BSci, GDipEd, PhD
Senior Education and Training Co-ordinator
ARC CoE: Future Low Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET)
Our tenth profilee is Dr Dianne Ruka. Dr Ruka's been on my radar for a while because of the way she's combined her passions for both education and science into a fruitful career. She started off with training in science and education at Melbourne University, then went on to nurture the love of science and maths in high school students as a science/maths teacher at John Monash Science School. She came into our lives here at Monash MSE in 2010 as a PhD candidate looking at bacterial cellulose for use in renewable composites (check out her work here and here). Following, her love of education, or more specifically, the love of seeing students' eyes light up learning cool new things, has led her onto great heights!
Currently, Dr Ruka is the Senior Education and Training Coordinator for the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Future Low-energy Electronics Technologies (ARC CoE FLEET). This is such an important job, as she translates the excitement of the research world into terms the public can understand, and inspires young minds every day! The gif above is a part of the Home Science Activities program pioneered by Dr Ruka (through FLEET) All the while, she's been raising a young family and supporting other parents at Monash through her work with the Monash Community Family Co-operative. She sets an amazing example for those of us who don't see ourselves following the traditional academia route, and an even more amazing example of how to be a good human. And now, some words from Dr Ruka herself...
What is your involvement in engineering?
I am currently the Senior Education & Training Coordinator for the ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies. Essentially my role involves the education & training of all our centre members, and education & outreach to the public. I have to determine and organise appropriate training sessions for our members in order for them to pursue various careers and succeed in their chosen area. I also need to determine and deliver our outreach goals, so I have to work out good ways of presenting really complicated physics and materials science research to students, teachers and the public. I am passionate about science and science education, and I want to foster an interest and love of science in as many people as possible, so I create resources, perform science shows and create little videos to do this.
What inspired you to go into your field?
I didn't know what I wanted to do at school. I didn't even really like science at school before Year 11, so I'm not sure why I even picked physics to study. I think I only chose it because my friends were doing it. But I really liked it, so I chose to do a science degree, because I wanted to keep my options open. I originally wanted to be a psychologist, until I discovered that I found psychology incredibly boring. But I had also taken biology and chemistry to complete the psychology and I found these subjects really interesting. So I completed a double major in biochemistry and microbiology, with Honours in microbiology. I worked in a genetics lab for a number of years before becoming a science/maths teacher, and then I went back to uni to complete a PhD in Materials Engineering. I happened to come across my PhD project when I was browsing the Monash Uni website for something else. So in answer to the question, I just studied what I found interesting and inspiring at the time. I loved science teaching so doing education and outreach is the perfect role for me.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM?
After completely my PhD, I briefly looked for a postdoc, however I was unwilling to relocated due to my young family, with my eldest child being in primary school. I also didn't like the insecurity of postdocs, and I found it much easier to find a job in science outreach, so that is what I went into. I found that I really loved it so I stayed there. I would say that being unwilling to relocate and being nervous about short term contracts is what led to my leaving research, but I do find that science can be a family friendly profession. I had one child before I started my PhD, one in the middle and one in the end, being 8 months pregnant the day I graduated. I was supported by the university, my supervisors and my family, working the hours I could around kids and childcare, and working from home when necessary. Travelling can be a bit challenging. In fact, as I write this I am away from home. Last night when I said goodbye to my children, they wailed and asked why I had to leave them. But I think it's good for children to see women succeeding in science, and to see their dads as capable caregivers and partners.
What advice would you give to young women in STEM?
Follow your passion. I know it's something people say all the time, but do what you love and what interests you, particularly if you're looking for a PhD, because there are too many people who burn out because they're doing something they're not that interested in, or they're only doing a PhD because they feel they should or because they can't find a job in industry.
Finally, what's something (unusual) that keeps you going every day?
I don't know if it's usual, but it's that I love my job. I am very interested in making art from science, so I want to create to work to create things, and to experiment with different models and see if I can create something interactive that will explain science to the public. And when that fails, coffee.
A couple of highlights from her career and life so far;
Dr Ruka managed the MONASH SEAMS program from 2013 to 2016. This is a biannual camp for high-school students aimed at Strengthening Engagement and Achievement in Mathematics and Science (SEAMS). Click here for more information!
Dr Ruka along with other members of the Committee of Management for the Monash Community and Family Cooperative received the Caroline Chisholm Award for volunteer work in 2015.
You might've seen her at Melbourne Knowledge Week, showing off the exciting stuff that FLEET works on including lasers and liquid metal! Visit the FLEET website to see all of the education and outreach Dr Ruka has developed.
Also, make sure to follow her on Twitter - brightens up my feed on the daily!