From mining to medical engineering
While many young people headed west for work and big pay packets in Australia’s mining sector, Hannah Ozturk travelled in the opposite direction.
She moved from Perth to Melbourne, leaving a job in mining during the minerals boom for a new career in prosthetics and orthotics to help people get on with their lives after serious trauma and disease.
Ms Ozturk graduated with a double degree in mechanical engineering and science from the University of Western Australia about ten years ago and began work for a Western Australian branch of Canadian mining company.
‘But I always had a fascination for medical engineering,’ she says.
Sympathetic to her wishes, the company gave her leave without pay to go to Lund University in Sweden. There she worked for 16 months researching the use of ceramic materials as a bone substitute. She also studied friction and lubrication in osteoarthritic knee joints as her final year honours thesis during her engineering degree.
Only course in Australia
‘This eventually led to my decision to come to La Trobe, which runs the only prosthetics and orthotics course in Australia,’ she says. It also exhausted her savings and put her degree at risk. However, she was soon successful in winning two scholarships.
One was an Odyssey Travel Merit and Equity Scholarships worth $10,000, followed by a $4,000 Phillipa McCall scholarship from Graduate Women Victoria. These are now enabling her to complete her graduate entry Master course in prosthetics and orthotics and continue to the honours program.
‘The scholarships have re-opened a door for me to research further ways to improve the quality of care for people with amputations or musculoskeletal impairments,’ she says.
As a mechanical engineer, Ms Ozturk has a good understanding of materials and movement. She also knows all about stresses and strains in structures, albeit on a much larger scale.
Her new field, she says, has many applications. It involves creating prostheses and orthoses that help people with congenital conditions, trauma injury and disease to cope with everything from the basic routine of daily life to high level athletic pursuits.
Increased cost of living
‘When I was offered the opportunity to do honours last year, despite my great interest and enthusiasm, I was unable to participate due to personal financial limitations.’
With the increasing cost of living faced by many students, she encourages more of them to take advantage of the many scholarships that are available.
Currently carrying out her final year clinical placements, Ms Ozturk is keen to go into practice, but she also wants continue with the academic side of her career. She says hers is a discipline that requires people with research skills who can help with evidence-based assessments of practices and products.
Ms Ozturk’s supervisor, senior lecturer in Prosthetics and Orthotics Dr Michael Dillon, says it is important that bright scholars receive financial support to remain in full-time study. ‘Substantive financial support is difficult to find, and Hannah’s success was pivotal in allowing her to pursue the honours degree as a stepping-stone to higher-degree studies,’ he says.
Seek support and be honest
Ms Ozturk spent her mid-year holidays trying to find work to earn extra money. But when she did the sums she realised it would not have been enough. After being invited to participate in the honours program, she sought advice from Dr Dillon who pointed her towards various scholarship and financial loan web pages.
‘This is not always an easy process for students. It can be hard to be open and honest about your financial situation with strangers, and it’s not always possible to find a supportive supervisor,’ she says.
Ms Ozturk says it pays to put in time to choose a suitable scholarship and write applications. ‘It’s also very useful to show your applications to friends, family members and academic advisors. Their comments can optimize your chances of success.’
Apart from the financial benefits of a scholarship, improved qualifications and career prospects, she says the process of preparing applications is of great value in itself.
It adds to the skills often required in the workplace for writing business case submissions or grant applications for research funding.
Odyssey scholarships are awarded by Odyssey Travel, a not-for-profit educational travel company set up by Australian, New Zealand and Asian universities for members over the age of 50.
La Trobe University’s Ombudsman and former Head of the School of Social Work, Cliff Picton, represents the University on the company’s board.
‘Our philosophy is to offer reasonably priced educational, cultural and heritage journeys that expand horizons and broaden the mind,’ says Mr Picton. ‘And we reinvest funds to help students in the form of these annual scholarships.’ – Ernest Raetz