New Zealand now has zero COVID-19 cases - so I'm getting ready to say goodbye to my "bubble" (for readers from outside NZ the word "bubble" was used to describe the group of people in each household during lockdown - we could only interact with those in our "bubble").  However in many ways, my home office was a bubble - a small confined space that I was enclosed in for the work day.  But it's time to say goodbye to that bubble ... and get back to campus.

But before I pack up the combination of computer bits and pieces that made the last 11 weeks of working from home possible I want to share a glimpse of my office "bubble".

The space I worked in was small - about as long a three seater couch (but a bit deeper).  I was in online meetings, or recording video lectures a lot - so quiet and access to ethernet was important!  The space was frequently shared with our two corgis (on whom snored through many meetings while curled up in a chair next to me), and a boisterous puppy (who prompted us to engineer various barricades to stop him Zoom-bombing my meetings).

I've been teaching 950 undergraduate students online - in a new course entitled "Energy and Society" where we discuss thermodynamics (among other things).  We touch on the second law of thermodynamics - which can be encapsulated by the phrase "Perfect is Impossible".  The space I worked in was imperfect and cobbled together - an old office chair, a pin cushion as a wrist rest to help make the ergonomics work (students ... remember my lecture on creativity, and unanticipated uses for objects, that part of my office set up was creativity in action!).

And why does my home office space have a tower of small black and white boxes stacked up in one corner?  No, it's not an interior design trend! That part was a quickly improvised solution as a platform to move my web cam to when I was film demos with objects from around the house or learning haka online (as part of the Haka Experience challenge).  All sorts of things were possible from my "bubble".

I am very conscious that many people in NZ (and the world) were working and studying through the lockdown in circumstances that were far more challenging than the imperfections in my space.  If you're a University of Auckland student facing hardship please ask for help.  The University has a hardship fund that still has scope to support students.

Students in both the classes I've been teaching have been asking some great questions and submitting high-quality work for their assessments.  So I am confident that learning has been happening - whether that was while sitting on a couch in a student apartment, at home at a kitchen table, in Auckland, or beyond.  I am truly impressed by the commitment my University colleagues have shown to teaching and learning to make sure everyone can stay connected with their learning despite the fact we haven't been in a lecture theatre for 11 weeks.  It is going to be fascinating how this crisis changes the future of higher education - but I'll save my thoughts on that for another time.

For now, I look forward to getting back to the office, and to the lecture theatre.  I look forward to being back in a "3D" world - instead of communicating with students as a "Talking Head" (and not this kind of Talking Head) in a black square in the corner of a screen.

See you in 3D soon!

(and some pent up blog posts will be coming out soon'ish too).



(from a LinkedIn version of this material)

Over the summer I have been thinking about my own quadruple bottom line (i.e. success defined simultaneously in social, environmental, economic and cultural terms). That led me to thinking about my carbon footprint. If NZ is going to meet it's targets of:

  • a 2020 target to reduce emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels
  • and a 2050 target to reduce emissions to 50 per cent below 1990 levels

then changes have to be made in both homes and business nationwide. To put the thinking about what society has to do into action I've committed to having a net-zero carbon footprint (related to my personal life) in 2019. Carbon emissions from work-related long-haul travel are a separate question.

So what does net-zero mean to me? Just looking up average NZ CO2 emissions per capita, and writing a cheque to cover carbon offsets for those emissions? Too easy! Throughout the year I'm going to be tracking the sources of carbon emissions related to my personal travel, food choices, household energy & waste etc. I'll share the results and will compare them to how things may have looked if I'd made different choices in the way I live.

Step 1 was to find a carbon footprint calculator. My favourite - due it's local context is from Enviro-mark. However that left me a with a range of questions I wanted to probe more.

Image from ccPixs.com licenced under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

What is the carbon impact of my vegetarian eating habit (of more than 25 years)? It's still a matter being debated. Buy local? Avoid food imported from far away? I am not giving up bananas or chocolate! There's some counter-intuitive things in the mix - such as NZ lamb exported to the UK having a lower carbon footprint than UK lamb. Does food need a carbon rating system to make things easier for conscious consumers?

