Welcome to Pitch Your PhD – Shownotes
Season 1, Episode 2
Vehicle for Change with Julian O’Shea
Dr Catherine Ball talked to Julian O’shea about the journey that led him to starting a PhD research. Discover how he is using his projects on sustainable transportation to be able to reach wider audience about sustainability and to create impact.
There are people that have used different types of sustainable journeys to have impact… And they learned so much, but those lessons haven’t been captured…
So these are some of the findings or early findings from my research that will eventually be able to be produced as some kind of report or guidance
What if cars didn’t have to look the way they do? If EV vehicles meant more than just converting a car’s engine? What if the entire vehicle looked different?
This week Dr Catherine Ball speaks to Julian O’Shea. Engineer, entrepreneur, PhD student, founder of Unbound, teacher and world record holder .. just to name a few!
Julian is using his passion for projects to help power his PhD journey.
This is a “kind of, sort of, vaguely close” copy of the words from this episode.
IT IS NOT 100% accurate. We are very sorry if we have spelt something completely incorrectly. If it means a lot to you to have it corrected, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
PYP s1e2 Julian O’Shea interview
Catherine: [00:00:00] Hi, and welcome to pitch your PhD. In this podcast, you will hear from PhD students from the past and the present to inspire the future. I’m your host, Dr. Catherine Ball.
[00:00:10]So holidays are amazing yet sometimes complicated things. They can be the most relaxing of times, or you can have a holiday that is anything but such as when I went to Bali to take part in this surf goddess retreat and ended up having my mate, who I traveled with needing an IV drip, because we both got so sick. But anyway, digressing, my guest today is Julian O’Shea and it was because of a life-changing holiday to Thailand of all places that has led him to today.
[00:00:39] Well, he’s in the thick of it at the moment, right? In the trenches, right in the middle of his PhD at Monash university, we will get more into that in just a moment. Let me step back a bit and introduce you to Julian. So Julian is at heart, a country boy, he grew up in a very remote part of South Australia, where he was always known to be tinkering with his nerdy hobbies. It sounds like my kind of man, these hobbies continued as he studied engineering at the University of Adelaide, where he also enjoyed the opportunity to be active with the various clubs and societies. After university, Julian realized that a government career wasn’t quite right for him. So he embarked on a life-changing gap year to travel from Thailand to Turkey, by land. And it was during this journey that he discovered his love for sustainability and social change. And it set him on his path to his PhD. Coming back from his gap here, Julian started Unbound his own social enterprise and through Unbound, he was able to work on his reflections from his holiday.
[00:01:39]He decided to take a tuktuk, convert it to run on solar power and travel across Australia his success on this project had not only earned him a media sensation status, but it also became the foundation of his PhD research in how to use the story of sustainable transport to reach public audience about environmental issues.
[00:02:01]So Julian sounds like you’ve literally been around the world a few times. Why is it that you’ve decided that a PhD is something you want and need in your life right now?
[00:02:11] Julian: [00:02:11] It’s a great question. And you’re right. A lot of travel has been a big part of my journey. So I’ve worked in not-for-profit organizations like Engineers Without Borders and Unbound. The company I set up was very much involved in education, taking university students overseas, to have some of those experiences that I’ve had. so I’ve been around academia for a long time. And you know, the way it works is that if you want to play the game, the PhD’s one of the tickets to entrance.
[00:02:35]Catherine: [00:02:35] So could you do what you’re wanting to do without having a PhD?
[00:02:38]Julian: [00:02:38] So what my PhD is all about these individual projects that are exploring how sustainable transport can be used for impact. For example, I’m doing a project where we’re building, or like riding a four person bike to set a Guinness world record and talk about cycling. So the projects I think I could do by myself, I don’t need the structure of a PhD but the bit I’m really interested in is understanding the why behind it and trying to communicate that with regard to a big audience.
[00:03:04]Catherine: [00:03:04] So tell me about your thesis in a nutshell, because you’re coming at this from so many different things and we’ll get to the Guinness world record in a moment, but highlight really for us. What is your thesis going to be about? What are your chapters? What’s the structure? How are you going to sell your story through your thesis?
[00:03:18]Julian: [00:03:18] Yeah, so I’m using a bit of a hub and spoke model. So I’m working on one big ambitious project, which is building a lightweight electric vehicle that I hope to take on some journeys across Australia. And the bigger thesis is around trying to answer how projects like this, where you’re doing some type of travel, where you’re doing something novel, where you’re talking to different community groups and through the media, how can that have a bigger impact?
