(3 minute read.)
Dr Kate Fox is a senior lecturer in Biomedical Engineering at RMIT University. After a misspent youth dreaming about becoming a doctor, she quickly realised that she was better with her creativity than she was with her memory and instead, headed down the path of engineering. At RMIT, she works at the interface of materials science, engineering and the human body where she inspires the next generation into making implants and other assistive technologies that make a real difference to the lives of those with disabilities.
As you read this interview, you will notice Kate’s passion, determination and courage in all she does.
How would you describe workplace courage?
Workplace courage is the ability to put the needs of others before your own needs. It is the capacity to be willing to take a risk with the full knowledge that it may not work the way you had planned it.
It is the freedom to be able to succeed or fail on your own terms.
What does courage look like in your workplace?
Academia is surprisingly risk adverse. It is easy to continue to abide by the status quo under the guise of “that’s the way we have always done it.” Even in the research side of academia it is easy to make incremental advances as research is driven by funding opportunities that remain adverse to blue sky ideas, instead preferring deliverable outcomes. In my workplace, courage is the ability to break free of these constraints, to take risk in the teaching methodologies by stepping away from the lectern and into the community. Courage is allowing students to learn new ways to learn about engineering outside of a textbook whilst supporting them for life after University. Courage is trying crazy research ideas irrespective of whether it will ever be found in a journal or funded. Courage is building a team and backing them in, even when things are not working out.
Please describe 1-2 examples in which you have been courageous. What did you do? Who/what enabled you to be courageous? What was the outcome?
I am fortunate enough to have a very strong support network around, both personally and professionally. I am a strong advocate for using our power as guides for the next generation of biomedical engineers to help the community. Universities in Australia have cutting edge tools and equipment to really use their power for good. As a result, I decided to take a leap of faith to partner the undergraduate students with a not-for-profit, Solve Disability Solutions, to make assistive technology devices for people with a disability. This is an issue very close to my heart as I have a son with cerebral palsy.
Having a child with a disability changes the way you see the world. Trying to get personalised equipment for each person with a disability is hard. Each disability has its own unique requirements. As a result RMIT, with its incredible facilities in additive manufacturing and engaged students, was perfectly equipped to offer something. To initiate this program took courage, each student worked directly with a client, meeting and discussing their technological needs but also hand-in-hand with a mentor, a retired professional. Each change has a flow on effect for the whole program, any successes or failures amplified for that cohort of students. This initiative could have failed, things could have gone wrong and the students may not have shared the same enthusiasm. In the end, the initiative was a huge success, with students wholeheartedly buying into the program.
In fact, my courage and enthusiasm has rubbed off outside of work. My daughter, spurred on the same enthusiasm to make a difference, went on to develop her own assistive technology invention, winning as a consequence a trip to NASA!*
From your point of view, to what extent are Australia’s leaders leading with courage?
Australia’s leaders, particularly in politics, have a tough job not dissimilar to academia where it is very hard to take risks. Looking in from the outside, it is hard to see the day to day courage shown but it is undoubtedly there. It is not perfect, we can all pick out things we would have done differently, initiatives where we would have liked someone to sway from the “party line”. I still remember back to the launch of the NDIS by the Gillard Government. The fact that a life changing initiative such as disability support failed to get bipartisan support showed me that no politician at the time was able to openly show the courage I believe they needed. Even to this day, disability reform lags behind. One area where courage is starting to show, is the support that is flowing through towards diversity in STEMM. We now have a Minister for Industry, Science and Technology who herself is a qualified engineer. Many great initiatives are happening to improve diversity for board appointments and in academia. Good things are happening in this space.
“This photo represents the ability to work
with adversity and use courage to have fun.”
Some of Kate’s work can be found here:
Kate can be contacted on:
- t. @EngineeringKate
- e. firstname.lastname@example.org
You can learn about Amelia’s (Kate’s daughter) accomplishment here:
I first met Kate at the veski STEMsidebyside program. Her energy and enthusiasm was evident from that first moment and has never waned. Also evident in all of our encounters has been her leadership, her desire for all to succeed and her playfulness.