How much material do typical Kiwi homes really send to landfill? Our household would only send about 10 rubbish bags per year to landfill in weekly rubbish collections. Sounds like that is well below the average!

I commute in a fully electric vehicle (a Nissan Leaf), often with one or two other passengers going to a similar destination - so while I do a lot of kilometres on our motorway system - that travel is not a major carbon emitter. There is definitely a carbon footprint involved in building any car, electric or otherwise. Life-cycle assessment done in the US showed the Nissan Leaf had the small life-cycle footprint of any vehicle in the American market in 2014. New Zealand has a high percentage of renewable electricity - so it's a great place to drive an electric vehicle.

My year started with a flight back from an Australian holiday ... a carbon calculator has that trip at 0.19 tonnes of CO2. So it's one of the first entries in the spreadsheet tracking the impact of my lifestyle in 2019.

Household energy use is another important aspect - we have solar panels on our roof and solar hot water. During the peak of summer we would normally be generating more electricity than we use in a day. We cook with gas, and run a wood burning fire in the winter. I'll be keeping track of how much gas we burn ...

There's still a range of lifestyle choices that create emissions, for example the use of the internet. I've used the Ecosia search engine for quite a while - it is a social enterprise which reinvests a significant portion of profits in tree-planting around the world. Click here for a review of Ecosia. I average 10 or so Ecosia searches per day. Ecosia claim it takes around 45 searches to plant a tree. So my search history may have planted a few trees so far this year. I'll have to decide how to count that.

I acknowledge that carbon offsetting may not be a perfect solution - but not offsetting carbon is also imperfect. Around the house I would always first consider reducing/reusing/recycling/rotting (composting) to manage both consumption and waste. However this year I am going to be combining that with purchasing carbon offsets (from Enviro-mark or Ekos) to make a more significant change in the level of emissions I am responsible for.

Research from the UK (see reference 4) shows carbon emissions are correlated with personal disposable income. In the UK people in the top income decile have three times of the emissions of the lowest decile. I can't find similar data for NZ, but I suspect the trend would be the same. That means those in the upper income deciles arguably have the greatest scope to make the largest change. In the UK data set, if everyone in the top two income deciles achieved net-zero emissions, then overall emissions from UK society would drop by 30%.

So I'll be playing my part and will be going net-zero this year. Stay tuned and I'll share what that looks like.


Additional references / Further Reading

  1. Quadruple bottom line / Kaitiakitanga - Radio NZ, 3 November 2017
  2. NZ's emission reduction targets - Ministry for the Environment
  3. NZ emissions per capita - Radio NZ, 26 May 2017
  4. Distribution of carbon emissions in the UK:Implications for Domestic Energy Policy - Joseph Rowntree Foundation, March 2013

This post is the full text of a piece I wrote for a special edition of Uninews celebrating 125 years of women's suffrage in NZ.  The Uninews version was abridged due to space constraints.


As NZ celebrates 125 years of women’s suffrage I find myself thinking of my grandmothers, and of my mother, and about the choices and opportunities they had.  Suffrage granted my grandmothers (born early in the 20th century) the vote, and I hope they exercised that choice.  A University education however was not a realistic choice for them.  By the time my mother was leaving high school in the early 1960s a University education was available to more women – though her family steered her to training college as a dental nurse.

It was not until 1970 that the first female student graduated from the Faculty of Engineering (Gee Yeow from Malaysia earned a BE in Civil Engineering), with the first NZ woman graduating in 1973 (Gael Knight in Chemical & Materials Engineering).  Gee and Gael paved the way for around 2,500 women (so far) to graduate with BE degrees.  One of those women was Robyn Nash who enrolled in 1982 holds a BE in Engineering Science.  Reflecting on her path into the Faculty she says:

“When I was in 7th form, (Year 13) my plan was to complete a Science degree and teach Maths and Science. But I had an excellent Maths teacher who was an Engineering Science graduate and, because of her, I decided to do Engineering Science. I hadn’t considered studying Engineering until then, so I’m fortunate my Maths teacher was in the right place at the right time. In fact, because of her, two other girls from my class also chose to do Engineering Science. I’ve never regretted my decision, even though I’m still not a teacher!”