[00:03:41] How can it make waves? How can it, you know, try to lead to some form of change. There’ve been other projects around the world that involved building a solar powered plane or cycling around the world where there’s been a social, environmental mission. And I want to help people in the future use this methodology to have impact.
[00:03:58]Catherine: [00:03:58] So what kind of obstacles have you faced wanting to take? What might seem to be quite a commercial or startup based operation and actually turn it into an academic pathway.
[00:04:06] Julian: [00:04:06] well, I think anyone that kicked off a PhD last year, or this year has encountered the same elephant in the room obstacle, which is COVID particularly because my project, it has at its core, travel, or getting large groups of people together to tell a story. So that’s been a real impactful thing, but it’s led to some surprise outcomes. So, cause I’m haven’t been able to do the travel or do the outreach myself. I’ve started to do a lot more video storytelling and let’s just say things are going pretty well on Tik Tok.
[00:04:33]Catherine: [00:04:33] How many followers do you have on Tik Tok?
[00:04:36] Julian: [00:04:36] Well, I kicked it off, uh, in April. So it’s two months old. I’ve been on the app and 40,000 already.
[00:04:42]Catherine: [00:04:42] Oh, my goodness, me. Right? So as a person who sits and once you wanting to achieve something, that’s a bit of an engineering feat. Grab the headlines, Guinness book of world records, all that kind of stuff. How does a PhD thesis, which seems like a traditional academic way of doing research, marry up with something like a Tik TOK, following a 40,000 people.
[00:04:59] Julian: [00:04:59] Well, I’ve been really lucky with that is I’m doing my PhD in Moto, which is Monash art design and architecture. And that’s a world where a lot of the kind of thesis and research is done through practical delivery or artistic delivery of projects. So my thesis is actually being done as an exegesis and a practical project. So what that means is you produced a works that could be, for writers writing a novel or for painters creating an incredible mural or industrial designers, like the kind of design work I’m doing is making a physical product and then doing research about how it works. So half of my research is actually the doing and the other half is the analysis and communication.
[00:05:36]Catherine: [00:05:36] see, a lot of people will think that with PhDs, we literally just have to write a hundred thousand words and a great big book that will sit in a library that no one other than your mother will ever read. And even then she might lie to you about how much she reads it, but that’s not the experience you’re having.
[00:05:48] Can you tell us a bit more about this exegesis and some of the other examples you’ve seen in your field that’s been successful.
[00:05:54] Julian: [00:05:54] Yeah. so the idea of an exegesis is it’s the research component that sits alongside some other kinds of production. So it’s done quite a lot in the world of, um, arts and literature, where producing something is quite common. So for me, the thing that I’m making, is both a physical object or objects.
[00:06:12] So for example, during lockdown, I designed and built and got a patent for a solar powered kick scooter. So those kinds of standup scooters that are popping up on the streets around the world. but more than just the item, it’s the outreach program that I’m really doing. And that’s where Tik TOK comes in is where YouTube comes in.
[00:06:28]It’s, where doing something with the artifact is actually my output. So I’m going to do these projects. For example, writing a solar scooter, around a city or, this Guinness world record project and the research we analyzing that. What was the outcome? How do people engage with it? What did we learn from this for other educators or activists that might want to use this quirky, weird vehicle approach to their storytelling?
[00:06:49]Catherine: [00:06:49] So one of the frustrations people have with the world of STEM is that we are science, technology, engineering, and maths, and nowhere in there are the arts, the humanities, the creatives. Yeah. We know some of the best leaders in the STEM field. In fact, I’d say all of the leaders in the stem field are incredibly creative souls.
[00:07:03] And in fact, the science, technology, engineering, and math, they’re actually a conduit of that creativity. How are you balancing that? Looking at your PhD between that this is a STEM thesis, but this is a creative and a design opportunity. All at the same time.
[00:07:16] Julian: [00:07:16] Yeah, Catherine, it’s a great question. I’ve been thinking about it this week, actually, because I was listening to a podcast and someone was asked, when did you know you wanted to be a creative? Cause it was all about creativity and filmmakers and the like, and me listening to that, I never, you know, people might say that engineering management, which is kind of what my role came from.
