Profile #6: Kira Rundel
McNeill Research Group
Our sixth profilee is Kira Rundel, a PhD student working on solar cells in the McNeill group here at Monash. I've known Kira for a couple of years now, both back when she was an undergrad visiting from sunny Arizona, and now, while she's been here changing the Australian solar cell market! We've worked together as post-graduate student representatives, as demonstrators, and even amateur sleuths at puzzle rooms all over Melbourne. Throughout, I've been impressed by her technical knowledge, sharp mind and her passion for her work. She's one of the best student speakers I've seen, so make sure to get in early and see her present before she becomes a TEDtalks star!
A bit of background - Kira started off with a Materials Science and Engineering degree from the University of Arizona. During her undergrad, she came to Monash on exchange and started her work in the McNeill group as a summer student. She spent her final year at the University of Arizona participating at various conferences and winning almost every award possible for her research project (Best Poster Award, Distinguished Poster Award, 1st Place: American Chemical Society Women’s Chemist Group Award, 1st Place: Undergraduate Division of Engineering, President's Award for the Best Undergraduate Research Project). After graduating back in the U.S. she returned to Melbourne to begin her PhD work on 'Naphthalene diimide based acceptors for organic solar cells'. She's not yet completed her second year, but her work has already been published here and here. Her passion for renewable energy extends beyond the lab; she worked for the Beyond Zero Emissions think tank as a researcher for publications and now volunteers for Sisters in Science. For more information about Kira and her work, check out the following; LinkedIn, group profile, and Sisters in Science profile. For more info about Kira's beloved cacti, check out this cool recipe for prickly pear lemonade!
What is your involvement in engineering?
I am currently in the second year of a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering. I completed a bachelor’s in MSE at the University of Arizona in 2015 before coming to Monash to study the next generation of solar energy materials. My project is split between working in the labs at Monash and studying my materials at the Australian Synchrotron where I am currently serving as the student representative on their User Advisory Committee.
What inspired you to go into your field?
My interest in science and engineering was sparked by the unique desert environment I grew up in. The Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona is home to some of the rarest cactus species in the world, and they grew right in my back yard! Because it was such a hot and dry climate, we were always taught to conserve water from a young age. This led to my personal interest in climate science and how different areas of the world experience different climates. Experiencing the devastating effects of drought and flash floods first hand inspired me to pursue a career in renewable energy, in an effort to help mitigate the future effects of climate change
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEMM?
I’ve been very fortunate this far in my career – I’ve had several internship and work opportunities – with feeling like I’m treated as an equal in my work environment. I have had several women mentors who have been encouraging and without whom I would not be in my current position. I think the most important thing for women in STEMM is to stick together – to inspire and encourage one another and provide support whenever possible. That being said, there are occasional instances where my knowledge of a give topic or instrument has been questioned in a way that I have perceived is because I am a woman. Again, providing support and guidance to fellow women in STEMM is paramount to a more equal work environment!
What advice would you give to young women in STEMM?
I would tell them to really consider what their personal passions are, and not to try to do anything to impress anyone else. It’s so important to listen to yourself and what YOU think is cool and exciting for you. Find something you care a lot about and stick with it, even when that becomes tougher than you first expected. The rewards for doing that are really endless, and you’ll help make the world a better place.
Finally, what's something (unusual) that keeps you going every day?
I absolutely love politics and listening to politically themed podcasts is something I do on a daily basis in the lab – sometimes looking forward to listening to podcasts is the biggest motivation to actually go in to the lab!