Professor Sterling received a BSc (Hons) from the University of Melbourne and a PhD in Pure Mathematics from the Australian National University. He has worked at universities in the UK, Israel, the US, and Australia. His teaching and research specialties are software engineering, artificial intelligence, and logic programming. From 2010-2013, he was Dean of the Faculty of ICT at Swinburne University of Technology, and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Digital Frontiers) from 2014-2015. He is past president of the Australian Council of Deans of ICT and a Fellow of Engineers Australia and the Australian Computer Society.
He shares his view on being future ready students and why STEM skills are highly valued…
What are the 3 most important STEM skills (from your academic experience) that you value from your students and why?
An ability to think and reason logically is essential as it underpins all of the STEM skills. Students who reason logically are valued.The second skill is to be able to abstract – to understand what is general about a problem being solved. Abstraction also helps in making diagrams which are easy for others to understand.The third skill I value is to understand data and how it can be used to provide evidence for conclusions people are trying to make. The process of selecting data is important to understand to ensure that bias is eliminated as much as possible.
What are you noticing are the gaps in soft skills at the moment?
I am currently overseeing undergraduate and masters students undertaking software projects for external clients. The technical skills are strong, but the students struggle to understand client requirements. They need to be able to understand what problems the client may have and how software may help. On a lighter note, students need to be better at ‘entertaining’, ensuring their presentations are engaging as well as just reporting what was done.
How do you think students can develop problem solving skills in primary and high school?
As with most skills, the best thing to do is practise. There are high quality problem solving competitions in mathematics and computational thinking run by the Australian Mathematics Trust. Entering those competitions and practising problem solving is good. Also exploring one’s own interests is valuable. I recently read a book called ‘Range’ that shows many successful people have dabbled in a variety of interests which were helpful much later down the track. There is no need to specialise too early.
Do you think the start up industry is set to rise amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?
My comments largely come from observations about the Australian start up landscape, with which I am most familiar. There has been a boom in start ups with an ICT connection in the last several years. I don’t think the COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the trend. What you gain in time is lost by it being harder to network.
How do you think students can develop good networking skills in order to reach investors, future employers and mentors?
As someone who was not a natural networker, but improved over my career, I can say this is a skill that can be improved. Networking works well when you feel comfortable, and the way to feel comfortable is to take opportunities. The community will support people trying to network. So go to events, talk to people – practise networking.
Thank you Professor Leon for an insightful interview on STEM skills and the importance of networking and problem solving skills.
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