My Melbourne with Suelette Dreyfus

December 13 / 125

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What’s your title here at the University?

I’m a Research Fellow in the Department of Computing and Information systems.

How long have you been here at Melbourne University?

More than three years, I had some time out to do a few other things including having children, but in total probably about eight or nine years.

What does your average day look like at the University?

There is no average day! I’m sure everyone says that to you, but it’s true.

Typically I would spend the morning wading through emails, particularly from research partners, people I might be working with from Europe, from overnight. Then I would sit down and sift through what I need to do for the day. I’d then do some project management, so I might be talking to project partners. We’ve partnered with primary schools and hospitals, so I might be calling up, for example, the doctor in the emergency department who is also a research project partner, and seeing whether some data has come in

Then I’d sit down and I might be doing a literature review through some databases. I’d certainly do some writing for the day  based on the research data that we’ve got and I’d probably have a couple of meetings with fellow colleagues at the uni or sometimes online with partners at other universities or institutions.

What’s your favourite thing about working here?

I think there are two favourite things. The first thing is the people, and they are really A Grade. What makes them A Grade isn’t just that they have A Grade minds, but that’s a big part of it, and I have to say there is a pretty high density of A grade minds at the University of Melbourne. But also they are very interested and curious people. They want to engage both with the University environment and also outside the university environment, and that’s really important to me, so that’s really a key component of it.

The second component is that you can really chase ideas, and there are very few careers that let you chase an idea, particularly an idea that isn’t there to make a profit, but might have some better use for humanity. And that’s very important as well.

Where’s your favourite place to eat on campus?

Tsubu! My favourite place to eat on campus is Tsubu, which is the Japanese restaurant at the base of the 1888 building; and sitting under the 120 year old plane tree in the courtyard, on a warm afternoon with a big bento box – it doesn’t get much better than that.
What advice have you been given that’s inspired you?

I got some very good advice about 10 years ago from quite a well-known computer programmer which was basically: Don’t be afraid to be naive. And it’s good advice because often people go into things thinking oh this is really interesting, this could be a really good idea or advancement but they’ll hear from people around them, oh no, that’s already been done, it’s too hard, or other people have tried it and they’ve failed. So if you are not afraid to be a little bit naive,  sometimes you go down the rabbit hole and you find that there are actually things that you can discover, that haven’t been discovered before, or people haven’t thought about it in that way before. That’s particularly true for cross-disciplinary thinking where you take something for one field or discipline and apply it to another, and that’s really rewarding.

What’s something that your colleagues don’t know about you?

I secretly like techno-trance music! I listen to it in the car and I actually do some of my best writing listening to trance music. I put my earphones on, I zone out, I’m listening, people come along and ask what I’m doing – I’m writing a paper! And I am!

As long as it doesn’t have words, as long as it’s just music, or the words are in a language I don’t know,  then I can actually concentrate quite deeply to it, especially if I just put it on repeat, and you just think to yourself  I’ve completely zoned out.

But it’s great, it lets you block out everything around you, every phone ringing, distraction sms messages and emails coming in. It really just lets you concentrate on what you are working on and in today’s world that’s really important.

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