have, and how this relates to whether they are encouraged to pursue study, and a career, in engineering.

Imagine a young woman who is a skilled dancer - ballet, contemporary, hip-hop etc. - or was a gymnast.  She would have an intuitive understanding of force, momentum and rotational inertia etc. developed from perfecting spins, jumps, turns and balances.  But how do we value that dancer or gymnast's passion and skill when suggesting a course of study?  Do we encourage her to explore the mathematics and physics of how objects move and deform?

Rosalind - solo performance - Wallace Trust gardens, 2011. Photo credit Ruth Ames.

Dancers build success out of failure.  If you dance (or do gymnastics) it's best done without a fear of falling/failure.  That trait turns out to be something I think is very useful in life and in higher education.

Imagine a young woman who is a talented musician, who embraces music theory, but can also bring a score to life.  What we encourage her to do as she chooses a course of study?  Her innate knowledge of sound and frequency could position her to build signal analysis skills.  Who knows, she could one day become part of the team at Soul Machines who bring avatars to life.

Imagine a young person who is a culinary star - baking pavlovas that never fail, and meat that is cooked to tender perfection.  (Hmmmm - my vegetarian self does not quite understand the last phrase!).  Could their knowledge of the delicate science of egg whites, or the chemistry of the Maillard reaction (loved by carnivores) mean they should see themselves as a future chemical engineer, specialising in the food of tomorrow?

What does society say to a talented netballer, who has given their all on the court and earned a knee ligament injury?  Future Physical Education teacher?  Her journey through scans and medical imaging, braces and rehab could equally inspire us to suggest a career in Biomedical Engineering

Let's all commit to treating other people's passions equally.  Our world can only be better for it.





One of my favourite public speaking engagements so far this year was a seminar I gave to doctoral students in our Faculty who were interested in learning more about the leadership aspects involved in an academic career.  During a doctorate students are naturally immersed in their own research projects where their personal level of effort is a key driver for their own success.  In my talk, I tried to outline that developing a successful academic career, especially at a senior level, is much about enabling the success of others.

So what does leadership look like?  That may not be a question many of the audience had thought about.  Some people associate leadership with outgoing, charismatic personality types.  I assured the students that such a personality type was definitely not a requirement! (and is not me).  I reminded the quieter members of the audience that introverts make great leaders.

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.

Normally my lecture theatre presentations to students are laden with mathematics and Greek symbols. However this presentation was "mathematics- free" and instead focused on people and values.  My slides walked people through our Department lobby with concrete examples of how things in the lobby reflect the values I hold, e.g.

  • a honesty box where I sell fruit as snacks (which I fund personally) - trust matters
  • an honours board - to celebrate staff and student success
  • photos of the Department's founders - because we value our heritage
  • a flier supporting the University's "zero tolerance" for discrimination of any kind

My focus on people included advice to aspiring leaders that they should develop their skills to:

  • build and grow relationships with a range of stakeholders
  • find ways to be comfortable when things get uncomfortable
  • be a change agent
  • be inquisitive - ask why
  • appreciate and value the support of others (like I did below!)

I enjoyed the questions students asked after my presentation.  One perceptive one was "How do you protect yourself when dealing with other people in stressful situations?"  Another insightful one asked how I manage conflicts of interest since I interact with such a wide range of people and organisations.  Questions like that meant I could see "cogs turning" in the audience and am optimistic that the University will produce doctoral graduates who embrace leadership as part of their future.