Across the Faculty of Engineering, women are leading cutting edge research, supporting future engineers and researchers, and finding solutions for some of society’s most pressing challenges.
To mark International Women in Engineering Day 2021, we asked five early career researchers to reflect on their own careers and the advice they would give to other women looking to begin their career in engineering.
Lecturer, School of Project Management
When Dr Fatima Afzal decided to study civil engineering, she was told that it was a male-dominated industry without growth opportunities for women.
A few years after graduating and working as the only female on construction sites as a project engineer, she moved to Australia and decided to study a PhD. This time she was told it was too challenging for women with family commitments, and she couldn’t do it. Eight years later, Dr Afzal completed her PhD with near-perfect scores while raising four children.
Some of her proudest moments so far include leading cutting-edge research to improve construction organisations’ sustainability performance and being invited to present her research to the university where she completed her undergraduate degree.
Dr Afzal is a passionate lecturer who is enthusiastic about guiding students and future sustainability researchers to pursue excellence regardless of their background or circumstances.
“We all share this planet, and we all have the responsibility to preserve it for our future generations”, said Dr Afzal.
I now run regular mentoring sessions for women from diverse backgrounds to help them achieve their potential. My advice for them is never to stop dreaming, and never listen to anyone who says you cannot achieve those dreams!
PhD student and lecturer, School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering
Anne Bettens is currently completing a PhD in vision-based navigation for space exploration – in short, she’s a rocket scientist. Though still early in her career, Bettens’ experience already includes researching space debris in France, working with start-ups, meeting astronauts, and presenting at conferences worldwide.
She also finds fulfilment in enabling others to learn and lead. “I aim to educate in technical knowledge and humanity so my students can go on to change the world in positive ways”, said Bettens.
As for her advice to aspiring female engineers? “Go for it! If you have a passion for engineering, then be an engineer and have the courage to be a great one. As women, we are often intimidated by male-dominated fields, which is unfortunate because we need diversity for progress. Engineering is about critical thinking and inventing solutions to global problems. If you have the drive, it can be a rewarding career; you just need to start.”
Bettens is currently looking forward to the milestone of finishing her PhD. After graduating, she hopes to work in the space industry where she is particularly excited by the prospect of discovering the unknown.
Research Fellow, Telecommunications, control, and robotics, School of Electrical and Information Engineering
After completing a PhD in wireless communications, Dr Wanchun Liu is now a leader in wireless networked control, a promising research area for making Industry 4.0 come true. The term describing the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 is seeing optimisation through technologies such as 3D printing, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, and data analytics.
Drawing on her own communication background, Dr Liu has identified a sequence of major research problems and led new research in networked control with practical communication systems. She has also led a group of Sydney researchers to solve real-world networked control problems, delivering advanced networked robotic prototypes for waste-sorting and warehouse automation.
“My theory in wireless networked control will provide fundamental guidance of practical large-scale deployment of wirelessly connected controllers, sensors, machines and robots in Industry 4.0”, said Dr Liu.
“The potential applications of this include smart factory, self-driving vehicles, drone swarming, smart building and smart grids – technology which will change our everyday life.
I would advise all girls and women in engineering to be confident in their work and always be open to new tasks and projects that are outside their comfort zone.
Lecturer, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Dr Yi Shen recently joined the School of Chemical and Bimolecular Engineering as a lecturer, after working as a postdoc at the University of Cambridge and completing her PhD at ETH Zurich. Her experience is wide ranging, having worked and studied in six countries and four continents.
“I have gained rich international experiences while establishing myself as an independent academic in the field of soft matter and biophysics”, said Dr Shen.
Her research interests span from biomolecular engineering to biophysics, with a focus on proteinfunctional and pathological phase transitions and their applications in biomaterials development. She will establish a set of soft matter in her lab, including microfluidic approaches and advanced optical techniques.
Dr Shen is excited to lead her own research group in the future. “I’ll be able to study the topics I’m most interested in while nurturing the next generation of scientists. My advice to aspiring female engineers would be to not think less of yourself; if you want it, you can do it.”
PhD student, School of Biomedical Engineering
Tawanwart Thipayawat’s research focuses on investigation of new treatments and the measurement of its outcomes through gait analysis for people with Spastic Cerebral Palsy, highlighting her passion for using her research to help people with physical disabilities.
“My proudest moment in my career so far is when I published and presented my work to the research community at the international conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society in Berlin, Germany”, she said.
Thipayawat advises aspiring female engineers to “not be afraid to put yourself out there and make mistakes – life is all about learning”, and follows similar advice herself. “Alongside my degree, I love participating in social and physical activities, and pursuing different skills and hobbies.”
She looks forward to seeing how her project progresses over time and where she ends up after finishing her degree.
Funding through the Google exploreCSR awards enabled the School of Computer Science to bring 25 computer science students together to learn about research opportunities for women in computer science.