Professor Maria Orlowska, School of Information Technology & Electrical Engineering

Professor Maria Orlowska is a distinguished computer scientist in the school of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, where she leads the Data and Knowledge Engineering Group.

She has also, for ten years, been the School's Deputy Head with responsibilities for Research and Postgraduate Studies matters. In that time, she has introduced many innovations including a Travel Bank for postgraduate students; counselling and mentorship programs; and a systematic and transparent policy for funding postgraduate students. Many years ago, she also introduced a PhD confirmation process from which the university borrowed heavily when it established its new policy in 2002.

But Professor Orlowska is not just interested in systems and procedures, although as a specialist in distributed databases, she's extremely good at them. She is committed to understanding what it is that turns each student on to research and what will turn their personal passion for research into effective research and effective research outcomes.

Maria constantly sets small research problems for her students. Obviously, this is good training in breaking down what is otherwise a massive three to four year task but, more importantly, it gives students experience in designing research problems and working through a range of possible methodologies for their solution. These problems are also given a time limit and Maria and the student work intensively together on them for a week, seeking and then evaluating potential solutions.

In Maria's group, the first Friday of every month has become PhD Day. Students group themselves into thematic clusters and work together (without supervision) on a common topic. Identifying problems, designing procedures to solve them, establishing the mix of skills and knowledge that can be brought to bear to solve them ? this is all extremely valuable research training. The students plan the PhD Day Program and offer their research colleagues ? other students and advisors ¬? an exciting program of presentations and questions and in what seems to be quite a feature of Maria's group, a plentiful supply of coffee and cake.

The coffee and cake has an important function, too. The solution of problems ? and not only research problems ? is always rewarded and celebrated. These occasions celebrate the arrival of new group members, successes in grants, publications, thesis submissions and awards, papers presented y students and staff. Honours students are included in this too so a broad and inclusive approach is taken to developing the research team. It is easy to see how a lot of peer-to-peer mentoring goes on in an environment like this.

But there are a lot of hard milestones too, and Maria's students are very successful in getting papers published and theses submitted. At the beginning of candidature, Maria establishes the principle that every student will publish three papers before they submit their thesis. Because she also works very closely with her students on the structure of their theses, they experience the excitement of watching papers emerge from the very structure of their evolving thesis; they watch the project grow as they add to the established structure. Professor Orlowska has focussed her supervision on the very crux of research higher degree supervision: how to develop independence within a supportive framework ? how to provide compassionate rigour.

Professor Orlowska's students are a very diverse group and in this area of IT there are plenty of distractions ? well-paid jobs, consulting and continually evolving interdisciplinarity. She seems to be especially good at drawing out the particular passion and underlying skills of each and every student, understanding their personal and professional circumstances (many of them are part-time students with families and careers). Her students are the best judges and they say she is an inspirational supervisor with unlimited reserves of enthusiasm ? and even time ? for her students.

Professor Maria Orlowska is a worthy winner of the 2003 University of Queensland Award for Excellence in Research Higher Degree Supervision

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