A landmark for the Faculty was appointing Liz Godfrey in 1989 to recruit and retain female students. By the early 1990s women comprised 18 to 20% of the first year engineering intake each year.  I was one of those women, and co-founded the Faculty’s “Women in Engineering Network” (WEN) which is now a vibrant part of the fabric of student life at the Faculty.  That network just celebrated its 25th anniversary and has a significant number of corporate sponsors who value its role in the Faculty.

While I did not set out to be a trailblazer (despite my prematurely red hair!) in 2013 I became the first woman (of many I hope) to serve as a Head of Department within the Faculty.  In 2016 I was thrilled to see Robyn Nash’s daughter, Gemma, enrol in a BE.  The fact that we are now seeing a number of young women enrolling whose mothers have engineering degrees is a fantastic milestone to be reaching.  Gemma notes:

“Until halfway through my final year of high school I was planning on studying science, and was adamantly against channeling my love for the sciences and maths into an engineering degree (because no girl wants to admit they're becoming their mother!). However, my desire to use science to create and explore new ideas made me change my mind, and I'm very glad I did! I'm now combining my interests with a conjoint degree in Engineering and Science.

Within the first few weeks of university, I knew that Engineering Science is my specialisation. The degree prepares us to become experts in fields still in their infancy, such as machine learning, analytics, and optimisation. There's great potential in what we do, and I know that this 'science of better’ changes lives.”

Suffrage set NZ on a path to empower women as full contributors in our society.  Our Faculty wants that progress to continue and our Dean, Prof. Nic Smith, has challenged the Faculty to achieve 33% female enrolment by the year 2020.  Female enrolment in the BE is currently around 27% each year – a level which some Universities in the region have set as an aspirational target.  However we know that young people across NZ – regardless of their gender, ethnicity or family background - have talent, and a desire (like Gemma’s) to work on problems which can genuinely improve the lives of people in communities in NZ and abroad.

To change our enrolment profile we’re reaching out to young women in schools in new ways.  We have a partnership with Girlboss, an organisation run by Alexia Hilbertidou.  At age 19 Alexia runs her own business which has a mission to close the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, Entrepreneurship and Leadership.  We have new online content in production, and are launching a school holiday tutoring program to help build STEM skills and confidence in female high school students.

Reaching 33% female enrolment will be a new landmark in the Faculty’s evolution and will be a step toward ensuring our student cohort are reflective of wider NZ society.


I spoke recently at a dinner to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Faculty of Engineering's Women in Engineering Network.  This blog post captures notes from the address I gave (largely to an audience of female students) at the dinner - with photos of the props (which were a tour through my wardrobe / shoe collection!)


I was thrilled to see the display of WEN t-shirts at the dinner … including some of my own “vintage” ones.  Why?  Because every time I see someone wearing a WEN shirt with pride it is a reminder that WEN are an established and accepted part of our Faculty.  I want to give you all some insight into how that came to be.

WEN was established 25 years ago with a friend and I as co-founders.  The idea was inspired by similar initiatives in the US – at both the student and professional level.  Liz Godfrey (the “original” Naomi Fleming) learned about those activities on a study tour to the US in the early 90’s.

To help everyone think about what life was like 25 years ago (before most of you were born) I should remind you that there were no cell phones, the internet was a mysterious network only used by some academics for limited amounts of email or data transfers … and social media definitely did not exist!   In today’s world it’s a little mind boggling to think about how anyone would go about building a new organisation without those tools.

WEN’s original mission was to be a network that provided personal and academic support to female students in the Faculty.  Our events in the early days were advertised on posters in the Faculty … and the most reliable place to put those posters up was the women’s bathrooms since posters in other areas were sometimes torn down.

