🎙️ Spotlight on Women in Engineering: An Interview! 🌟💼
In honor of Women in Engineering Day, we interviewed our communications coordinator and Senior Geotechnical Engineer Victoria Hann to discuss her journey, experiences, and insights in the field. Her story is a testament to the incredible contributions women are making in engineering. Let’s dive in and get inspired! 👩 🔬🔧
Victoria, Why did you decide to study engineering?
Engineering felt so unlikely for me – for two reasons – one that my favourite subjects were French, Art and English, and two – that I thought I wanted to be a doctor. At 17 I had the school marks for medicine and did well on the UMAT test, but I was so nervous in the interview and so didn’t get in. I think I was pretty sad when I checked the website for the second round of uni offers on our old grey home computer.
However, this is where my mum – a passionate, independent, gets-things-done force of a person – comes in. She worked at an adult college as a deputy principal and had various university departments come in – and she was sold on the idea that engineers had the best social life out of all the STEM disciplines. I came around to the idea that by doing engineering, I could also continue my French studies – I actually went on exchange to a French university in Paris for six months to study French history and literature in the language in 2011 which has been a highlight of my life.
Now back to engineering – once I discovered geotechnics I was sold. The early years of engineering I found difficult, partly because uni is more self-led and because honestly, I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the objects they used as analogies – screws / springs and other kind of grey and beige items. There’s a certain rewiring of the brain that occurs after studying mathematical logic. Anyhow, I did a 3-month stint at Advanced Geomechnics (now Fugro), and from there my love of geotechnics was born. What I love about geotechnics, to this day, is that it’s like solving a beautiful puzzle or writing a really good art history essay. You need to pull information from a variety of sources – data, research papers, 3D models, feature survey, site history – to come up with a good answer. It’s pure alchemy and the results are greater than the sum of its parts.
What is the most interesting project you have worked on?
I’ve been in industry since Jan 2015 and worked on so many projects, but two projects come to mind –
I think to date, the Gippsland Line Upgrade has been a real consolidation of rail knowledge – I have been in Victoria for about 4 years now and hadn’t previously had much exposure to geotechnical design in rail. It’s been great to write memos on what we think the ground conditions will be based on site investigation, getting to inspect the subgrade before foundations are installed and then help the site team with construction queries to get the track and stations completed. I have learnt so much in the process. I am currently in the process of completing additional site investigation with some challenging ground conditions and liaising with the site team to help them complete installation of newly added structures.
The other is the Ferguson St level crossing removal – I designed the rock-socketed piles that support the new road overbridge over sunken rail. This was really challenging and I had a lot of help from geotechnical rockstar @Rob Day at @Arup. We had a lot of client meetings and plus had to prove to utility owners with cables nearby, that our excavation would not affect their assets – this required finite element modelling in PLAXIS 2D and a few workshops.
Question 3 – How have you found being a woman in engineering?
I don’t think anything terribly bad has happened to me as a woman in this field. It’s more subtle things that annoy me or get me down. I really hate it when people use the term females to refer to professional women – this scientific term makes me feel particularly othered, just say female engineers! – or when I get addressed as gents in an email.
One advantage of going to an all-girls school is I think I thankfully don’t feel like I absorbed so many gendered ideas on who is good at science and maths. It wasn’t that “boys were good at maths”, it was Isabella Tan is really good at maths. Also when I first went to uni, I went from no boys at all in my classes, so at uni I looked around and thought “That’s roughly half”.
Overall, it’s been ok, although I particularly appreciate when there are more women around me so I’m not the only one in the room. I do also appreciate that I have a lot of privilege and try to challenge myself on being inclusive to people who may also be “the only one” in the room for other reasons.
What would be your best piece of advice for women considering a career in engineering?
It’s probably similar advice I would give to anyone in engineering. There’s no such a thing as a dumb question (I suggest rebranding as basic) – I had this impression that I had to remember everything from uni and that I had failed if I had to re-learn something. Now, I do this all the time without shame.
Act your wage to a certain extent – I don’t mean be lazy, but know that as an emerging professional, the buck shouldn’t stop with you. Don’t overally stress when you make mistakes or feel like you failed when you get asked to change something in your design. Know that when you first do something, you are bound to make errors and that is expected and normal. When you make a mistake, be honest about it and seek help. Seek out the people in your team or company that will give you guidance and empathy if you need it. If you aren’t receiving it, speak up – sometimes seniors are really busy – so a good tip is to send them a calendar invite so there’s a dedicated time to go through the design.
Document!!! I used to be able to remember things I did months ago when I first started, now I find it much harder. When you finish a design, make sure you document it in a way that is clear and that someone else could pick up.
Thanks, Victoria, for an interesting Interview!