STEMM Profile: Priya Rani | Sessional Academic | RMIT University | Melbourne | VIC

“Continued learning helps me to understand and appreciate things and people around me. It helps in changing the perceptions and discovering new ways of relating to people from different cultural backgrounds”

Dr Priya Rani is currently working as a sessional academic staff at RMIT University. She is also professionally associated with Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) as the assistant treasurer in IEEE Victorian Section and as treasurer in IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) Victorian Section.

Dr Rani has always been passionate about learning and teaching about science. She always wanted to stand out of crowd, pave her own path and do something unique in life. She was determined to pursue PhD in STEMM since her high school days. She decided to pursue her career in a field wherein she can use engineering skills to provide effective and novel solutions to healthcare problems. Hence she chose to do her bachelors’ in Biomedical Engineering and started with her research career since then. She started working on a research project to provide a better diagnostic tool for diagnosis of Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), a retinal disease affecting the development of retina in premature infants. She went on to do her Masters (By Research) in Biomedical Engineering on the same project and developed an efficient semi-automated tool for faster diagnosis of ROP.

She then moved to Australia to pursue her PhD in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from RMIT University, Melbourne. Her PhD work provided new non-invasive parameters for assessment and prediction of healing of foot and leg ulcers in the clinical settings, which would provide better health-related quality of lives to the patients.

During her PhD candidature, she also contributed as an active Higher Degree by Research (HDR) student representative in School of Engineering for a cohort of over 600 students. She delivered multiple initiatives to develop good work culture, bring in work-life harmony and improve the sense of belonging of the students at RMIT. For these contributions, she was also awarded the HDR Student Leader awardat RUSU Student Life Awards 2019.

What has been the biggest barrier you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?

The biggest barrier that I have faced in my career was to prove myself and my capabilities in a patriarchal society. Coming from a traditional family background in India, to let a girl pursue PhD, and to let her travel and stay alone in a foreign country was a huge deal for my parents. I had to constantly convince them about my passion and undying interest to do research. My persistence finally paid off at the time when it was needed the most- they supported me unconditionally on my decision to move to Australia to pursue PhD.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to women just starting their careers in STEMM?

It is a known fact that STEMM is usually dominated by our male counterparts. I strongly support gender equity and I believe that for women to be successful and to make differences in STEMM, positivity, confidence and persistence go a long way. Women generally tend to underestimate themselves, which needs to change. For instance, if someone says to a woman- “You are a woman. You can’t do it”, she should simply reply back with “I am a woman. So I can do it”. This will give her the confidence and will change the person’s perception who made the former statements.

What was the key thing that helped you get to where you are today?

The key thing that helped me achieve my dream of getting a PhD was my undying determination. I always took risks and never kept back-up options in spite of receiving multiple suggestions by people to do so. The stereotypical suggestions also kept coming because I am a woman. However, I did not let anyone and anything change my mind and I dreamt about having a doctorate degree every single day. I had just one goal in mind and I kept working hard to achieve that.

You have done a PhD – what are your transferable skills? How did you identify them?

During my PhD, I learnt multiple transferrable skills such as research and analytical skills, verbal and written communication skills, leadership and interpersonal skills. My PhD thesis work was recognised as outstanding, making significant contribution to the field beyond that normally expected for research at PhD level. I published multiple research articles and presented my work at international IEEE conferences. Apart from research, I was actively involved in teaching, working as Higher Degree by Research student representative, a mentor in the peer-to-peer mentoring program and as the Chair of IEEE Student Branch at RMIT.

Who and/or what inspires you to achieve?

My teachers, mentors and the great women leaders in STEMM have always inspired me. And my constant desire to learn inspires me to achieve more. Continuous learning helped me to achieve everything in my personal and professional life. It helps me to connect new skills with the known skills and builds on existing knowledge. This lifelong process also encourages me to share my knowledge with others. Continued learning helps me to understand and appreciate things and people around me. It helps in changing the perceptions and discovering new ways of relating to people from different cultural backgrounds.

LinkedIn: Priya Rani