Karin Verspoor was a computational linguist who worked at the intersection of technology, science, and medicine when she joined Homeward Bound’s third cohort, or #TeamHB3, in 2018. In this interview, Professor Verspoor describes the impact of the Homeward Bound program on her leadership and career.

Photo: Karin Verspoor. Credit: Supplied.

Computer scientist Karin Verspoor had always felt isolated, working in overwhelmingly male dominated environments.

Karin felt a responsibility to assist other women to be leaders in the growing tech field, and Homeward Bound perfectly aligned with her interests.

Going to Antarctica was a transformative experience, both in developing an understanding of her Life Styles Inventory and being plunged outside of a normal context to fully concentrate on the program.

“Like many people I tend to work very much in a task driven mode at all levels,” she says.

“The ship provided the chance to step back from that – my monthly ‘to do’ list was just this program.

“I haven’t ever had a time in my life to just focus on myself.”

Leadership Approaches

For Karin, a valuable part of the program was learning how to be a different kind of leader.

“In my environment I have learned to be quite vocal – quite forward because I had felt like I was representing all female computer scientists,” she says.

“And on the ship I felt like I didn’t need to be heard that much…I realised that I wasn’t a pushy person, but that my environment had forced me to take that on. It allowed me to rediscover me.”

On an inter-personal level, she developed new ways of communicating with colleagues that allowed for greater empathy and listening.

On a larger scale, the Homeward Bound personal strategy map process helped to redirect Karin’s career trajectory.

“I was struggling with identifying my priority e.g. research or impact on academic environment?” she says.

“Given the fact that I have been given a voice at the table, the latter was more important to me.

“There are lots of academics who can do what I can do with Artificial Intelligence research but not many who care about shifting the culture – I started looking for opportunities to do that.”

HB3 in Antarctica

TeamHB3 in Antarctica. Photo: Kristin Mitchell.

New Career Path

On return from Antarctica, Karin immediately began seeking out new roles. An opportunity came up that was slightly outside of her experience, but it provided a launching pad for other positions.

“I looked at it and thought I wasn’t ready but I applied and I interviewed,” she says.

“And I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t come out of Homeward Bound.

“That led to other opportunities. I put myself out there to learn more.

“Because of Homeward Bound – I knew how to give a presentation with vision, strategy, diversity and exclusion.”

Eventually, Karin was approached to be the Dean of School of Computing Technologies at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).

“There are very few women in Deans in schools of IT around the world and I am going to be one!”

Networks, Opportunities and Expectations

In addition to assisting Karin to progress her career, Homeward Bound has also provided a network of women Karin can call on for support.

When she encountered a difficult professional dynamic, she turned to the WhatsApp group from her Homeward Bound cohort.

“The amount of support I got from that (WhatsApp group) was amazing,” she says.

“One of the staff recorded a meditation for me and it helped tremendously to get that support.”

This extract first appeared in the Homeward Bound Impact Evaluation Report by First Person Consulting (2021). The report shows the trajectory of impact for Team HB1 through to Team HB4.

Homeward Bound is committed to incorporating individual feedback and program recommendations, ensuring a transformative learning experience for every individual and to keep growing the collective impact of the global women in STEMM.

Professor Karin Verspoor is still in the role she ‘thought she wasn’t ready for’: Executive Dean in the School of Computing Technologies at RMIT.