With STEM You Can…Apply science to help others
At 18, Jess Bugeja moved to Brisbane from Innisfail, a small town in Far North Queensland and started a biomedical engineering degree at the University of Queensland (UQ).
This led to a PhD through CSIRO and UQ. Jess now works as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with CSIRO’s Australian e-Health Research Centre. Jess has found her calling, yet her journey didn’t always point toward a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths).
What sparked your interest in STEM?
My biggest question growing up and still today is: Why?
I’m driven to understand how things work, why they exist and what they do. During primary and high-school, I had a passion for science and maths.
I grew up in a small town where medical attention was not as accessible as in the city. My dream was to find a career where I could combine science and mathematics to improve the health outcomes of others.
During my electrical and biomedical engineering degree, I was introduced to a career where I could read, learn, imagine amazing things, and make them happen.
That’s where my PhD journey began. It led me to my career as a researcher.
What do you most enjoy about your field of work?
I have the privilege of learning every day. I work with incredible people who are as excited as I am to make a difference to help others.
My favourite projects are those that are cross-disciplinary. Research gives freedom to dream incredible ideas and put them into practice.
Within my field of work, I work with children with cerebral palsy and their families. It is an incredible feeling, knowing they put their trust in us (my team) to generate research that will create a positive change for them or others with similar life experiences.
I have always wanted to apply science to help others, and my work gives me the opportunity to do that.
Could you share a memorable challenge you faced during your academic journey and how you overcame it?
I grew up in Far North Queensland and went to a modest high school. Transitioning from high school to university (at the University of Queensland) was one big move.
Many people (family, friends, teachers, tutors) tried to influence where my career should go. But I tried to listen to my inner voice in deciding what I wanted to do and how I wanted to create change.
I had no idea of what a college was until I arrived at the front door of Duchesne College. I was a quiet person. College life wasn’t really my thing. At first, I thought maybe I should change who I am to become that louder person to fit in more.
If I could give past Jess some advice, I would say always be true to yourself. To survive the chaos of college, I kept goals and remembered what I was working towards.
A nice saying is: “Being yourself is all it takes. If you want to impress someone don’t be someone else just be yourself.” This is true in life, your career and everything in between.
What experiences, such as internships, role models or extracurricular activities, have contributed to your career?
I have always loved music and began learning clarinet in grade five of primary school. In addition to doubling as a stress reducer (in later high school years and university), learning an instrument taught me perseverance, patience, increased my time management abilities, memory capability and cultivated my creativity.
These qualities are essential for a researcher as we must persevere, maintain patience, and manage our time effectively to solve the world’s greatest challenges. Researchers choose a career where we never stop learning. As such, enhanced memory is a beneficial quality.
Finally, as researchers we must be creative when tackling problems because the most obvious route is often not the one which will provide the answer.
As Plato once said, “music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”
I played club soccer from the age of five until my senior high school years. Playing soccer teaches you how to be a team player, trust in others, strategise and time management (juggling school commitments).
In research, we must work as a team to achieve results, delegate activities to share the workload, define project deliverables with targeted completion dates and manage our time appropriately to remain on track for our deadlines.
What advice would you give to students considering a career in STEM?
My advice is to be passionate, stubborn, kind, and creative. Keep working towards your goals, and you will achieve them.
Although people in your life will give you different opinions about your future, you are the only person who should make that decision.
Remember, if you enjoy doing something, you are on the right path!