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Clarissa Luk (Fr 2018) – Woman in STEM

Name: Clarissa Luk
Fresher Year: 2018
Occupation: Space Engineering & Law Student at the University of Sydney and Visiting Junior Research Fellow at the Australian Defence Force Academy
University: BA Mechanical Engineering (Space Major) and BA Laws

Clarissa Luk (Fr 2018) is studying a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (Space Major) and a Bachelor of Laws at the University of Sydney. Whilst this would keep most people busy enough, Clarissa has a range of interests and simultaneously manages to balance a variety of work commitments and passion projects on top of her double degree. She has worked as a space engineer as well as in the emerging field of space law and regulation. She is currently a Visiting Junior Research Fellow at the Australian Defence Force Academy, has established a business as a commercial artist and volunteers her time with a non-for-profit for the homeless, Pass It On. Clarissa shared with us how she balances her commitments, what a typical day working in the space industry looks like, her advice for turning an idea into a business and more.

Please tell us a bit more about yourself – where are you originally from and where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Perth, WA. My parents are from China and that cultural influence was certainly present in my household. So, I consider myself to have grown up Chinese-Australian. I moved to Sydney after finishing high school.

Why did you choose to come to St Andrew’s College?
I was looking for a strong community to support me moving away from home at 17. There are a lot of opportunities to participate in the sporting and cultural life, which I loved about my high school. I also really enjoyed my interview with Will Cesta, which helped me to realise that St Andrew’s was the best place for me.

What parts of College life were you involved in (and still are today)?
I really embraced the social opportunities and made great friends. In second year, I took on the role of Pastoral Care Leader which was a big responsibility for me at the time, still just 18 years old. This student leadership role allowed me to contribute to making the changes I wished to see. I have also been an Academic Tutor and more recently Senior Academic Tutor in the College’s Academic Life Program. I really enjoy teaching and mentoring people through university because I have benefited from having those kinds of role models in my life and I think it makes a huge difference.

Do you have a favourite College memory you would like to share?
Nothing special, just talking away into night and thinking friendship is magic.

You are currently balancing working in the space industry, with full-time university, being a key member of Pass It On Clothing and operating in a commercial capacity as an artist. How do you manage to balance a variety of time-consuming commitments across vastly different areas?
In my opinion, balancing is a two-step problem. First, I need to be organised. I make sure that I am efficient with my time and energy and am aware of everything on my plate. The second step is just saying no to some things that I don’t want to do, or when I am not the best person to do it. This is a hard thing to learn, but is a key step to a healthier life balance; do less and do it well.

Could you tell us how you got involved with the Sydney based, not-for-profit clothing organisation Pass it on Clothing?
I emailed them (in 2021) because I just moved to the Darlinghurst near their shop and wanted to do volunteer work again – I did hundreds of hours in high school. Chris (Founder) emailed me back with something like, “We don’t take volunteers, but come say hello at the shop.” I turned up and they liked me. Chris later told me that he was too impressed with my email to say no. Chris and Olga (Co-Founder) are now my very close friends.

Pass It On takes new and clean clothing direct to the homeless. It’s a critical service in a practical sense (where do homeless people get clothes in winter when it rains?), but it also fulfils this emotional need which is about dignity and connection. The psychological toll of being homeless and looked down upon is immense. Outreach service is about 7-15 minutes of passing on clothes (we’re efficient) and before and afterwards we catch up with our homeless friends. Pass It On is in Martin Place every Tuesday at 7pm as well as several other locations throughout the week.

The other organisational purpose is to promote cultural change, through a widespread shift in mindset. We have a corporate program where workplace teams come with us to prepare and deliver an outreach session, businesses can also join as bin partners, and we do keynote sessions about homelessness and clothing sustainability. I am involved in all of that: from sorting clothes to leading corporate leaders, and more. I’d encourage everyone to check out Pass It On or Chris Vagg and Olga Puga on LinkedIn/Twitter/Instagram.

You also have your own commercial art business, Clarissa Luk Art. What inspired you to turn your love for drawing into a business?
Some people say art sells itself and that is how it started for me. I have sold my drawings since 2017 to people who asked to buy them or buy my time and skill for a commission. I sold T-shirts and tote bags with my designs from 2018–2019 which taught me about the logistics of supply chain, a bit about having customers, but I wasn’t ready to manage a real business yet. In September 2021, I decided to have a good go at it. In less than six months, I’ve got a solo gallery at a bar in Perth, I’ve done a big charity auction and I feel that I’m really developing in my art now that I can feed back any sales revenue into art supplies.

Do you have any advice for those with an idea and would like to turn it into a business?
I’m at that age where I am now saying things that my mum used to say to me as a child. For example, slow and steady wins the race… don’t compare apples to oranges. Two key things I learnt over the years are to persevere, and not compare myself to others. I will tell a story about a recent milestone which gives a happy ending to this learning instead of it seeming like an eternal struggle.

When I was 18, I applied for artists representation because I wanted to sell my work in Art Lovers Australia online and physical galleries. I got rejected (nicely), because they felt that my work was “still developing in terms of commercial success.” They asked me to get back in touch in a couple of months or try open online marketplaces. I took it that I wasn’t good enough, but over it when I found out only one in seven got accepted. I could live with being the other six. I then put a pin on that dream and didn’t think about commercially selling. Three years on at 21, I reapplied and was accepted. I found out afterwards that odds were now 1 in 25. I couldn’t have done it without others supporting me, but I also couldn’t have done it without my time and sustained effort.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your current work in the space industry?
During an internship, I have worked as a structural engineer so that was computer-aided design and doing test simulations. The project was on a moon-mining rover and I was doing the mobility system (i.e. wheels and suspension). I also work one or two days a week in regulation and licensing. That involves researching the laws applying to space activity (such as launch, import/export, communications), understanding them and applying them to inform commercial strategy. I have dabbled in a few other research projects in the space industry and from it all, I have learnt a diverse set of skills. My favourite thing about working in the space industry is that it moves fast and is high stakes. I’ve also been lucky to work in Perth, Adelaide and Canberra and look forward to adding to that list. It’s very exciting to see it all unfold in Australia especially – every time I return to the “Space Hub” at Lot Fourteen in Adelaide it looks completely different.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Six years of study might not be enough for me as I am considering doing a PhD. I spent my honours thesis coming up with a regulatory solution to manage the orbital debris problem. I couldn’t keep a lid on it (a common undergraduate thesis problem) and so I may continue that research in further study. I’m also considering doing commercial space law since there is a real need for interdisciplinary lawyers in the highly technical domain. And I’m considering joining the Air Force Space Division. Hopefully I will get to do all those things in time… maybe not in five years.

What are you reading, watching or listening to at the moment that you’d recommend to others?
I don’t watch much TV because I prefer to use my screen time looking at art on the internet or watch makers on YouTube! If I had to recommend, then Criminal Minds or Law & Order.

What words of advice would you give to young Androvians who have multiple interests and passions they want to pursue?
What I said about balancing earlier is relevant here: do what you want to do, but don’t do what you don’t want to do. The second part is most important. I think setting boundaries and staying true to yourself is the key, and it’s something I am learning. It will be hard to say no. Listen to Oprah and podcasts and YouTube on the topic!