[00:07:34]isn’t really creative field, but I never thought of it like that. You know, you always have the chance to make and design and create and build things that didn’t exist. So while I’m doing more in, for example, video storytelling and outreach and engagement, the very much as a creative pursuit, I never feel like there was a moment that I transitioned from one to the other. So yeah, I kind of believed that engineering is creativity.
[00:07:53]Catherine: [00:07:53] I couldn’t agree with you more. Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about this Guinness Guinness book of world records. So you’re working on a project with a bike that can carry four people. Now what’s the technical term for a bike that can carry four people. And what does this mean for your PhD? This particular project?
[00:08:09]Julian: [00:08:09] So a four-person bike, a four wheeled bike is called a quadricycle and the origins are quite interesting because the very first cars were really essentially four wheeled bikes with a motor on them. So quadricycle was also a term. That means they’re kind of historic cars, but these days it means a four wheeled four-person bike.
[00:08:25] Now, I like it cause it’s a quirky vehicle. And when you’re doing education and outreach, the more people you can reach, the more they can engage the better. So by having something which attracts attention is kind of really interesting and exciting. So the project, this was again happened during lockdown. I ordered the cycle from China and got it delivered. Slowly shipped through the posts to Australia and we’ve assembled it. And the goal is to set the Guinness world record for the fastest 10 kilometer by quadricycle
[00:08:54]Catherine: [00:08:54] What’s the current world record?
[00:08:56]Julian: [00:08:56] It’s about 44 minutes. Now If you cycle, you realize, ah, that’s not very fast and that’s kind of the point. The point of this exercise, isn’t an athletic pursuit. But it’s to kind of introduce people to this quirky idea, it means we can do it in silly costumes and to celebrate some kind of event or activity. We were going to be doing it as part of world bicycle day, which was last week.
[00:09:18] But sadly Melbourne in, lockdown 4.0, So we’ll have to push that back.
[00:09:24]Catherine: [00:09:24] So when it comes to all of these projects, I’ll drag you back to this question of why are you doing a PhD? If all of these projects are going to be really successful standalone events, what is it that a PhD gives you to take all of these stories? And what is it that a PhD actually gives you on top of everything that you’re doing?
[00:09:41] Julian: [00:09:41] I really big thing is the structure. So there are people that have used, um, different times of sustainable journeys to have impact. you know, someone once built a boat out of plastic bottles and went and visited the plastic garbage patches in the ocean. Um, colleague rode across India in a solar powered bike and set a world record doing that.
[00:09:59] And I learned that most people that do these types of things, and they’re both really rare and attract attention, but common enough that they’re not unheard of everyone does it once or everyone does it. And he’s learning about it for the first time. And they learned so much, but those lessons haven’t been captured.
[00:10:14] So by doing multiple of them, you’ll start to get some common themes. For example, um, you know, the more unique and novel something is the more media attention you might be able to seek a great thing about a journey rather than an event is that people can follow along. If, for example, your event was a one day protest.
[00:10:32] By the time someone’s heard about it, it’s already over. Whereas because of journey like has lateral time, it goes for a month. If someone hears about it on day seven, they can follow you for another 21 days. So these are some of the findings or early findings from my research that will eventually be able to be produced as some kind of report or guidance to people who want to use this approach in the future.
[00:10:53] Catherine: [00:10:53] So no phD is an island who is some of the people that have actually helped you get to where you are inside your PhD now.
[00:11:00]Julian: [00:11:00] Yeah, it’s absolutely true. And something I’ve really enjoyed about the project I’m working on is the collaboration. So I’ve got some friends who are more mechanically minded than I am. I’ve got a buddy Glenn and a friend Sam, and they’re the ones who spent. You know, the weekend assembling this, quadricycle, that’s been delivered from China and putting it all together.
[00:11:18]A great finding was that I was interviewed on ABC radio here in Melbourne by Sammy J, who’s a comedian here in Australia, and we’re talking about Guinness world records. And at the end of his interview, he’s like, oh, so Julian what have you got coming up next? And I was ready for the question. So I’m like, well, we’ve got a quadricycle, we’ve got three people to ride it.
[00:11:35] Do you want to take the fourth seat? And he said yes, to this live on radios. So, that’d be a collaboration with ABC radio Melbourne.
[00:11:42]Catherine: [00:11:42] so in terms of actually applying for the PhD or thinking about it, I mean, PhDs have a cost of time and energy and money. What kind of obstacles other than COVID have you actually faced in terms of this on a personal spiritual level?
