Draga Doncila Pop

Draga Doncila Pop

Draga Doncila Pop

  • Student type: Domestic
  • Degree type: Degree
  • Year commenced: 2017
  • Degree(s): Bachelor of Computer Science Advanced (Honours)
  • Minor(s): Cybersecurity; Data science

Geared towards good

When I first finished high school I thought I wanted to study medicine because I have always felt that I had the capabilities and a responsibility to give back to society.

However, I quickly realised that computer science had, in some ways, an even greater capacity to bring about positive change on a larger scale. What’s more, the discipline suited my altruistic tendencies and offered the opportunity to work in almost any industry in the world, across a broad variety of roles. I can think of few other fields that could provide this much flexibility.

I’m also extremely passionate about equal access to education globally. It’s the root cause of many problems we’re facing today.

Computer science (and technology more broadly) has the power to provide this access to education, and empower people to follow their own passions. I also think data literacy is one of the most important skills for today’s youth to gain leading into the information age.

Striking a balance between academia and industry

I chose Monash because it was the only university to offer a research-focused stream (the Honours stream) for a computer science degree alongside a rigorous theoretical curriculum. It also had the Industry-Based Learning (IBL) program, which was a great opportunity to see both the academic and industry worlds before graduating.

I undertook IBL in the first semester of my third year at Readify (now Telstra Purple).

It was fantastic because I got to experience a full-time industry role without having to make any long-term commitments. It also helped me identify what skills I needed to develop to make myself as attractive as possible to future employers.

After I finished the program, I ended up working part time for the company. This was an excellent way for me to keep my developer skills sharp and apply the knowledge I was learning. IBL helped me broaden my horizons and consider roles I didn't even know existed.

Setting up for the future

The highlight of my course was a second-year research project where I worked with a fantastic supervisor (who became my Honours supervisor) on open-source software. The aim was to simplify the visualisation and analysis of large high-dimensional microimaging data sets.

It was the first time I’d encountered the vast potential for applying the content I had been studying in the real world. I was also excited to be working in a field closely related to microbiology, which was always an interest of mine.

In the future, I’m hoping to take a break from research and tutor foundational computer science units. I would also like to contribute to the software that formed a large part of my Honours project.

Afterwards I want to start a PhD and further my academic career, as well as teach as much as I possibly can. Ideally, ten years from now I'll be lecturing introductory computer science and supporting the exceptional research output of the faculty.

I also hope that the knowledge I’ve gained during my time at Monash, and the network of like-minded individuals I’ve met, can help me establish and advance initiatives which ensure equal access to education and opportunities for the future.

Making the most of life at Monash

Throughout my time at Monash I’ve been involved in many extracurricular activities.

I was a Super Mentor on the Student Engagement Committee, which worked to create a sense of community and friendship within the faculty. I also helped co-found the Programming Bootcamp for new students, which bridged the gap for commencing students with no programming experience.

In my second year, I became editor of The Byte newsletter – an excellent way for IT students to discover the latest faculty news, as well as various job and internship opportunities.

I've loved being a part of all these different initiatives. It has made my degree much more enjoyable, and really helped me enhance my organisational skills and meet a wide range of people. Looking back on my years at Monash, I definitely feel like I was part of something special.

To the next generation of women in STEM

I believe the real challenges for women in STEM occur at an early age where young girls start perceiving these fields as outside of their ability and ‘typical’ gender role. I think that's where the support from the university really makes a difference.

The inclusive approach during orientation, clubs like DiversIT, initiatives such as Go Girl Go for IT, Women in Technology Mentoring and Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship (WISE) program are indispensable in creating a friendly community and instilling confidence among women starting their IT degrees.

Pearls of wisdom for future students

Dedicate as much time as possible to really understanding the early content. The units later on in your course usually build on what comes before, so nailing the first few will make the years after much more enjoyable. Also, don't memorise! Work to really understand the concepts and you'll be fine.

From another perspective, don't think of your degree as just study. Do your best to get involved in activities, clubs and initiatives because this will make your uni experience more memorable. It’ll also help you meet like-minded people and uncover even more opportunities and experiences.

Like many things in life, your time at uni is what you make of it and your attitude can mean all the difference to your wellbeing.

Be open to new experiences, appreciate what you have – and learn as much as you can.