Ruchi Sembey

Ruchi Sembey

Ruchi Sembey

  • Student type: Domestic
  • Degree type: Graduate Research
  • Year commenced: 2021
  • Degree(s): Doctor of Philosophy
  • Department: Software Systems and Cybersecurity, HumaniSE Lab

Empowering education with technology

My research interests focus on maximising student learning through innovative emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and XR digital reality technologies. I believe that technologies such as these have the potential to both solve the learning and teaching challenges that we face today, as well as enrich and revitalise higher education.

I decided to pursue a PhD to nurture my curiosity and draw on my multidisciplinary background – I am an electronics and telecommunications engineer with a postgraduate degree in computing – to explore emerging technologies in education and how they can be used in real-world settings.

A place to thrive

I was looking for a PhD program that not only prepared me to become an impactful researcher, but also offered resources and opportunities to hone my skills for a successful career, be it in academia or industry.

The appeal of Monash for me was based on its ranking in the world's top 100 universities, membership in Australia’s prestigious Group of Eight, high-profile researchers, world-class infrastructure and high-quality research program.

Opportunely my research interests and proposal complemented the focus areas of the Monash HumaniSE lab, so I was offered a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship from the Faculty of IT. My supervisors, Australian Research Council Laureate Professor John Grundy and Associate Professor Rashina Hoda, are leading researchers in human-centric software engineering, so it was an excellent opportunity to be mentored by the best minds in the field.

Most importantly, I wanted to join a research lab that has a supportive and inclusive culture. I am a working student and a mother so it was essential to me that I am part of a team that respects my identity and accommodates my demanding schedule.

Connected to the community

I love participating in Monash events because I get the opportunity to establish new social contacts that I otherwise would never have met.

Currently I am participating in STEPtember, a challenge to clock 10,000 steps every day in September to raise funds for people living with cerebral palsy. Within my team, I have made new friends from Monash College and Monash’s Malaysia campus. We have a social media group to encourage each other and engage in fun banter, all while raising funds for a great cause and burning some extra calories along the way. I call that a win-win situation!

Days in the sun

The highlights of my PhD experience so far have been the multitude of opportunities that have come my way and the professional networks I’m building.

I was selected to be part of the first Australian cohort to attend the 2021 South Korea-USA Ewha-Luce International Seminar (ELIS): Expanding Horizons. I delivered a talk on gender-neutral educational technology, hosted a panel discussion and interacted with international women STEM leaders. A network of 33 women scientists from 13 countries attended the program.

Further, I’ll be attending the 2021 virtual Grace Hopper Conference as a recipient of the Monash InfoTech scholarship. This is the largest conference in the world for women technologists so I am honoured to represent Monash University and bring back new knowledge to share with the wider Monash community.

Support in a difficult time

For working PhD parents like myself, the pandemic has been a significant challenge. Lockdowns have meant juggling PhD study, childcare, work and home-schooling.

To make matters worse, on the 100th day into my PhD I found out that my family overseas had been infected with the COVID-19 Delta variant. My childhood home became a hospital overnight. It was extremely frustrating to watch my family struggle while I remained safe in my bubble here.

When I lost family members to COVID-19,I felt like I’d reached a tipping point. Thankfully, I found great support from my personal network, and PhD support system including my supervisors and  Monash counselling services.

Fair game for all

Like many young women who study or work in IT, I have faced numerous instances of gender-related hurdles. Due to this being a male-dominated industry, women are often not taken seriously. Further, maternity bias against working mothers spells out as maternal stereotyping, prejudiced evaluations, unequal pay, and conservative career progression which stymies them from achieving their full potential.

This needs to change.

At Monash,  there is a focus on women mentorship programs to support women in IT to succeed. I am a part of a networking group called Graduate Research Women’s Network which is a safe space for women to form new connections and support each other.

Additionally, both my supervisors are supportive of flexible study arrangements, vocal about mental wellbeing and champion all the mentoring, scholarship and networking opportunities I want to pursue. For example, Professor Grundy prioritised shifting  the research meeting times when it clashed with school pickup time. These actions may seem small, but they cause a positive ripple effect that allows me to thrive in my PhD journey.

Find your pack

Monash campus is a remarkably vibrant place. So it’s a shame that I had to start my PhD during a global pandemic because I’ve only been able to check out the myriad clubs, societies and events virtually. That being said, I’ve had a lot of  fun meeting like-minded students through online events. It has been a great way to maintain a sense of community and fight the isolation blues.

I’ve participated in student competitions, trivia night, and DiversIT and Monash Debaters club activities online. I also do virtual workouts with Monash Sports and participated in their 5km virtual fun run.

On return to campus, I would love to volunteer with Wholefoods and some of the non-profit MGA projects, charities and social enterprises to give back to the community. I’ve also been collecting recommendations from friends on must-try cafes and places to explore on-campus.

Start with a bang

I’m excited to see where this PhD takes me! I’ve already met brilliant researchers from human-centred computing and emerging educational technology, and inspiring educators who are passionate about education and student learning. It’s been an eye-opening experience engaging in discussions with them and I look forward to future research collaborations.

Alongside my PhD, I am a lecturer. I’ve found both projects to be mutually beneficial as teaching allows me to put my research knowledge to practice, while the research scholars I’ve met have helped strengthen my knowledge of research theory and practice.

I hope to maintain a teaching-research nexus during my PhD to build up my academic reputation for future academic roles. I’m also looking forward to doing an industry internship to expand my knowledge and networks.

I am the first in my family to study at university. Therefore, on a personal level, the most meaningful aspect of my PhD  is being able to be a role model for life-long learning to my son. He’s in primary school and enjoys spending time with me in the library. I love how his curiosity piques everytime I talk to him about chatbots and the use of reality technologies in education.

Pearls of wisdom for future students

My advice to anyone considering PhD is to carefully consider if your research interests and proposal match the focus areas of the research lab and supervisors that you’re applying to. And if your research proposal is interdisciplinary like mine, also consider looking into more than one faculty.