[00:11:55]Julian: [00:11:55] A big one for me was answering that question. I think time is the biggest cost for anyone that’s doing a PhD. You know, this is three to, you know, hopefully not more than that six or seven years of your life, that you’re not doing something else. And life’s exciting, you know, there’s a lot of countries you could be as little work you could do. So for me, it was making sure that I picked a topic that I genuinely wanted to do. And I initially kind of came up with, I liked the idea of research. I like that idea of projects of like, what I want to do is a dream job. And then I said, well, why not? Let’s go one step further. What would I want to do? If I just had three years to work on whatever projects I wanted.
[00:12:29] And this was a thing that kind of came up a lot, the idea at the intersection of adventure and travel sustainability and social impact as well as education and communication.
[00:12:39] Catherine: [00:12:39] so looking now to the next year and a half, two years before you finish your thesis, what do you think are going to be the hardest things you’ll have to crack to actually get to the end of your PhD?
[00:12:49]Julian: [00:12:49] I think it will be the synthesizing everything. Cause I do love the project thing. For me. It’s a lot of fun to, you know, tinker around and build solar scooters or play around with bikes. But as my supervisors have said that, you know, projects are great. But that will never get you a PhD? You have to really do the rigorous research to work out the gap in the knowledge and where your information sits and communicating in a way that’s academically rigorous. And that answers a question that hasn’t been answered before.
[00:13:15]Catherine: [00:13:15] So even writing academically can be a change of pace for someone like yourself. Who’s used to something like Tik Tok. What are you going to do to try and marry up that difference between, you know, that sort of espresso hit of information that we get through social media versus the slow cook that is the PhD thesis.
[00:13:32]Julian: [00:13:32] Yeah, that’s a good question. I, um, locked myself in my studio in October last year. I called it right Tober just to get words down and, uh, kind of lesson is that the audiences are different. So even though yeah, academic writing is a concept, it varies So much whether you’re writing for an engineering journal where you’re allowed to use equations and maths and designs versus an education journal. They want to hear about the outcomes of the work. So really understanding your audience has been a lesson, even within the world of academia about, you know, what the terminology is, has been both a challenge and really important to understand that, you know, even if you’re getting into journal, they’re not all the same and the redesigned all the same.
[00:14:07]Catherine: [00:14:07] So if you were your 10 year old self back in south Australia, looking at you now, and this project, what is it you would hope to actually inspire in that 10 year old version of Julian in south Australia?
[00:14:18] Julian: [00:14:18] I think what it would be, and it’s something I’ve tried to live is just do interesting projects. So the supervisor that I got for my PhD, the reason that I met him is that I was doing related work and he reached out and said, Hey, I’m doing this project about outreach and 3d printing. And, you know, I provided some collaboration and input to that. And then a couple of months later, I was heading to Chile to see a total solar eclipse with my friend, Sam, who says yes to all of my silly ideas. And while we’re there, that it was in the Atacama desert, this high altitude dry desert. And we’re like, well, you know, we like to do silly things.
[00:14:53] We like to break world records. Why don’t we try to set the world record for the highest altitude 3D printing ever. And this academic that I knew had made off-grid 3D printers. So he lent us one showed us how it worked. We flew to Chile, we had to find these batteries that we could carry up a volcano and we headed up there set the record.
[00:15:13] Now that’s where I met my PhD supervisor, collaborating on silly, weird out of the box projects. So when I was ready to do something longer term and more of a commitment. He was happy to say yes. And he knew that I could deliver on a project. And that that’s kind of where the collaboration started.
[00:15:28]Catherine: [00:15:28] So what actually did you 3D print in the Atacama desert? Don’t tell me it was an egg cup. Tell me it was more exciting than an egg cup, Julian.
[00:15:35]Julian: [00:15:35] Well, a bit unpleasant up there in the freezing conditions. So we want to tell them that would print reasonably quickly. So it is a little pendant of a sun because we’re there to see a total solar eclipse. We thought that the sun would be a great way celebrate it. And Yeah, it’s a small little reasonably flat disc with a smiley face on a sun.
[00:15:52]Catherine: [00:15:52] Yeah, I couldn’t think of anything better actually . So travel has actually been the direct gate opener for you to meet your PhD supervisor and to get into your PhD thesis. But what else do you think you’ve learned from all of that travel? What are the transferable skills, have you recognized in yourself now doing your PhD thesis that you’ve gathered and garnered from all of your global travels?
