Hitler, Gabriela and me!

11 March 2013

There's no telling what a Deakin PhD can lead to, writes Dr Nigel Ross.

Dr Nigel Ross found "the perfect fit", professionally and personally, in Austria after he completed his PhD at Deakin in 2012. He sent us this postcard from Braunau am Inn, Hitler’s birthplace, and added a bit of advice to anyone else contemplating an academic career - "feel the fear and do it anyway"!

Dear Deakin,

I just realised that I have now been here in Austria for just over six months.  My arrival was in late summer/early autumn and the weather was quite nice.  During that time I spent a bit of time going for walks and getting to know the area.  Braunau am Inn is a small town.  I’m not quite sure what the population is.  I’ve heard numbers ranging from 14,000 to 17,000, so quite a lot smaller than anywhere else I have lived.  Over the river Inn, the town of Simbach in Germany is a little smaller with a population about 10,000.

Being a small town there are not too many people saying they can speak English. When one asks you often have the response “a little bit”, but many times the answer is “no”. The people are friendly and will often say hello (in German, of course).  With such friendly people and beautiful surrounds it is hard to believe that Braunau is the birth place of Adolf Hitler.

I was 37 when I began my PhD, so I had already a bit of experience in the work-force and at university before I began.  On leaving high school at the end of 1988 I worked for 3 years in a clerical position at Radio New Zealand Ltd. During a visit to Wollongong, NSW, for my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary I popped over to the Materials Engineering department at the university as it was only a couple of blocks from my grandparents place. I guess you could say that metals are in the blood because my grandfather was a foundryman and had his own company casting aluminium bronzes. I liked what I saw so decided to give it a go. As one of my brothers says, “feel the fear and do it anyway”.

I began my university life at the University of Wollongong in 1992 and stayed for six years - four years undergraduate and two years for my Masters. It was during this time that I became an Aussie citizen. After that I returned to NZ (because I had no more money) and finished writing up my Masters thesis from there. For a short time after that I worked in the call centre for the NZ TAB before I found a job with Industrial Research Limited (IRL), a New Zealand Crown Research Institute. I worked at IRL for eight years, four months on high temperature superconductors as a Research Scientist. The last six years of those at IRL I was also a volunteer fire fighter with the New Zealand Fire Service.

At the beginning of October 2007 I began my PhD at Deakin University as a CAST CRC supported PhD candidate.  Although I found the writing up pretty hard, I really enjoyed my time there. The environment at the Geelong Technology Precinct is relaxed, friendly and a great place to make friends and let your mind explore the possibilities for your research. It is certainly a credit to Peter Hodgson and the others in leadership of the place. As a student I was allowed the freedom to develop my project, but was never without the support I needed.

This friendly atmosphere permeates through the whole place. The people genuinely care about you. Administrative, academic and technical staff are all interested in helping students succeed.

Early last year I was made aware through the CAST CRC of an opportunity to work at LKR Leichtmetallkompetenzzentrum Ranshofen GmbH in Ranshofen, Austria. This is a small company of about 40 people, which is part of the much larger Austrian Institute of Technology. The focus of the work here is on the light metals aluminium and magnesium.  One of the areas that LKR is developing its knowledge and capability is in the area of extruded magnesium. Since this was the area I specialised in for my PhD it is a perfect fit. My main project is a collaborative project between researchers in Australia and Austria. My role is to develop the project and take care of the day to day running of it. Of course, I have the opportunity to get my hands dirty by doing some of the research.

Another change that is happening in my life is that I have found someone special over here and will be getting married in August. Her name is Gabriela.

One of my cousins has commented that she can’t understand how a Kiwi-Aussie living in Austria meets up with a Romanian living in Sweden. All I can say is that the timing and location are right, and the internet is a wonderful thing.

My final thoughts are that university is just the beginning. It teaches us so many things we don’t even realise at the time. We learn how to learn. Have your own personal reasons for doing the PhD because it helps to carry you through when the work gets hard. It also stops you taking the easy way out of quitting your PhD. These reasons help to keep you committed to completing.

Do your PhD at Deakin

The research environment at Deakin is certainly a credit to Peter Hodgson and the others in leadership of the place, says Dr Nigel Ross. The research environment at Deakin is certainly a credit to Peter Hodgson and the others in leadership of the place, says Dr Nigel Ross.

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