Inspire in 5 – Term 4 2020

Career stories from WA’s women in STEM professionals. Learn about careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths from the experts!

This event has now concluded and was a great success – there were so many questions we couldn’t answer them all live! 

Join us on the evening of Monday 30th November for a free series of presentations from 6 of WA’s women in STEM champions to learn about the endless opportunities a career in STEM can offer. You will hear first hand what it’s like to work at the frontlines of innovation.

This event is for high school students in years 7-9, their parents/guardians and teachers. Each of our Women in STEM Mentors will give a short 5-minute presentation about their studies, career journey, and day-to-day work life, followed by an opportunity for students to ask questions in a facilitated panel discussion.

Dates: Monday November 30th

Time: 6pm – 7:30pm

Venue: Governor Stirling SHS, Woodbridge WA

Fields covered (6 speakers in total): Ecology, Planetary research, Tech, Engineering, Molecular research and Medical research.

There were a number of audience questions during the session which we didn’t have time to answer! Please see below some answers to these questions from our speakers.

Questions about university, subject selection and school

I’ve heard that academia can be a very brutal and competitive field, have you found that? Do you have any tips for others entering into it?

For me it was all about finding your people who will support you at work. It can be competitive, however I feel that there is a shift happening from the ‘older’ style of academia into a more inclusive style where everyone can contribute and feel valued in what they do. Great supervisors/advisors are worth their weight in gold and will help to lift you up when you hit some of those challenges. You need to be motivated to work in academia, but motivation comes from many different places and looks different for everyone.

What made you want to pursue STEM?

Mentor 1: In high school, I always enjoyed my STEM subjects the most, and always gravitated towards the health and medical field. Speaking to professionals in the field really helped me decide which career I would pursue.

Mentor 2: I always wanted to be a palaeontologist, but then I realised there were no jobs doing that. Mum suggested I look into mining, and since it was based outdoors and used mostly maths I thought I’d give it a go! I have always been interested in science and nature, and found maths easy, so it was a given I’d end up in STEM.

How did you cope with setbacks in your studies/ careers?
Mentor 1: Sometimes, I’d be lucky enough to have a plan B or C. But for the times where I didn’t, I gave myself a moment to acknowledge my feelings (like eating ice cream from the tub) and then I would pick myself up, try to learn from the experience, and begin to work towards the next opportunity.

Mentor 2: I have learned to lean on my advisors/my boss and my research team, as often they will be experiencing the setback right next to me or have experienced first-hand how something similar has impacted them. I think feeling validated in being disappointed or upset is really important, and that helps me move forward from the setback with a refreshed mindset rather than spending too much time dwelling on it.

Questions about work

What is your least favourite part of your job?

Mentor 1: There are days where I’ll be in the lab from early morning to late in the evening – these are a rare occurrence and are just a necessary part of the job. After a very long day, I often reward myself with a little break at the end of the week!

Mentor 2: The early mornings in winter. I don’t mind getting up at 5am when it’s light, but when it’s cold and dark this part of my day is always a struggle!

Mentor 3: Writing. Till today, I still do not like writing.

What’s it like working in a typically men’s job?

Earlier in my career I felt I often had to prove myself capable in ways that my male counterparts didn’t. However, as more women enter mining, the culture is shifting and people are realising that we are very capable and have a unique set of skills and a temperament that lends itself to a more balanced team environment. I have been in engineering teams where I’m the only woman, and in teams where it is a 50/50 split. Being female hasn’t stopped me from progressing in my career, if you always strive to do your best work and treat others well you will move forwards regardless of gender!

Questions for a mining engineer

Why did you choose to do mining engineering over other types of engineering?

I chose Mining Engineering because I didn’t want to work in the city, I wanted to work out in the bush. Some other types of engineers work in the mines, but a Mining Engineering degree was a sure way to find work that suited my outdoorsy interests.

What inspired you to work in the mining industry since you studied the “wrong” subjects? What should you have studied instead?

I didn’t know much about engineering when I chose to study it at uni. But I enjoyed my first year of study, so I kept studying! It was just a logical choice [to study Engineering] given I was good at maths and science and liked problem solving! I should’ve studied Physics, Calculus and Applicable Maths (Applic. was the only “right” subject I studied).

What was it like working in different countries?

Different countries have different policies, laws and legislation, cultures and values. I think we do it best here in WA but seeing mines in other countries is really cool.

Do you do anything to maintain a healthy environment when mining and do you incorporate renewable energy into your job? Does what you do have an impact on the environment?

Yes, mining has an impact on the environment, but there are very strict rules around what we can and can’t do to make sure the flora, fauna and culturally significant sites are protected. Before we start mining we have to make a detailed plan about how we will rehabilitate the area when we’re finished. There is a lot of room for improving how we mine though, and I think we can do better, such as using renewable energy to power the mine site, instead of diesel and gas. We’re also starting to use more electric machines.

What engineering project that you were involved with has made you most proud?

I helped design a little underground gold mine in WA recently. I was involved from the very early stages of conception right until they started mining the first tunnel to go underground, and it was really cool to see my designs come to life in the real world in quite a short space of time!

On a typical day how much gold is found/mined?

This varies between each mine site, and even varies considerably day to day. But where I worked at Jundee we would mine between 500-1000 ounces (an ounce is 31 grams) each day.

Is the automation of vehicles and robots from mining industry transferring to space remote technology likely to continue?

Right now the mining industry in WA has the most advanced remote control technology, which is why the space industry is interested in it, but it’s been developed specifically for mining applications. I think the collaboration between mining and space will continue in the near future, but it’s impossible to say if it will continue forever.

Questions for a plant researcher

What is your favourite type of plant?

I think venus flytraps because they are so cool!

What plants were you growing in the slide?

They are Arabidopsis thaliana plants. In the plant world, they are model species for research studies, very much like the lab rat for medical research.

Do you take your plants home or do you leave them in the lab over night?

I have to leave the plants in the lab overnight. The plants I work with are genetically modified so I will pose a risk to our environment if I bring them out of the lab.

How many plants are in a large scale experiment?

About 64 plants. I then do different treatments on my plants which doubles the number of samples I have to process.

What type of soil is best for growing plants in Australia since Australia is full of sand?

Fun fact: Aussie soil is really salty and plants do not like salty soil. So at UWA, we are also trying to understand the on goings of the plant when grown in salty soil, in hopes to produce more salt-tolerant plants.

How many plants have you killed?

Many, sadly. Sometimes I get too busy and I forget to water them or the light bulbs in my growth cabinet fused and they don’t grow.