[00:16:12]Julian: [00:16:12] Yeah, it’s a great question. Um, I do love travel. I love communities. I love connection. I think the communication and collaboration is a big one. So if you turn up in the Atacama desert and you’re trying to do something quirky and weird. You need help. You know, I don’t know which volcanoes are safe to climb.
[00:16:27] I don’t know how to get, five and a half thousand meters up to do it. So putting yourself out there, asking the questions, um, the small town we’re in San Pedro to Atacama is a little place. And, you know, we turn up with this 3D printer. We’re trying to get. Locally sourced batteries. We’re doing test runs by the time we’re hanging out in town, we were like a micro celebrity.
[00:16:46] Oh, you’re the 3D printed guys, but you can only do that. If you’re willing to put yourself out there, tell your story and ask for help.
[00:16:53]Catherine: [00:16:53] So tell me a bit about Unbound. What was all that about?
[00:16:56]Julian: [00:16:56] So I, I have a real interest in education and engagement and had worked in the not-for-profit sector, working for a humanitarian organization called Engineers Without Borders. And part of that work was about trying to engage the next generation in sustainability and social impact issues. And Unbound was basically my chance to set up an organization to do that. Working collaboratively across all disciplines was a big key point of difference and trying to engage Australians with the Asia Pacific region.
[00:17:25] So basically what Unbound would do, and it’s pretty much on hold now, due to the COVID situation is take, groups of students to Fiji and Vietnam and Thailand and India to learn about
[00:17:36] some of the exciting things that are happening there and to learn from, and with partners overseas.
[00:17:41]Catherine: [00:17:41] So what kind of solar powered transport did you see during those? And did they inspire you to where you are right now with your quadricycle and you tuktuk.
[00:17:49]Julian: [00:17:49] The certainly did and I was pretty excited to work on a few interesting projects. So one that I was doing kind of most recently, which is now a little while ago, was in Nepal and we were building with a fantastic organization called ABARI a group that’s an architecture and design firm. We’re designing a cargo bike out of bamboo.
[00:18:08] So it was made almost all out of bamboo and yeah, it could be made electric and you could even, charge it up with solar energy if you like, and a brilliant, low emissions way to get around Kathmandu. It’s a city that’s got terrible air pollution. So anything that could make an impact there would make a big difference.
[00:18:23]Catherine: [00:18:23] So leaning back towards your thesis again, Can you just give us a high level summary? What are the projects that you’re working on through your thesis and how will that actually form the different chapters or sections of your thesis?
[00:18:33]Julian: [00:18:33] Yeah.
[00:18:33] So the main project is I’m building what I hope to be one of the world’s most efficient electric vehicles. So it’s based on a technology called a Villa mobile, which is basically a bicycle, which is covered in, aerodynamic covering Now, these are essentially bikes. People can pedal them, but they’re so efficient that the world record for peddling this is over a hundred kilometers an hour. This is a bike that can do over a hundred kilometers an hour. So we’re kind of using that aerodynamic efficiency combined with electric vehicle technology to build a kind of new form of vehicle. That’s the main project that will take a couple of years to really develop.
[00:19:09]so while doing that, I’m doing these smaller initiatives to kind of learn that feeds into the bigger project. So this is what is kind of my hub and spoke methodology. And those projects include building a solar powered kick scooter, which I’ve done, the quadricycle world record. And I’ve got a few ideas for more.
[00:19:25] Silly projects and small projects and fund projects into the mix and supplementing the work that I do. Like my kind of output is interviews with other adventurers and educators that have done similar projects. So there’ll be kind of the data inputs, all of the different sources. And the output, in addition to the projects themselves, will be this kind of guide to “how to use this approach to create some change in the world”.
[00:19:48]Catherine: [00:19:48] So what is the rate limiting step? What is the carrying capacity of EVs at the moment? Is it batteries?
[00:19:53]Julian: [00:19:53] Well, the, it is, if you think that electric vehicle has to look like a car. And that’s the big thing that I want to challenge. So if you think about it, as people move live closer and closer to cities you don’t need a car. You don’t want a car, you can’t park somewhere so close. So for example, if you order delivery service in Melbourne, the person that turns up at your door will probably be riding an electric bike, but they’re not peddling. So why is the bike, the form factor that they’re using? So that’s the bit that I want to try to, you know, say that, in the past has been bicycle, motorbike or car, what is between those two things that could exist?
