International Women’s Day was formally adopted by the United Nations in 1975 (though was celebrated as early as 1909). It is regarded as an opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is also a time to show future generations who our champions are to inspire them to strive for excellence in their own careers.
With that in mind, there is no more deserving woman to acknowledge today than Professor Dee Bradshaw. I had the chance to catch up with Dee to learn more about her career and to get her top tips for young professionals starting out in the minerals industry. Dee's career has taken her on a pathway which recently saw the launch of the book ‘Green Mining, Beyond the Myth’
which addresses the social, economic, cultural and political issues surrounding sustainable mining, and explores pathways to a better future for the mining industry. For many graduates and early career researchers, Dee has been a mentor encouraging them in their research endeavours with such infectious enthusiasm whilst always reminding them to consider the ‘philosophy’ component of their research. Her outstanding efforts were acknowledged by the University of Queensland in 2013 where she received an award for Excellence in Research Higher Degree Supervision (MEI Blog
Dee obtained her PhD in 1997 in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and went on to be a research officer and associate professor at UCT until 2008. In her last year, she took sabbatical leave and worked for 8 months with Rio Tinto (Centre of Technical Excellence, Bundoora, Australia and Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation, Salt Lake City, USA) and 4 months at the Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) in Brisbane. Dee enjoyed her time in Brisbane so much that she stayed on for the next seven years working at the SMI and JKMRC. Here she had several professorial roles including as theme leader within the AMIRA P9 and P843A projects and also as a Visiting Professor at the Mining Engineering Department Hacettepe University, Ankara. In 2016, Dee came full circle and returned to her alma mater where she was appointed as the South African Research Chair in Minerals Beneficiation and the Director of the Mineral to Metal Initiative.
Dee is internationally renowned as an expert in the field of flotation with her reputation for excellence developed over four decades. When asked what sparked her interest in chemical engineering Dee explained more about her early education. She grew up in a small town in Zimbabwe where she had access to a good public education where maths and science were taught to a high standard. Having got a good grounding in these subjects, she won a place to study at UCT where she enrolled in a science degree. After her first year, she found her passion for chemical engineering grew as she was drawn to the problem-solving nature of this discipline. Dee found herself fascinated with the processing flowsheet, examining the inputs and outputs and pondering on what processes were occurring in between (what were the intermediate products and rate determining factors?). She enjoyed the challenge of taking messy processes and trying to introduce barriers and constraints to better understand and control them. Dee recognises that chemical engineering is a discipline that focuses on solving complex problems, and suggests that females in particular are well suited to this, so much so that enrolments (at UCT) have increased to the point where it is colloquially known as ‘Femme-Eng’. But I rather suspect this trend also reflects the fact that undergraduates are inspired by Dee and her departmental colleagues to read this subject.
For many postgraduates, deciding what the next step in their career should be (after submitting a thesis) is a very difficult decision to make. I asked Dee when she first realised that she wanted to continue into an academic career beyond her PhD. She described herself as an ‘accidental academic’. Having started a family young, she had contacted her former (BSc) supervisor to seek part-time work. She was encouraged to start a PhD examining surfaces and flotation (synergistic effects between thiol collectors used in the flotation of pyrite). This equipped her with technical skills to apply as a researcher and lecturer during the platinum boom (which commenced around the time she completed her thesis) where many processing challenges were encountered and there was an abundance of research funding available to solve them.
Dee realised she had a passion for working with people, solving problems and answering research questions, so academia became quite a natural fit. Dee describes her passion for applied science, she is very happy to collaborate with scientists working on the fundamental problems and developing new knowledge but she has always thrived where she can apply this knowledge to solve problems faced in the minerals industry.
Dee is a true doctor of philosophy; she is an avid reader (mostly non-fiction) and is keen to explore the meaning of everything she encounters. This very nature, combined with supervising the PhD research undertaken by Megan Becker, sparked Dee’s desire to become more proficient in mineralogy. So, in the pursuit of upskilling, Dee spent a portion of her sabbatical working with Brett Triffett, Greg Wilkie and Dewitia Latti at Kennecott, which coincidentally was at the time of the mining supercycle. She described warmly the privileged way in which she was able to learn, immersed in this hands-on environment, with Greg also providing one-on-one tuition.
