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Judith Dawes on Juggling Leadership and Teaching

Rebecca Robinson

    Judith Dawes
In this instalment of Senor Member Insights*, we talk with Judith Dawes, professor of physics at Macquarie University, where she chairs the Faculty Women in STEM committee and is a member of the university senate. Judith has recently been elected treasurer of Science and Technology Australia, and until 2017, was a chief investigator of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh-bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS).  She served as President of the Australian Optical Society (AOS) from 2010 through 2012 and as a member of the AOS council from 2007 through 2014.

In addition to teaching lasers, optoelectronics and physics, her recent work focuses on laser analgesia for dental nerves, upconversion nanoparticles used for imaging, and random lasers, which incorporate nanoparticle scatterers for optical feedback, and have been used for applications such as quantitative dopamine sensing.
If your younger self was looking at your career now, what would she be most surprised by?
I did not expect to take on management and leadership roles. I might also be surprised by the extent to which family commitments and work continue to be a juggle, even after my children grew up!
Has there been a particularly difficult decision in your career thus far? If so, what did you do to make the right decision for you?
I took time to decide whether to apply for a leadership role in my university, as I was uncertain of whether I would be able to do it and enjoy it. I consulted my family, and colleagues who knew me, some of whom had taken these career steps earlier.
What professional resources do you rely on to stay active and engaged with your field?
Conferences and workshops, occasional webinars and visiting lecturers; these activities are often closely connected with professional societies, and I believe I have benefited greatly from my membership of several professional societies including OSA. 
How has networking changed for you since you first began your career?
Traveling to conferences has always been challenging, due to my various commitments, and the long distances involved. Now, I am more confident in seeking people to speak to and I probably know more people, but it is still difficult to go up to a stranger and start talking!
What is one question you had as a student/early professional that never seemed to be answered? Have you found the answer?
Can women succeed as professors with a family? I did not know any! (The answer is yes).
What have you learned by being a mentor to others, and what have you learned from mentors who helped shepherd your career?
I often find myself giving advice to students or colleagues that is relevant to me, too. I just have to follow it! Mentors have been very kind to me in identifying opportunities that would suit me, and in recommending me.
How do you define success in your career?
Success is when I feel that I done something to the best of my ability and I am proud of myself.
What habits do you frequently rely on that help you to succeed?
I make lists, crossing off the items achieved. I schedule tasks in my calendar, always trying to remember that things take longer than I expect. I try to say “yes” to opportunities to learn and to grow, but I don’t say “no” often enough.
At this point in your career, what are you most looking forward to next?
I am developing my leadership skills and a peer mentoring group. I want to inspire a new generation.
If you weren’t in the sciences, what would be your dream career?
Something involving books—I am an enthusiastic bibliophile.
* Previously posted on OSA Careers
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