Tell us a bit about yourself. Share a fun fact that people might not know about you.
Hi I’m Vivian, a Malaysian girl who studied in India/Malaysia/Australia and now work in Central NSW a country town where there are farms, wineries, and mines. It’s a lovely place to explore and that’s something I love doing.
What were your favourite subjects in school? Did you enjoy Maths and Science subjects as a student?
Math, physics and chemistry were my favourite in school. I didn’t like writing essays but I enjoyed solving math equations and science questions. The struggle and joy of solving an equation was always more rewarding than the frustration I felt in languages. Math and Physics were subjects that made sense to me, but Chemistry felt more like magic. Chemical reactions to create hissing steam, stinky gas, soap, and propulsion? What more could you ask for?
What was your childhood ambition? Did you eventually pursue it as your career?
I had many childhood ambitions, interior designer, nature explorer, photographer, but one of my favourite pastimes as a kid was to draw industrial processes simple ones of how eggs were sorted or cakes were baked. Then when I started researching courses for university and came across engineering I thought it would be a perfect fit for me.
Describe what you do at work and its specific area in STEM. What does a typical day at work look like?
Currently, I’m a coal quality and logistics engineer. In my role I optimise the coal mining, processing and blending strategy, to deliver specific product to our customers on time. It’s a role that requires knowledge about the whole value chain, from geology to mining and processing, to rail networks. Optimising the coal flow is a hugely dynamic and data driven process, being able to analyse from the larger picture down to the smaller details is the fun part. But the key to doing a great job is being able to communicate your plan and ideas.
However I trained as a process engineer, where I took care of the process efficiency of our coal processing plant. This included ensuring and optimising the use of chemicals, recycle efficiency of water and other raw goods. Now I use that knowledge/skill acquired for my current role as a coal quality engineer.
A typical day starts at 6:45am (I know its early!), first I’ll look at the past production profile of the mine and how that will impact the future plan. Move to progressing any Continuous Improvement projects I have. Then start liaising with other departments, customers and stakeholders to ensure an optimal plan is realised by the end of the day.
What do you love most about your work?
I love how dynamic the work can be – there’s always some production mishap, weather impact, railway creating some drama. It really shows how valuable people are to a business, as decisions during adverse events are made by people and have flow on effects.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome them?
When I started out I felt extremely out of place in a workplace where no one looked like me. For context, I work mainly with older men who are white. Almost everyone from the ground operators to the managers were men. As a tall Asian woman, I stood out like a sore thumb.
At first, I was very self-conscious about my words and actions. I didn’t know much about the industry and I felt like I was not providing enough value. I felt very small and very visible. But then I realised that being visible meant people took notice, and if you speak up you will be heard and you can create an impact. Most people want to help, and by asking questions and building my knowledge I eventually became more confident and comfortable. I don’t need to always be correct or perfect, in fact by asking silly questions I sparked discussions and uncovered many inefficiencies that turned into valuable improvement projects.
According to numerous studies, women are under-represented in STEM. Was this your experience in university, and is it any different now in your field of work?
At university I studied Chemical Engineering, and it’s one of the engineering fields that currently has a 50/50 representation of males and females. It was only when I started working I felt a difference in male and female representation.
When pursuing your studies or career, did you ever feel that you were treated differently because of your gender?
Yes, absolutely. I always try to turn it into my advantage. Having good mentors and managers to help you navigate office culture and politics also helps a lot.
Why do you think it’s important to have more women in STEM careers?
We bring a different perspective to whatever STEM field we go into. Every STEM field affects human lives and women are (roughly) half the population, we should be in every field and on every table where decisions are made so that our perspective is not lost.
What advice would you give to young girls who are curious about a career in STEM?
It’s a very rewarding field of work and study. There are many different roles and careers, and I am certain that if you have interest and passion in science, technology, engineering there will be a space for you to really grow and perform.