STEMM Profile: Dr Kate Devitt | Research Associate | Queensland University of Technology | Brisbane | QLD
“I have reinvented myself multiple times to take advantage of opportunities around me”
I am an Associate Lecturer in the School of Information Systems, Faculty of Science and Engineering at Queensland University of Technology. One part of my job is to teach Masters of Information Science students about how to create libraries and databases of the future. The other part of my job is to research how our minds and technology work together to help us thrive in an age of big data, virtual interconnectedness, and increasing urgency to save the planet. I am passionate about using philosophical insight, cognitive science and data to answer big questions about why the world is working the way it is and how we can innovate to do better.
I have an undergraduate degree in the History and Philosophy of Science and Psychology. I hold a PhD in philosophy and a graduate certificate in cognitive science. I like asking ‘why’. I view the world from a lot of different angles. I think about how our minds create theories of the world, then science tests those theories and builds stuff like rockets that reach the moon. It’s pretty amazing what humans can achieve when we work together.
Due to the huge support of my husband and family, I was able to finish my PhD when my first child was only 2.5 years old. Being able to work a full time job and write and enjoy myself gave me confidence as a writer, researcher and manager of my own life. It also made me a much better mum because I was following my dreams as well as making sandwiches and cleaning up high chairs! I really feel like I can do anything now that the PhD is out of the way. I have a beautiful daughter now who is 1 year old and ready to take on the world. I am proud that she will see me living my dreams as she grows and discovers her own.
One of my proudest achievements is creating my own environmental podcast in 2007, A Climate Affair. The podcast brought a philosophical, editorial dialogue to environmental issues when John Howard was Prime Minister of Australia and we urgently needed to tackle environmental degradation, not pretend it wasn’t happening. The podcast was featured on iTunes and was one of Australia’s top news podcasts. At the time, I interviewed a huge range of people from Clean Up Australia’s Ian Kiernan, TV star Don Burke, to environmentalist Mark Diesendorf.
What inspired you to science? Have you always liked science? What do you love most about science?
I’ve always liked science, but I’ve always liked history, philosophy and art too. I love testing theories in the crucible of empirical experimentation. I am fascinated by how we come to know about the world. I find it challenging and rewarding every single day. What inspired me to study science is probably how successful it is at changing the way we live, even though scientific theories continue to be proven flawed. The process and methodology of science fascinates me as much as the outcomes.
If you have done multiple types of roles (e.g. in industry, academia, education, business, government), what skills from your PhD could be applied to all?
Time management skills from managing my PhD can be applied to any domain I work in, particularly project management time management skills. I’ve learnt a lot by using the ‘pomodoro technique’ to reduce work down to 25 minute focused chunks. In the age of social media it’s important to limit our distractions to get work done.
What support structures did/do you have in place that have facilitated your success?
A supportive partner and family is the most important aspect of my support structures. Women need affordable childcare and help at home to manage domestic tasks traditionally assumed to be women’s work. Additionally, I have found Academic Women’s Writing Retreats crucial to my research writing success. Removing women from a domestic environment is a good way to get research achieved. Finally, QUT Information Systems School is a very supportive working environment where men and women are treated with respect and offered work/life flexibility to be carers and/or parents.
What has been the biggest barrier you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
My biggest barrier has been my own struggle to manage myself and my time. When I have struggled to move forward, it was because I saw only difficulties and not opportunities. I would blame myself, or I would blame the system. Either way, it didn’t help me. Stress management and self-care strategies have been pivotal to my success. I use mindfulness, exercise, daily gratitude and sketch-noting to push past barriers each day.
What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?
Adaptability and resilience are my most valuable personal attributes. I have reinvented myself multiple times to take advantage of opportunities around me. I have failed and stood up again and again. I don’t feel entitled. Instead, I feel obligated to make the best use of the environment I’m in and the funding opportunities I can create or submit to.
Kate on Twitter: @skdevitt