For many working in the minerals industry, moving around the globe is a part of what we do. I asked Dee what made her want to go to Australia on sabbatical and to stay on there for several years after. She described that when she approached Don McKee about a role for her sabbatical, instead of placing her in the chemical engineering department or the JKMRC, he pushed her out of her comfort zone. Don tasked Dee with the development of the EnviroGem project (a spin-off to the AMIRA P843 GeM project) where she worked with a completely new team of researchers who very much were looking at very familiar mineral species but with a very different interest and perspective. It was here that I met Dee, and she became so proficient in this realm that she gave several conference papers on our work together. That is one of the key qualities Dee has, she is simply not satisfied to stop learning, she is always interested in new ideas and projects and has an infectious thirst to gain new knowledge and collaborators.
Dee had an epiphany moment about 20 years into her career where she realised that whilst she had loved the technical aspects of working in mineral processing and chemical engineering, she actually loved the interaction with people and the development of their talent more.
This sparked her deep passion for research supervision which she continued to develop during her time in Brisbane. Dee recognises that postgraduate students are in a space of transformation, they are performing research that will ultimately transform a society whilst transforming their own minds, values and beliefs, preparing for future leadership in various capacities. Dee is keen to learn all about her students (I’ve never met a supervisor or mentor who has suggested I do an MBTI as homework from our first meeting!) she likes to understand how they function and then develop her supervisory style accordingly to get the best out of them. This approach really underlies her ‘living gold’ concept for which she was awarded by the University of Queensland.
After more visiting professor roles, Dee moved back to UCT, but had now found herself in a very different role to that when she left. Now her career had evolved and she reconnected with many people from her past which enabled her to effectively collaborate. Whilst before she had been in the technical role, now she had to learn to trust others in these position to support her as she adopted the role as leader. The pinnacle of her work is the publication of the ‘Green Mining: Beyond the Myth’ book for which she is a co-editor. The book was conceived following the workshop (on this topic) she conceptualised and co-organised in August 2017. Dee recognised the importance of organising this workshop, as in South Africa mining plays a pivotal role in society with many positive and negative outcomes (socially, environmentally and politically) stemming from it. Dee and her team realise that now that the global conversation has focused seriously on sustainability issues, the mining industry has an opportunity to learn from mistakes made in the past and change practices to lead them onto a cleaner and greener pathway to the future. She is keen for this book to be a catalyst for change and for the mining industry to get it right when it comes to sustainability and waste management issues.
Dee has managed to balance a very successful academic career with a family, I asked her how she navigated this. She recognises that being in academia is a privilege in that you can balance your workload such that if you have to be at a school sports day function, you can be, and can make this time up by burning the midnight oil. She says it requires flexibility and commitment, but acknowledges there are not many jobs which can enable one to have it all in this context. Plus, it helps to have an understanding spouse!
I’ve always admired Dee’s confidence and leadership style. At a time where there is support and a desire for more women to step up in to leadership roles, I asked her about how she approaches leadership, particularly in an industry which is male-dominated. She recognises that in general, men and women have distinct styles with men adopting a ‘command, control and compete’ mentality, whilst women have a more ‘connect, collaborate and communicate’ approach (which is well suited to the Millennials generation). Dee stresses the importance of having a strong mind, being self-confident in your own abilities, developing and listening to your own strong positive internal voice. From 2007, she really began to listen to her voice, and went from strength to strength ever since. I believe Dee is a great leader because she is so earnest in her desire to understand people, scientific problems and society. Her passion is illuminating and inspires all around her and she truly is a woman to celebrate today for the massive contribution she has made to this industry.
This article was wriitten by MEI Rising Star
Dr. Anita Parbhakar-Fox, of the University of Tasmania, who recently interviewed one of mineral processing's leading researchers Prof. Dee Bradshaw. The original piece can be found on the MEI Blog here
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