25 years ago the Faculty only had two women on its academic staff (at least that I can recall).  One was Margaret Hyland in Chemical & Materials Engineering.  Margaret went on to become the first woman to be promoted to the rank of full Professor.  Heather Silyn-Roberts was on staff in the Mechanical Engineering Department.  So the lack of female staff meant regular contact with potential role models was limited.  WEN invited women working as professional engineers back to the Faculty for popular wine and cheese functions.  Everyone who attended found being at a “women only” function a definite change from their work or study environment.

Academic support ramped up in 1994 when I stayed on at the Faculty as a fulltime tutor ("professional teaching fellow" in modern job titles) – between my Bachelors and Masters degrees.  The failure rate on some of the big tests at Part 1 (especially in Mechanics) bugged me.  Female students found low marks in Part 1 tests particularly soul destroying.  WEN organised some after hours women-only tutorials.  Those of us tutoring donated our time to running them – and enjoyed seeing a boost in pass rates and confidence in those tests.

To take you back to the early 1990’s let me unveil some props that speak to the culture of the time.  Female students interviewing for engineering roles were given advice to dress conservatively – a skirt (preferably blue, and not too short), flat shoes or low heels, a white shirt and a jacket.

So while that looks professional, it also speaks to a culture of “fitting in” – of being a female version of a male engineer.  Similar fashion choices were evident in class.  Baggy jeans and shirts, and cross-trainers were the norm every day.  Exhibit A – a shirt typical of my time as an undergrad.  It was rare that I turned up at University looking particularly female.

Fast forward to today – WEN has become a valued and respected part of the Faculty community.  Employers (many of whom are are WEN sponsors) are eager to recruit our female graduates … regardless of what they wear to their interviews!  Those employers know talent resides in every segment of society.

So thinking of the future, what advice would I give to those of you getting ready to leave the Faculty to become part of the professional engineering community?  Hmmm … at this point I could dive for a book of quotes and draw on some pithy wisdom from others.  However I took us to 1993 by rummaging in my wardrobe – so let’s stay with that!  In particular to my shoe collection ...

The first pair of shoes that springs to mind is my steel caps … For me they are a reminder that to excel in any organisation it’s important to know how things work from the ground up.  Make sure you value people everyone’s skill and knowledge – regardless of whether they are on a machine shop floor, on a construction site, in a secretarial role.  Those people are all integral to making sure the wider organisation delivers, and they can have some very valuable insights.

The next pair of shoes I have handy is my bike shoes.  I only ride a bike indoors at the gym.  For me these shoes are a great reminder that one thing we all need a reserve of at times is “grit”.  For the past few years I’ve been riding in (and I confess winning) the Tour de Gym event at the Rec Centre where you ride 10% of the Tour de France.  There are always going to be times in life that feel like you're being asked to ride 20km or more uphill … testing that out on a bike is a good reminder that its possible to survive such challenges!

Staying with a movement theme … I also have my dance shoes handy.  I get to contemporary dance classes as often as I can.  (Despite the fact that gravity feels like it may scale with age!).  For me dance and choreography is important as a means to tap into my creativity.  Dance helps me to revive my ability to think differently.  There’s been many a time that research questions that I was stumped on before dance class, suddenly made sense after class!  Make sure you know what revives and sustains you and your creativity.

And the final pair of shoes I have bought in are these red boots.  They jumped out at me as a celebration of difference, of uniqueness.  I see it as important that all organisations allow people to bring their whole self into the community in which they work or study.   I believe you’ll be entering a world where you do not (and should not) have to feel compelled to be a female version of a male engineer – arguably unlike the world I saw when I co-founded WEN in 1993.  Our society is doing a much better job of embracing diversity – so I believe that you’ll be a valued part of engineering organisations regardless of where you were born, whether you’re part of the rainbow community, whether you choose to become a mother or a wife.  I hope we get to the point where going to Friday yoga class is just as an important of a form of informal networking as Friday drinks sometimes are.

I’d like to close to by congratulating the WEN leadership team for the work they do to make sure WEN is such a vibrant part of the Faculty community.

I've been away from the blog for too long - and I have been missing it - so I am back in the blogosphere, and hope to be blogging again regularly.  So here's some pent up thoughts ...

