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Healthy green shoots rising from our STEM outreach programs

8 July 2019
Engaging with talented STEM students early in their studies is providing real benefits to DST.
Engaging with talented STEM students early in their studies is providing real benefits to DST.

Engaging with talented STEM students early in their studies is providing real benefits to DST. Archana Vadakattu, Tim Doughney and Andrew Malouf have each experienced work at DST through different STEM outreach programs. Vadakattu became a DST cadet at the end of her second year of undergraduate studies, working at DST during university holidays. Doughney spent a year with defence scientist Scott Moss on an RMIT Industry Experience Placement (IEP). Malouf, a University of Adelaide PhD student, completed a short-term AMSI/APR.Intern placement. Different paths but one thing they and their DST supervisors agree on are the mutual benefits that these STEM outreach programs provide.

Cadets hit the ground running

Vadakattu found the most valuable aspect of her cadetship was the chance to apply new knowledge in the workplace as she studied. “One year I was doing a lot of computer science subjects, so working on a software project here was perfect. I was able to apply exactly what I was learning. My supervisors played great mentoring roles. During my final year they were willing to look over stuff and help me out – they were definitely influential.”

Vadakattu’s supervisor, Dr Aaron Ceglar, is full of praise for his young protégé and the STEM outreach concept. “The cadet program is working well for us – it’s great to have new blood join our team, bringing new ways of thinking and doing. The cadets get to know us, and we get to know them. It takes a bit of effort, but we’re rewarded ten-fold. Archie’s with us full-time now, and we’ve got a new cadet coming up through the program.”

Industry Experience Placements – a win-win situation

Doughney’s year at DST was spent building a vibration energy harvesting system. He is the lead author on a new paper about the work in the respected Smart Materials and Structures journal. “In summary, using this special type of relaxor ferroelectric crystal, and the design casing we set up, outperforms other traditional-piezoelectric vibration energy harvesters in gathering energy, especially from the high frequencies found in helicopter gearbox transmissions. There’s still a few things to iron out, but it seems like a viable solution to power sensors monitoring aircraft in the future.”

After graduating from his physics/electronic and telecommunications engineering double degree, Doughney scored a highly sought after place in DST’s graduate program.

Scott has hosted many STEM students, and remains a fan of the 12-month IEP placements. In his experience it’s a win-win for both DST and the student. “Having a fresh pair of eyes on a research project can be very productive,” he says. “The students receive a scholarship and valuable experience which helps when they graduate and start looking for work. DST can also directly benefit from hosting the placements when, as in Tim’s case, the students return and join DST after their degrees. In that case it’s a win-win-win.”

Post-graduate internships – research that fits like a glove

When Malouf saw the APR.intern call for a DST internship on a topic closely related to his PhD research he leapt at the opportunity. “My PhD is about mid-infrared lasers and has required the Matlab modelling of fibre lasers and the characterisation of graphene. The internship required the modelling of graphene, and had my name written all over it. It actually turned out to be quite different to anything I’d done before but that’s okay because I had a background solid enough to accomplish the task.”

Andrew says his research project will strengthen his resume and hopefully open up opportunities for further work at DST. “That’s part of the reason I wanted to do an internship here. I’m fascinated by the work going on here but it’s hard to find out what it’s really like unless you are actually working here. The internship made that possible.”

The thing that stood out for Malouf was that the skills he had developed in academia were valuable and transferable to this project. “It was like a mini-PhD. Everything I was investigating was new, yet I had the skills under my belt to carry out the research, write the algorithm and the final report. I fitted in like a glove.”

Watch DST’s 2019 Cadet Presentations here: