Women in industry

Hear what some of our graduates have to say about what attracted them to engineering and what they do in the engineering industry.

Chemical & Materials Engineering

Ashleigh Barber

I enjoyed math and science at school but I didn’t want to be a scientist. My dad brought home a newspaper article about a woman doing engineering and it looked like a really exciting and challenging career – one that paid well and allowed you to travel –– it really appealed to me.

As I wanted to do something with the subjects I enjoyed and do something that wasn’t lab based, engineering was the obvious choice for me.

I chose Chemical and Materials Engineering because I was really interested in chemistry at school (that was my first love) and in first year I enjoyed the conceptual learning in Chemical and Materials Engineering. I realised that it can lead in to a wide range of different fields, such as pharmaceutical, cosmetics, plastics, fuels, process foods and beverages as well as general management.

However an Engineering degree isn’t just about looking at a chemical or physical process – it is more about the thinking behind it, and in my degree I was taught how to think. I have decided to use my degree to go into the graduate programme at a bank, which can lead you down many different paths - relationship management, marketing and various project work are just a few I have been involved in so far. My degree has given me the confidence to take that leap into the unknown and try something new- like a graduate programme at a bank, for example!

Rosalind Julian

In my last year of high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I went with some of my friends to the Enginuity day at The University of Auckland and I was amazed that there were so many different types of engineering and that there was such a broad range of disciplines.What really sold me on engineering was that we got to try all the different types in our first year. I ended up picking Chemical and Materials Engineering because I loved the lectures so much, even though they were at 8am!

Since I left university 4 years ago I have been working as a Corrosion Engineer. I really like that I’m not stuck behind a desk all day. I like the variety of work associated with my job, the mix of desk and practical hands-on, working in the office, the lab and also on site. I also love that I’m always learning something new for each of the projects I work on, so it never gets boring. Engineering has also provided me with opportunities to travel - I’ve been overseas with work every year since I started working and now I’m moving to the USA to work for a year.


Civil & Environmental Engineering

Claire Oliver

At school I was interested in science and maths but wanted to do something 'real' and people-orientated with it. The idea of working in a lab all-day-every-day didn't appeal to me. I was much too interested in talking to people and being creative!

I've always really enjoyed being outdoors so doing Civil and Environmental Engineering seemed like the obvious choice. I get to interact with lots of people, spend time outdoors as well as in the office and help improve our natural environment through innovative design solutions. Perfect!

Engineering is a great choice for females - our ability to communicate clearly is well utilised in engineering! There are so many opportunities for engineers both in NZ and abroad. In the future, I hope to gain work experience in NZ before heading overseas ideally to help with aid projects in developing countries through implementing clean water and sanitation systems. If you want to make a positive difference in the lives of many people, engineering is the way to go!


Electrical & Computer Engineering

Rebecca Stevens

At school I enjoyed both arts and sciences and wanted to continue them at university, so I went for a conjoint degree. It’s a great way of spreading out my engineering courses. Don’t worry if you’re unsure about what sort of engineering you want to do, in the first year you’re given a taste of each. I opted for electrical. I really like the way the lecturers make learning fun. In power electronics we made electronic circuits, put them into toy cars and raced them. There are all sorts of opportunities to develop your skills, including summer research projects, and there’s a big emphasis on practical experience – a big plus for employers.

Since I left university I have been working at an Engineering Consultancy called AECOM. I have been working there for 3 years now and I have really enjoyed it. The people are friendly, the work is challenging and very rewarding because I am helping to ensure that the people of New Zealand get power when they need it.

I am proud to call myself a Power Systems Engineer. This is a branch of electrical engineering that is in very high demand because we will always need power, and therefore will always need Power Systems Engineers!

The type of work that I have been doing so far is protection design. This involves designing the wiring for the devices which monitor and protect the high voltage equipment, for example a 220,000 volt transmission line. Very large amounts of current flow through a transmission line, so if something goes wrong, it could injure or kill people, as well as damaging the equipment. So it is very important for me to get the wiring correct, so that the protection devices work as they should.

I really love looking at a new circuit diagram and trying to figure out how it works. It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, where you need to figure out how each piece is connected together, and how it relates to other pieces in order to function correctly. Recently I went to a substation and saw some panels that I had designed. It was really exciting to see my paper diagrams brought to life – someone else was able to build and install a panel from the lines I produced on paper.

So if you want a career where you will be in high demand, feel challenged and rewarded, and which really makes a difference in people’s lives, I highly recommend Power Systems Engineering!

Sarah Young

I chose to study Software Engineering, along with an Arts degree, because it just seemed to be the logical choice at the time - I had been good at maths at school, and there was a demand for IT professionals in the job market.

Although I knew little about computers and programming to begin with, I learned to enjoy writing software as it was technical yet creative in nature and I could see the results of my efforts straight away. It was great understanding what was going on in programs that had previously functioned by "magic".