"As I put on my makeup" (those who know me well will know those are not words I put in a sentence often!) recently I started to think ... about perfection and imperfection.  It dawned on me how comfortable I am with my imperfections.  I was reaching for a stick of concealer to mask one of several small scars in my face, since I knew my evening might involve cameras and bright lights (that's another story!).  However staring at the scar in the mirror got me thinking about a TED talk I'd watched earlier that week by Reshma Saujani.  She'd been involved in an outstanding program which teaches young women to code.  She says:

We immediately see in our program our girls' fear of not getting it right,of not being perfect. Every Girls Who Code teacher tells me the same story. During the first week, when the girls are learning how to code,a student will call her over and she'll say,"I don't know what code to write." The teacher will look at her screen,and she'll see a blank text editor. If she didn't know any better, she'd think that her student spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen. But if she presses undo a few times, she'll see that her student wrote code and then deleted it. She tried, she came close, but she didn't get it exactly right.  Instead of showing the progress that she made, she'd rather show nothing at all. Perfection or bust.

I teach young people to code in my role as an educator.  These days I only make "guest" appearances in hands-on labs for first year computing classes  ... but I would be truly disappointed if the students I teach (any of them) preferred to show me a blank screen in a lab session to avoid sharing their imperfection, as opposed to showing me code they knew was not perfect.

Embrace imperfection

Getting back to me and my scars - my body has been patched up over the years with over 100 stitches externally (and more internally), plus bio-compatible "super-glue" etc. in my face.  However I choose to see those scars as signs of strength and of life - I do not fear them being seen in my face and up arms (since I tend to "roll my sleeves up" both figuratively and literally).  Now whenever I glance at my scars I'll be thinking about how to get others to embrace imperfection, in the classroom and beyond.



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While I was studying at Stanford the terms "fuzzy" and "techy" were common labels for students studying social science/humanities versus physical science/engineering.  Those labels persist today as described in this piece from a current Stanford student (Gwynn Lyons).

Stanford University

Gwynn says

By choosing to study the humanities, I have said “yes” to humanity, in all its grandeur and success, as well as its abject failure.

As an engineer that quote resonates with me too.  I believe engineering, as a profession has said "yes" to humanity as well.  Admittedly the contributions engineers make are typically expressed in a different form than someone who has studied linguistics.  Though boundaries are continually blurring.  One superb example is the MPAi tool being developed by a team including Assoc. Prof. Catherine Watson from the University of Auckland's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.  MPai enables users to hear the correct pronunciation of a Māori word, record and analyse their own pronunciation and get feedback on what is right and what is wrong.

I believe that kind of binary distinction (fuzzy versus techy) between people and their choice of study or work isn't useful.  For innovation to proceed in ways that benefit all of society then pathways to engage with creating systems and technologies must be open to all - regards of whether someone prefers to read Python code or Plato.  A recent development on campus that has a similar philosophy is the new Unleash space.

The Unleash Space is your space for creating, playing, making, inventing, experimenting and doing at the University of Auckland. It’s where you can find and build your community. Together or individually, you can build things, come up with ideas and develop them, prototype, test and have fun doing so, in a welcoming collaborative environment.

I am truly excited about the potential that the Unleash space has to continue to bridge the fuzzy techy.  I hope to see Arts students learning to program Arduinos, and students of the so-called "hard sciences" working with soft materials.


I haven't been blogging for a while - partly due to a technical glitch behind the scenes that meant I was shut out of my own account on the site - and partly due to the fact I was riding in the University Recreation Centre's "Tour de Gym", an event in which participants ride 10% of the Tour de France on stationary bikes. Mornings are often time to think and write ... but on 21 days out of the 23 day event (two rest days involved!) my thinking was being done on a bike while clocking up over 350 km.

I confess I won the solo women's division of the event this year (and last year) and am the proud owner of a "yellow jersey" as a result.  This is the only time of year I am a particularly committed cyclist.  I don't cycle on the road at all these days (though earlier in life I used to do up to 80 km a week commuting).  However I do get to spin class a couple of times a week if I can.  There at least there's the encouragement of an instructor (thanks Matt!), and a driving musical beat to keep everyone's legs moving!