[00:20:29]Catherine: [00:20:29] It’s like the concepts of AI, you know, we think about things and we anthropomorphize them. I think with transport, we have this fixated idea of a car, a vehicle and what it looks like, and we want to try and translate the E V aspects to that physical car, like the Teslas. Right. So how do you actually go in and start unpicking and reverse engineer that what’s the first thing that you try and do?
[00:20:50] Julian: [00:20:51] Well firstly, The reason why it is possible now. This research wasn’t possible 20 years ago is a couple of things. One is the cost of lithium-ion batteries and the energy density that they’re getting lighter and cheaper, significantly cheaper. They’ve dropped over 90% of their price in the last 30 years, which is remarkable.
[00:21:07]so because that there’s more form factors that you can genuinely power and charge by, small scale EV, micro EV micro mobility, it’s sometimes called, um, that’s one big feature. so just challenging the idea that if you’re not on a bicycle, you’re in a one ton vehicle is, is a big thing that I want to push back against.
[00:21:22]Catherine: [00:21:22] It’s like as a quantum leap in terms of size, isn’t it, you know, you’re either on foot or you’re in, a big, fully powered.vehicle Okay. So in terms of how you approach this from a PhD perspective, let’s have a look on things now you finished your PhD. It’s a couple of years after you completed your PhD. What is it that that PhD will be bringing to you? And what are you doing on a daily basis after you’ve completed your PhD?
[00:21:44] Julian: [00:21:44] Catherine. You’re giving me existential crises. I ask myself this every day.
[00:21:48]Catherine: [00:21:48] What are you going to do with your life? Julian? . When you finish,
[00:21:52] Julian: [00:21:52] What do I want to do when I grow up? That’s a great question.
[00:21:55] Catherine: [00:21:55] have you figured it out yet?
[00:21:56] Julian: [00:21:56] I haven’t figured it out, but what I do love doing his communication and storytelling. Now that could be in the academic concept. Like I, at the moment I lecture a couple of subjects around design for sustainability and business for good. So it could be in that space or it could be, as I said, I’ve started to do videos, storytelling, and that’s been amazing via tick tock, I’ve reached 2 million people in the last two months, which is insane. Like you couldn’t reach that many people teaching to lecture halls. in a lifetime. So there’s something exciting about storytelling that has a wider reach that I’m really interested in. And I would like to be able to leave my house and travel the world again. That’d be nice.
[00:22:33]Catherine: [00:22:33] I cannot wait. I was in New Zealand about a month ago. And I just got really emotional. I was emotional on the plane. I was emotional at takeoff. So when you think about the work that you’re going to be doing now through your actual creation of this PhD story that you’re going to be going on, where in all of your history of travels, are you pulling the biggest strength from, in terms of getting through the work and focusing on getting things done?
[00:22:54]Julian: [00:22:54] oh, it’s a good question. I’m really inspired by a concept from India called jugaad have you heard of jugaad?
[00:23:01] Catherine: [00:23:01] No, tell me about it. What’s Jugaard
[00:23:02] Julian: [00:23:02] so jugaad is, this approach of just getting things done. So if you see something that’s kind of broken and then you fix it yourself with, you know, a few straps and it holds piece of the car together, and you can keep going that’s Juggard.
[00:23:16]it’s kind of like boggy engineering, you know, a slapped together job, but I see a lot of beauty in it and there’s a concept of jugaad innovation, which is low resource innovation. There’s a lot of like really clever designs that if you don’t have many resources, just getting it done.
[00:23:30] And that’s kind of been a bit of my approach. So for example, I’m doing video storytelling, but I don’t have a video background. for me to make a full length documentary, I’d probably wouldn’t be able to do it, but making small things bite-size content filmed on your phone, upload it, share it, be engaging.
[00:23:44] Be interesting has had a really good reach. And I think that’s been a wonderful lesson that the answer to the question, what should you do is do the best of what you can with what you’ve got as just a neat answer for any moment in time.
[00:23:55]Catherine: [00:23:55] so how many people have sort of already approached you and said, you’ve really inspired me, Julian. I want to do a PhD. Have you had much of that effect to people asked you about the PhD side of what you’re working on?