The degree was also flexible enough for me to study for a year overseas, which is an experience I highly recommend. Now, having worked as a software developer and business analyst, I can further appreciate the advantages of my career choice: I have flexible hours at work, and have had the opportunity to help build systems for different industries, such as in the telecommunications, airline, and finance sectors. I am constantly learning something new.


Engineering Science

Karen Willcox

I graduated from The University of Auckland in 1993 with a Bachelor of Engineering in Engineering Science. I then went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S. to study for a master’s degree and PhD in aerospace engineering. After finishing my PhD, I worked at Boeing on the Blended-Wing-Body aircraft, which is an exciting new concept for a future aircraft design. In 2001, I returned to MIT to join the faculty, where I am currently an Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Throughout my career I’ve also had the chance to work at NASA Dryden Research Center and Sandia National Laboratories.

I chose Engineering Science because I really loved maths, but I also wanted to work on practical problems. What I enjoy most about engineering is that it teaches you fundamental skills in problem solving that you can apply to almost any discipline. For me, I love being able to combine my engineering training with my passions for aircraft and space. As a university professor, I get to work closely with NASA, Boeing and lots of other companies. I also get to work on many different projects, from designing future aircraft that are environmentally friendly, to modelling the motions of astronauts in space, to thinking about the future of air transportation in our society. 

Rathika Jebamony

In my final year of school I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was good at and liked the science and maths subjects I took at school but that's as far as my ambitions went. Initially I chose science, specifically Biomedical Science as my career path. It was only at the last minute when I happened to visit the Faculty of Engineering during an open day did I realise that engineering was the way to go, combining both science and maths with the satisfactory thrill of innovative problem solving. The realisation that I was one of those people who liked fixing things, trying to figure out how things work and generally being the 'how do you think we should do this' person for most of my life came together in a resounding "duh, of course I should do engineering". I switched my choice of degree a week before university started to engineering and thus a new engineer was born.

The decision after my first year to specialise in Engineering Science was made in a similar manner to deciding to do Engineering. At the start of the year I had planned to specialise in Chemical and Materials Engineering, but then I found out about Engineering Science. At the time little was known about this specialty of engineering by both first year engineers and the general community. I found out it was a combination of some funky maths and programming applied to science with innovative problem solving and dazzling visual model result presentations. Sold.

Now many years later as a hydraulic engineer and customer care manager for a company specialising in water modelling and water modelling software, I can look back at my choices without regrets (though perhaps I should've studied more and 'enjoyed' university less). Sure I have no recollection of details such as how to do a laplace transformation or derive the finite element method as I was once able to, but engineering and the specialisation of Engineering Science has taught me how to confidently tackle any problems and how to seek information, learn and think like an engineer. Many of my fellow classmates have gone on to a wide range of professions, many of which are not even engineering related. However we all seem to agree that the skills we learned together helped us to succeed exceptionally in "the real world".


Mechanical Engineering

Kate Merry

In a somewhat convoluted path, I fell into engineering from ski instructing after a foot injury. Originally, I intended to end up working for Volkl or K2, designing the perfect pair of “chick skis” which weren’t on the market back then. To be perfectly frank, I had very little idea of what engineering was, other than a degree which had something to do with maths and physics, and that was required if I wanted to design ski equipment.

In my first year, when we took one paper from each discipline, it occurred to me that there might be other engineering jobs that I would quite enjoy. During a presentation given by Beca (my first employer as it happened) on the design of the Sky Tower – I discovered that I was interested in building design. I also found our “sustainability” paper inspiring, as they taught us how engineers had the power to make real, significant differences to the environment. Although I continued down the mechanical engineering path, looking at composite materials and vibrations towards ski design, I ended up diversifying, to take electives from outside of engineering in environmental management, and within engineering on renewable energy generation. My fourth year project saw the realisation of my first pair of “chick skis” which have pink and green polka dots (always important), and are made from fully recyclable materials. Although I did consider following on to do a masters and look at biodegradeable skis, and looked into several ski design options, one of the “Greenies” from Beca convinced me to give green building design a shot. And I’ve never really looked back.

My role today is a “Sustainable Design Consultant” for Arup in Singapore. This means working closely with developers, architects, mechanical and structural engineers, lighting designers, landscape consultants and quantity surveyors to mould building designs to be more “sustainable” not only environmentally, but also functionally (an environmentally friendly building is no use if it is not economically viable, likeable, comfortable, durable etc). I would estimate that I am in design meetings about 50% of the time – which is often a case of sketching ideas and concepts with architects, and arguing energy concepts with engineers, and probably my favourite part of the role. The other 50%, I do some report writing, project management (juggling finances), resource management (juggling projects and staffing), business development (going for new projects), calculations and analysis, and research. It is quite a surprise to me that this is the job I love. It’s a far throw from sliding around on the mountain for a living. However; it is totally engrossing and rewarding and I wouldn’t change for anything (although I do confess that I am off to Japan next week to get my snow fix)!