Yellow jersey from http://i2.kbobject.com/tdf-190016.jpg

So what did I think about during 9 hours and 24 minutes or so of pedal pushing at an average speed of over 37 km/hr?  All sorts of things ... many of them related to them related to what it takes for anyone to explore their potential - whether as a researcher, studying, or as a leader.

Don't count yourself out before you start

I had wondered about taking on the challenge of the tour for some time, but had assumed it was something that only other people, fitter people, younger people, or people with more time should take on!  I'd given in to the temptation we all have to think we couldn't or shouldn't do something for reasons that are artificial and convenient.  When I teach I want all 1000 students in my undergraduate class to believe they can achieve outstanding things - regardless of whether their background differs to the person next to them.

Persistence matters!

In last year's event, another rider (a worthy opponent) posted faster times than mine every leg for the first 7 legs in a row.  My only goal last year was to finish in the best time I could possibly ride, regardless of how anyone else performed.  Deciding to be the best I could be helped me "find another gear" ... and then win every one of the next 14 legs of the 2016 ride.  The same applies when studying or working as a researcher.  Some of the most satisfying moments arise after days, weeks and months of persisting to overcome hurdles.

Be comfortable being uncomfortable

Saying "yes" to pedalling hard while your legs are saying "no" means finding ways to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  For anyone in a leadership role that's a crucial skill to develop.  Leaders have to engage in difficult conversations and take actions that challenge them.   Time spent on the bike is a good reminder of that (at least the seating in my office is more comfortable!)

I'd encourage anyone who wants to be an outstanding researcher, a top student, or to lead a high performing organisation to find and tackle challenges in different domains.  Sometimes the things we learn and remember in one space (e.g. while sweating it out on a bike) can be quite applicable elsewhere.









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.

I started my day - like many New Zealanders - up earlier than usual to watch the America's Cup racing.  As an engineer I find the technology and aerodynamics involved fascinating.  However I also enjoy the human factors involved - in particular the display of grit and resilence involved in Team NZ's win.    The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines resiliency as

Capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture; tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

I think it's fair to say Team NZ showed true resilience in recovering from their stunning pitch pole incident in the Challenger series.  Image from stuff.co.nz

Definitions of grit normally involve a combination of perserverance, committment and passion in achieving long term goals.  There was no shortage of grit in Team NZ's achievement!

Grit and resilience are topics of interest in the higher education community as well.  These traits are being shown to be important in academic success.  In an earlier post I've described myself as being someone who is good at failing.  As I get ready to lecture first year engineering students for a few weeks next semester I am thinking about how I can support students to embrace "failure", to take risks, and to learn from their mistakes.

I lecture part of  a introductory computer programming class.  One way I'll be embracing the possibility of failure is by writing code "live" in class.  I lecture in large theatres (500+ students) so it is in many ways live theatre.  Not always demonstrating code examples by using pre-prepared files is a risk.  My fingers fly over the keyboard as I type and talk, and with 1000 eyes on me a fumble is ever possible!  However as Margaret Perlis says "The supremely gritty are not afraid to tank, but rather embrace it as part of a process."

The other attribute I would love to encouarge in my students is a growth mindset.   Programming isn't easy for everyone.  So the teaching team aims to create an environment where students have a chance to practice and develop their skills, as opposed to believing their ability in the subject is innate and pre-determined.  Seeing students tackle the challenge that programming poses is exciting.  Learning to code well oftens means making a lot of mistakes (coding "bugs") but being gritty about tackling them.  Over the years I've seen some great examples of students who started the class not thinking they had significant pre-existing skill in the subject, but by being open to growth went on to get A+ grades in the course.

I can't sign off without acknowledging that Team NZ had two graduates from the Department working with them on the shore team in Bermuda - Elise Beavis (the youngest performance engineer in any team at age 23) and Steve Collie.