[00:24:04]Julian: [00:24:04] Um, a few, yeah. That are interested in it. And weirdly I don’t recommend it to everyone. I recommend it to the right people because it’s not a journey for everyone. You know, it’s a long commitment is a lot of pieces to it, but. For some people, I think it’s an excellent choice. the real amazing part that I appreciate every day is that it gives you time and space to work on something that you care about.
[00:24:26] And I think one of my biggest pieces of advice would be only do it. If it’s something that you personally really care about, you know, signing up to do someone else’s project is not a great recipe for success. So huge amount of effort in finding a brilliant supervisor with a brilliant project that matters to you.
[00:24:41]Catherine: [00:24:41] Oh, gosh, that’s the best advice that I wished I’d had 20 years ago when I would start my PhD. okay, so I’m going to maybe throw a little moral quandary in on you here
[00:24:50]we look at EV research and we look at how maybe is it. Car companies have been dominating that or battery companies might be dominating it, but there are ethics around rare earth mining. There are ethics around lithium and cobalt mining that are causing moral quandary in people.
[00:25:04] So if you look at your projects from a life cycle analysis perspective, with social impact included in it, Where do you see the cracks in the system with EVs right now, where you’re not happy with the technologies that you’re having to use? Because there is nothing else that’s quite ready or available
[00:25:20]Julian: [00:25:20] yeah, look, I’m a big supporter of transitioning from fossil fuels to EVs. But if you think about it with EVs, if I’m talking about electric cars then an electric car, whether it’s, Powered by green energy or not is still causing congestion. It’s still a dangerous thing that makes walking around cities harder.
[00:25:37] You know, it’s still leads to traffic. So I think, because there’s an ethical question, it’s that even if EVs are much cleaner and better than the petrol alternative, we really should be designing cities for people, not cars. So the best EV is probably going to be way less efficient than any train than any bus than any cycle path. So I think sometimes new shiny, sexy technology can distract some, just fundamentally understood ways of designing things better.
[00:26:04] Catherine: [00:26:04] One of the things we know from the drone industry is that if you actually want to have them integrated in a smart city, for example, you need to segregate airspace. So you know where the drones are going in the drone corridor, when looking at things like your EV tuktuk and the quadricycle and the scooters, how do we start integrating these into our cities? When cities are effectively designed around cars?
[00:26:23]Julian: [00:26:23] it’s a wonderful question. And I think that it’s one of the big questions for cities moving forward. I think turning the priority pyramid on the head that says, you know, cars number one, let’s move away from that and say that any space should be designed for people. Um, there are different examples around the world that have done this incredibly well shared spaces, priority spaces. Band-aiding that everywhere road goes. There’s an excellent cycle path that does the same route, is a great methodology. and just rethinking the concept of the cars. We don’t need to drive them anywhere else. Cause they take up a lot of space. I think that’s going to be the real cost of cars in the future that a car is only driven 5% of the time. So, for 95% of its life, it’s just sitting there taking up real estate that could be used for nature for people, for businesses, for shops, for homes anything else.
[00:27:08]Catherine: [00:27:08] So, would you subscribe to this futurist concept that we’re dealing with at the moment in the world of futurism, which is this idea that my children are three and a half and 18 months. And so I can quite categorically say to you, I don’t think they’re going to have a driver’s license because by the time they turn 18, so in 15 years time, One car ownership is going to be something like horse ownership used to be, you won’t be driving that car every day. It will be a treat. Day-to-day, you’ll be using some kind of automated vehicle, which you hire for that sort of last mile transport to get you to the main transport hubs. If I was to say, Julian, what is your dream, future cityscape.
[00:27:44] And do you subscribe to the fact that we won’t have kids with driver’s licenses in the next 15 to 20 years.
[00:27:51]Julian: [00:27:51] I think it’s very likely that the presented people that drive and drive themselves is going to really, really shrink. Everything you’ve said is right. One of the things that has dropped the amount of people getting driver’s licenses was weirdly mobile phones. And that’s because people would get driver’s license, not for the ability to go from A to B, but to connect with their friends.
[00:28:09]And the mobile phone solves that in a lot of ways that, you know, you interact when you can, before, if you had a chat to your friend, you have to go and see them. So I think you’re largely right. I think that 15 years is too soon. I don’t think autonomous cars are going to be on our roads in any significant numbers then, but even moving to things like Uber, even moving to other ways of getting around, I think is incredibly likely and absolutely is the future. Particularly people live close up in big cities rather than in rural areas.
