Oya Demirbilek – Associate Dean (Education) at UNSW Built Environment
Posted September 29, 2017, by Jenny Sakr
Oya is an industrial designer and an associate professor at UNSW Built Environment where she teaches, researches and has a substantial leadership role in shaping the strategic direction of education in the Built Environment.
Through teaching, Oya helps industrial design students build their confidence and figure out their design research directions to complete their graduation projects. She's involved in a number of research projects in the areas of old age, bathroom design for the future, design and emotions, as well as design education; where she aims to improve people’s lives as much as possible.
As an Associate Dean Oya focuses on enhancing the experience of both the staff and students in her faculty.
What organisation are you currently working for?
I am working at the University of New South Wales, Faculty of Built Environment, and I have been working here since 2000.
What is your current job title and how long have you had this role?
I am Associate Professor in Industrial Design since 2008 and for the past five years, I've also been the Associate Dean of Education for the Faculty of Built Environment.
How long have you been in education?
I first started with a research assistant role back in 1991, and have been in academia, in various roles since. This means that I have been in education for 26 years …
What did you study and what are the steps you have this role?
I studied Industrial Design in my Bachelor Degree (at METU, Ankara, 1989) and did a Masters by Research in Building Sciences (at METU, Ankara, 1994), then completed my PhD studies in Industrial Design (at Marmara University, Istanbul, 2001) and Interior Architecture (at Bilkent University, Ankara, 2000). In 2002, I completed a Graduate Certificate in University Learning and Teaching (GCULT) at UNSW.
My past experience that has been important in my current role has included: my experience in academia and in learning & teaching; and my former role as Discipline Director for Industrial Design (both at undergraduate and postgraduate level).
What did you want to be when you were younger?
When I was 6 or 7, I wanted to be a veterinarian, as I loved animals. Then again, I was always drawing, painting, and making objects with anything I could find. I started my studies in Biology in Strasbourg, in 1984 and then switched to Industrial Design after listening to the recommendation of one of my uncles who knew that this would make me happier. He was right. Studying Industrial Design was the best thing I ever did!
What was your first job?
While still doing my undergraduate studies, I was lucky to work freelance for a ceramic manufacturer in Switzerland, Swissline Hardegger Handels Ceramic Products, in Bern; and had a few of my pot and candle holder designs manufactured and sold in Europe. Then after graduating from the Bachelor of Industrial Design in 1989, I secured a teaching role for the summer session at the prestigious Art Center College of Design (Europe), in Product Design, La Tour-de-Peilz. My first full-time role was as Research Assistant at METU, in 1991.
When did you first know you wanted to be in education and what inspired you?
I guess this was when I first had the opportunity to teach at Art Center College of Design (Europe). It was an amazing experience to see young minds develop (all differently), and be part of their journey to professional life. It felt more like a mentoring process really and intrigued me. Consequently, I went into academia and teaching.
Explain a typical day at work
Today, as my role has a large strategic leadership and service component, besides my normal teaching and research work, a typical day would consist of two or three meetings with various stakeholders, from students to members of Senior Management; at faculty and university levels; one PhD student supervision, or progress review; and a couple of hours responding to my e-mails and addressing issues, and working with my team on operational matters.
What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you in your career?
The most interesting thing that happened to me in my career has been to meet wonderful people that trusted me. For example, the then Chairman of Product Design at Art Center College of Design’s European campus in Switzerland, Wolfgang Joensson, who gave me a teaching role although I was only a fresh graduate; then, Tony Hardegger, owner of Swissline Hardegger Handels, who gave me the freelance ceramic design jobs (and also paid a few times for my airfares to Switzerland for it!); and the amazing ceramic artist Lucy (the family name escapes me) who employed me to design the slip casting moulds for one of her long-necked vase designs for mass manufacture, and also gave me the keys to her Paris studio for me to stay a week. All of these people have a special place in my life, as they played a role in shaping my career.
Name the best and worst parts of your job
The best parts:
Having an impact on the strategic direction of education in the Faculty of Built Environment;
Helping staff improve their teaching;
Teaching and working with younger minds (students);
Help improve the students’ overall experience;
Being involved in research and constantly keeping abreast of current developments in my fields;
The worst parts:
Email fatigue… some days I will receive 300 or so emails – most expecting a prompt response. Feeling behind and spending full days just going through emails are not the highlights of the role for sure.
What’s the most important career tip someone has given you?
This was in relation to the academic promotion process – to make me understand whether I was ready or not for the application process, one of my former Deans asked me the following question: “what would you have next year, that you do not have now?” This made me realise that one needs to reflect on his/her own achievements to make such a decision, and not wait to hear that from others. By doing that self-reflection, and updating my CV accordingly, I realised that I already had quite a few achievements – which gave me the confidence to apply for a promotion that year (in 2002) – and I got promoted to Senior Lecturer as a result.
What do you wish someone had told you before starting in this industry?
I wish someone had told me to study the fundamentals of Learning and Teaching when I started teaching, back in 1991… I only got to do this almost 10 years later, after having taught all these years without really knowing what I was doing, and just repeating what I thought I saw from my former teachers. Completing the FULT (Fundamentals of Learning and Teaching), and then the GCULT (Graduate Certificate in University Learning and Teaching) courses at UNSW broadened my vision and skills in teaching, helping me understand how adults learn, and, as a result, become a better teacher.
Where do people have to start to get into this field and what is a standard salary for this role?
Completing a PhD is now a must if one wants to enter an academic career. To this, I would also add the FULT (Fundamentals of Learning and Teaching), and the GCULT (Graduate Certificate in University Learning and Teaching), for those who would want to be involved in teaching. Salary rates would probably start at $100,000 for a Lecturer, $120,000 for Senior Lecturer, and $145,000 for an Associate Professor.
Name a career highlight
Leading the design and development of the first Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) for our Faculty. This online course entitled Re-Enchanting the City has been successfully offered twice on FutureLearn to a global audience, with close to 9000 participants enrolling. Subsequently, we converted this course into an elective at the Built Environment, open to all students at UNSW. This session, I have close to a hundred students enrolled in the course.
What’s next for you?
Becoming a full professor would be nice, so I should soon start putting my application together, asking myself “what would I have next year, that I do not have now?” and work on presenting my case for promotion… I would also love to have a bit more time to concentrate on a few book projects.
How do you unwind after a long day?
I sketch, draw, do some sewing, design and make geometric jewellery, watch science fiction movies, bake or repair things.
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Jenny found her way with words while interning during uni, since, she's produced articles on it all – from hair and beauty to homewares, travel, career advice and study tips. On a weekend you're most likely to find her lining up for a table at the latest cafe or restaurant.