Associate Professor and Head of Information Technology Dept, OPAIC (Otago Polytechnic Auckland)
Tell us about a project you’re working on at the moment.
I am currently working on a research project titled: “Increasing Self-Compassion of Young People with Mood Swings through Virtual Reality”.
Mental health conditions pose a major challenge to healthcare providers and society at large. Mental health services are struggling to meet the needs of patients and arguably fail to reach large proportions of those in need.
Virtual Reality (VR) in Health is an emerging field. It is becoming more commonplace with the advent of affordable consumer head mounted devices, and there is a significant potential for the understanding, assessment and treatment of mental health problems. We want to take this new technology and design a virtual reality environment with young people which focuses on real world scenarios that impact them most and assists them to view these experiences with a self-compassionate lens.
When did you get switched on to STEM, and how?
I was interested in studying mathematics, physics and computer programming in high school.
I did my high school in Iran and unlike a lot of western countries, Iran has a high number of females in STEM. Our school was girls only and I sometimes wonder if that contributed to my increased self confidence!
What is the coolest, strangest, best, most meaningful, most ambitious or favourite project you’ve worked on so far?
I have done a lot of projects in Games and Intelligent Educational applications for Health and Education. My longest one is Diabetic Mario.
In collaboration with the University of Auckland, we are designing, implementing and evaluating educational mobile games that are fun to play, can enhance children’s knowledge of healthy diet and lifestyle and improve their relationship with their health care providers.
This project has led to a successful Health Research Council grant (provided by the NZ Government) for 2017-2019, has been published in Games for Health journal and won the Chief Executive’s runner-up award in 2017. We are planning to conduct a full evaluation study in early 2019 and hopefully make the games available to health care providers throughout the country.
What do you know about STEM now that you didn’t know at school?
STEM is a lot broader than some people might think.
It is not just about solving maths problems or debugging computer programs in a basement!
You can apply it to other disciplines and try to solve real-world problems, which can be challenging and exciting at the same time!
What is your advice to young women who want to learn about and pursue a career in STEM?
Have confidence in yourself and don’t think a career in STEM is too hard. Think about the destination and where you want to be and enjoy the journey. Do not take ‘no’ for an answer!
Nilufar’s career path:
>> Bachelor of Science (Honours), University of Canterbury
>> PhD, Computer Science & Software Engineering Department, University of Canterbury
>> Postdoctoral research fellow, CSIRO
>> Graduate Certificate of Commercialisation, University of Tasmania, Australia
>> Associate Professor and Head of Computer Science department, Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland
>> Associate Professor and Head of Information Technology Department, OPAIC (Otago Polytechnic, Auckland)
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.