[00:28:34]Catherine: [00:28:34] So, if we look at the impact from your research, the echo of what you’re trying to do right now, we talk about fast followers. So not, everyone’s very good at being that first to do things not everyone’s necessarily that good at being the second person to do these things. Where do you see the fast followers coming from your thesis, your research, and what kind of timeframe are we looking at for some of these things to be business as usual?
[00:28:55]Julian: [00:28:55] So in my research, I’m doing some things that I don’t expect anyone to do. I don’t think quadricycles are going to take off as a family form of transport as much as I think they’re very cute. What I’m really trying to do is just show that there are alternatives. And I would say that this is absolutely starting to happen, kind of now. The idea of like micro EVs, in Germany, they sold more e-bikes than bikes last year for the first time. Once people get on something which is electric and clean and doesn’t pollute, they really like it. So what I’m trying to do is just showcase, there are some alternate options and we’re going to see more and more different form factors in the future.
[00:29:29]Catherine: [00:29:29] I mean in the ACT one of my friends there has their own. EV little scooter, it’s powered on renewable energy because the act is a hundred percent renewable energy. That’s easy when you’re dealing with people who have money and privilege that live in Canberra that have a nice academic job, that can buy a scooter, and that can stay in a nice safe cycle path inside the ACT. Where is your research going to disrupt this?
[00:29:50]Julian: [00:29:50] So one thing I like about micro EV is they’re actually, I think significantly cheaper than the alternatives. So if you are fortunate enough to be within, let’s say 5Ks or 10 K’s of your work, then you probably don’t need a car. There are car sharing services. The cost of owning a vehicle in Australia is around $15,000 a year. $15,000. If you can get a scooter for 1000 and just charge it from electricity, from your wall at a few cents a charge, then the amount of money you’ll save is pretty insane. So I’m fortunate to live in the inner city of Melbourne. I don’t own a car, so that’s a thousand dollars a year I don’t pay in registration. it’s, a couple hundred dollars a year. I don’t pay any insurance. I’d never paid for parking, So I really liked that some of these things can be more inclusive, you know, healthy and safer. Yep.
[00:30:34]Catherine: [00:30:34] I think it was Lucy Turnbull. Once that I saw talking about Sydney because she was the former mayor of Sydney and she was on the committee for the development of Sydney. And she was like, you can design cities to fight obesity. So I look at this from a socioeconomic perspective and it’s true that there is a time tax on people that may be of poorer socioeconomic status, lower income for example, how can EVs micro EVs help take away some of that time tax on the lowest socioeconomic ban
[00:31:04] Julian: [00:31:04] Look, it’s a great question about like health versus accessibility because electric bikes is a brilliant example of that. So, the cycle purists don’t like them because, you know, they liked the idea of cycle cycle race, race, race, but people that just want to get from A to B, electric bikes is a fantastic way to do it.
[00:31:19] And the finding was, is that adding a little motor to your bike doesn’t mean you lose any health impacts at all, you just cycle further you cycle up hills that you didn’t use to go down and to can do it ill in a low-cost way, in an accessible way. So electric bikes are going to take over the world.
[00:31:34] I think here’s my prediction for you in the same way that mobile phones, we just call phones. Now, I think in the future, a bike is going to mean an e-bike and you’ll actually have to say a manual bike or a pedal bike to mean one that doesn’t have a motor. I think they’re going to become ubiquitous.
[00:31:48]Catherine: [00:31:48] thank you so much for your time today Julian. And if you’d need ever a fifth backup person for that, quadricycle please put my name down for it, won’t you.
[00:31:55]Julian: [00:31:55] I will do when it’s a Quinto cycle.
[00:31:58] Catherine: [00:31:58] Quinta cycle. I’m signed up, signed me up. Thanks so much, Julian and I look forward to seeing what comes out of your work.
[00:32:04]Julian: [00:32:04] Thanks Catherine
[00:32:05]Catherine: [00:32:05] And thank you for listening to another great episode of pitch your PhD. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.
[00:32:12] I’m Dr. Catherine Ball, and I especially want to thank the great team at Ramaley Media.
[00:32:18]If you’d like to speak about your PhD journey, you can reach out to us Ramaley.Media/PitchYourPhD
[00:32:25]please join us next time when we present you with another wonderful guest who will share their PhD journey past or present to help inspire the future.