From researcher to educator: embracing a teaching career following PhD at Deakin University
Dr Balaji Narayanaswamy began his association with Deakin in 2013 when he embarked upon his journey as a Doctor of Philosophy candidate. Today he is a proud teaching scholar within the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment at Deakin University. In his words, ‘this incredible tenure of 10 years has been immensely fulfilling and enriching for my professional growth beyond measure.’
‘The flexibility to choose my research topic and supervisor at Deakin University truly astounded me and ultimately influenced my decision to pursue my PhD there.’
Balaji spent his early years of formative education at Coimbatore, a bustling city in southern India. It was during his postgraduate studies that he realised his passion for metallurgy, particularly in the field of material sciences, with a specific interest in steel. Although he hadn’t initially planned on pursuing research, the exposure and guidance he received during his masters program motivated him to actively seek out research opportunities to further explore his enthusiasm for materials research.
It was at this pivotal moment in his life that he embarked on his journey with Deakin University, as he actively explored both industry and research prospects.
Deakin provided Balaji with a rare opportunity to have a say in crucial aspects of his doctoral studies such as his research topic and his supervisor even before he had officially secured the position. This level of autonomy mattered immensely to him and was a stand-out detail that wasn’t readily available everywhere.
Engaging in discussions with various faculty members allowed him to gain valuable insights that helped him make an informed decision to tailor his interests and goals. This unique offering was a critical deciding factor for Balaji.
‘One particularly influential conversation I had was with Professor Peter Hodgson, Alfred Deakin Professor at Deakin. Through our discussions, he guided me in exploring different research options, clarified my expectations, and provided guidance on the most effective approach.’
It enabled Balaji to align his postgraduate research with the focus area of his PhD, ensuring a synergy between previous academic pursuits and his upcoming research. This support and alignment instilled him with confidence to embark on his research journey at Deakin. In addition to this, he received the Deakin University Postgraduate Research Scholarship in 2013, which aided him in pursuing his PhD at Deakin. This scholarship served as a significant support system, further reinforcing Balaji’s decision to choose Deakin for his doctoral studies.
‘A remarkable aspect of my academic journey at Deakin is that I got more than just a research degree. The vital, holistic learning experience that accompanied it helped me amplify not just my research skills but also my communication skills, interpersonal skills. I gained all-round learning and development’, he said.
Recipient of International Student of the Year (2016) Regional Award at Governor House, Victoria.
Recipient of the Student Helping Students Award in 2015.
‘In many ways at Deakin, I could always take up a challenge, do more, be involved with the community and build a better, more confident version of myself.’
Professor Peter Hodgson and Dr Hossein Beladi played key roles in guiding Balaji for successful completion of his research and the cultivation of essential skills for future endeavours. Balaji credits their unwavering confidence for empowering him to embrace the responsibilities of presenting at conferences and assuming leadership roles. Their guidance extended far beyond imparting knowledge and expertise in the subject matter.
‘What set their supervision apart was the remarkable precision and professionalism with which they guided my research. Such exceptional support is rarely encountered, and as an aspiring PhD candidate, I am immensely grateful for their invaluable assistance. It is something I will forever cherish.’
It was while undertaking his research fellowship that Balaji discovered his innate ability to express effectively and communicate knowledge in a manner that benefits students. This realisation motivated him to pursue a career in teaching, as he felt his expertise would facilitate optimal learning outcomes for aspiring students.
After completing his PhD, Balaji decided to pursue teaching roles. He started as a teaching fellow at The University of Waikato in New Zealand. It provided him an exciting opportunity to teach in China through a partnership with another institute. Over the course of three years, he built upon his experience as a teaching fellow and progressed to the role of lecturer. It helped him expand the opportunities and responsibilities he was offered.
The COVID-19 pandemic abruptly interrupted his plans. However, this unforeseen circumstance presented him with a silver lining. Balaji relocated back to Australia, and the positive aspect of this situation was that he could continue his teaching journey at Deakin University, his alma mater.
Balaji explains, in his current role, ‘I have set a goal to support research scholars in achieving practical benefits alongside academic accomplishments. Drawing from my personal experience, I am driven to take action and contribute to their success.’
As a teaching scholar, Balaji is currently establishing an internship program for PhD students within Deakin University in collaboration with the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment. This program will enhance research scholars’ employability skills, which are crucial for their future career paths in academia. He is lending dedicated efforts to this initiative while fulfilling other responsibilities, with the aim of benefiting future candidates.
‘By giving back to the university community that has provided immense support to me, I aspire to make a positive impact in my own unique way.’