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Shoot for the stellar molecules

31 July 2018
University of Sydney alumna shares the value of her chemical engineering degree
Heather Mendelsohn’s desire to study a chemical engineering degree came from wanting greater opportunities to further her career prospects in both technical engineering and management roles.
Alumna Heather Mendelsohn enjoying a day on the BOC job site

Heather Mendelsohn, Technical Solutions Engineer at BOC South Pacific, holds a Bachelor of Engineering (Chemical and Biomolecular) / Bachelor of Commerce (Economics) from the University of Sydney.

Graduating in 2014, her degree was the first step in her mission to become a successful engineer, providing a foundation she has continued to build on over the past four years. Learning a thing or two along the way, Heather tells us about the experiences that are shaping her future beyond the lecture hall.   

Starting out in a commercial role as Assistant Product Manager, she supported the engineering and commercial growth of BOC’s liquified natural gas business for just over a year before moving into a position as a Graduate Project Engineer, working on a major project to automate the special gases filling process.

She has been in her current role as a Technical Solution Engineer for 17 months, supporting the tenders, design, installation and commissioning of BOC technologies for water treatment, aquaculture and mining.

While Heather’s degree set her up with the ability to think critically and to learn the varied technical skills she has needed at BOC, the alumna says that the real challenges for graduates are around building interpersonal skills and being both tenacious and humble.

“Consider what skills you want to be developing in your early career that can set you up for success, like stakeholder management, technical competence and overall business acumen,” says Heather.

“I deliberately sought roles that provided me with a strong technical background, as these [skills] are harder to develop later in your career.”

While each of her positions has taught her about business and how the industry works, Heather is also learning more about herself and how to be resilient, persistent, respectful and confident whilst building relationships. From a personal perspective, it has been when Heather has had to deal with difficult people that she has grown the most.

“I’ve learnt that their actions are not necessarily personal, but a reflection of the situation they are in,” reveals Heather.

“From a business and skills perspective, each role has helped broaden my understanding of the business, but I can recommend reading widely to help identify new ideas which add value to the company.”

So, what was the key to securing three successive roles early in Heather’s career? Put simply, knowing what she wanted and asking for it:

“It was mostly about letting people know I was interested in a new role. Your networks advocating for you on your behalf are critical in helping you secure future opportunities,” she says.

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Heather chooses to be bold but respectful, knowing her boundaries and standing up for herself and others in and out of the workplace and encourages others to do the same. She enjoys the supportive culture at BOC.

Heather stresses the importance of real hands-on learning and taking advantage of every moment as a student. She recommends that students use their summers to gain work experience to build their skills, knowledge and ‘buying power’ to get a job at the end of their studies.

The School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering offers the Engineering Sydney Industry Placement Scheme (ESIPS) which sees students working towards their credit points with our industry partners, gaining invaluable experience out of the classroom before they graduate.

“Even consider studying abroad or taking a gap year to travel; no-one has ever regretted travelling the globe,” Heather adds.

“The persistence, patience and self-drive required in a 9-to-5 job is very different from the flexibility of being a student.”

Her success at university was based on getting high marks for assignments. Now her focus is on coming to work with a positive attitude, working hard every day whilst keeping an eye on the bigger picture, and reminding herself how her work is strategically aligned to the goals of BOC.

Heather is seeing job opportunities move away from the traditional pillars of metallurgy, oil and gas, and increasingly towards food processing and water treatment.  

This is something that the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies has already recognised and from 2019, two new majors will be added to their Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Chemical and Biomolecular) degree.  The Water and Environmental Treatment Processes major explores emerging technologies in water purification and resource recovery, while learning how to solve water and waste-treatment issues affecting key industries. Process Intensification looks at how we can make industrial processes cleaner, more energy efficient and more productive.

For people like Heather who are wanting to aim high in sectors such as chemical, environmental, energy, food and water engineering, a chemical and biomolecular specialisation combines collaborative learning and research with hands-on industry experience to enable you to meet the challenges faced in these fields. 

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