Chief Operating Officer
Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
Recognised as a Superstar of STEM by Science and Technology Australia, Sue is a research scientist with highly developed business skills.
She runs the world’s first robotic vision research centre. The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is an ARC Centre of Excellence with more than 100 researchers distributed across Australian and overseas research institutions.
With a PhD in Earth Sciences, Sue escaped the lab to move into research management and commercialisation where she has demonstrated national leadership, directing and ensuring impact from multidisciplinary R&D programs spanning engineering, physical and social sciences.
What is the big picture goal or purpose behind your research?
By creating robots that see and understand their environment, we will finally reach the tipping point where robots can assume capabilities that have previously only been imagined.
When did you get switched on to STEM, and how?
My parents always encouraged curiosity and we were a family of early adopters of technology, the first family on the street to get a home computer.
I always thought science would be a more interesting career than many others so I enrolled in a science degree at university with no clear expectations of where that would lead to. It wasn’t until university that I became passionate about science.
What is the coolest, strangest, best, most meaningful, most ambitious or favourite project you’ve worked on so far?
The coolest project I’ve worked on is in social robotics. It’s one thing to develop technologies, it’s another thing entirely to see how humans respond to those technologies and robots are no exception.
We are getting to the point that robots can do some amazing things, but how can we best harness these new development so that they help people and make a real difference in the world? Those are the questions we are addressing in social robotics.
What’s been your biggest fail on this journey?
I’ll always regret giving up my career in Earth Sciences.
At the time it felt like I had no choice but sometimes I wonder if I could have stuck in there. Having said that I have a wide range of interests covering many scientific disciplines and if I had stuck to earth sciences I may never have had the opportunity to learn more about engineering, social sciences, business and now robotics.
Why do we need more women working in STEM?
Because most of our technologies are currently being developed almost exclusively by men.
Technologies developed by an unrepresentative cross-section of the population are not optimised for success.
While the culture of STEM is tough we desperately need more women in these fields to redress the balance and expand the amazing array of technologies at our disposal to help solve global challenges like climate change, overpopulation, pollution and unequal access to water, sanitation and healthcare.
What is your advice to young women who want to learn about and pursue a career in STEM?
Dream big and be hard-nosed. You will get slapped down but don’t give up.
Get used to being unique, you may find few role models. Build yourself strong support networks and use them.
It is important that women’s voices are heard when we are developing new technologies. Imagine the range of technologies we can dream up if we have a truly diverse group of people working on them? The possibilities are limitless.
Sue’s career path:
>> Bachelor of Science (Geology), University of Newcastle
>> PhD (Isotope Geochemistry), ANU
>> Masters of Business Administration, University of Queensland
>> Chief Operating Officer, Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
>> Board Director, CRC ORE
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.