Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day 2018 at the SKA. Credit: SKA Organisation
SKA Global Headquarters, Saturday 23 June 2018 – With hundreds of people across 20 countries on all five continents working on delivering the world’s largest radio telescope, the SKA family is home to many experienced and talented women who are making their mark on the engineering side of the project and without whom this global endeavour would not be possible.
To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day 2018, we spoke to some of them to hear what they most enjoy about working in the engineering sector, their advice for the next generation, and what inspires them about the SKA. Read on to be inspired!
“We help shape the world that we live in, hopefully making it a better place to live for the next generation”
Rebecca Wheadon – Infrastructure Australia Project Manager, Aurecon
Rebecca on site at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia, future home of the SKA. © 2018 Rebecca Wheadon. All rights reserved.
To me, engineering means finding a solution to a problem, or bringing an idea to life. We create things that otherwise wouldn’t exist and help shape the world that we live in, hopefully making it a better place to live for the next generation.
Engineering has taken me to places all around the world that I would never otherwise have an opportunity to see. It’s an industry that works across physical borders and even language barriers. It isn’t all hard hats and hammers; it covers an incredibly broad range of skillsets. If you’re an excellent listener, a sports team captain, or good at maths, art, or even computer games, these skills are all applicable to modern engineering. I wish more young girls understood how valuable their natural skills are to this sector.
The SKA will likely be the single most important project in my professional career. To be a part of something that could change how we understand the origins of our universe is both enormously exciting and a huge privilege.
“Being an engineer helps in your daily life, to find practical solutions when you need them”
Dr. Maria Grazia Labate – System Engineer, SKA Headquarters
Maria Grazia’s expertise is contributing to the SKA’s low-frequency telescope. © 2015 SKA Organisation. All rights reserved.
The great thing about being an engineer is that you put your ideas down on paper and then build them. You need to know a lot of different concepts – electromagnetics, thermic, mechanics, for example – so you see how theory and practice work together. Being an engineer also helps you to apply that way of thinking in your daily life, to find practical solutions when you need them.
As a woman in engineering, it is nice to challenge a traditionally “male” world by using your female skills to resolve things. My mum is great at finding solutions and this always made me think that women have a real talent for problem-solving. I’d like to see those contributions embedded in the next generation of science and engineering projects and instruments.
The SKA will discover the unknown. We will be able to prove what are currently only theories, and look for things that haven’t been seen since almost the beginning of the universe. No one can aim for more, it’s beautiful and so fascinating.
“If you are curious, have ideas, dreams, or you just like to solve puzzles – that is the beginning. You can become an engineer!”
Paula Fusiara – Mechanical Engineer, ASTRON
What I like about mechanical engineering is the vast variety of subjects that I’m involved in throughout the projects. It is great fun to solve technical problems. Engineering gives me a sense of fulfilment and makes me smile every single day I go to work – not a single day is the same. Every day there is a new adventure, a new challenge awaiting me.
Paula explaining her work to the Dutch Minister of Education Culture and Science, Ingrid van Engelshoven. © 2018 ASTRON. All rights reserved.
In terms of careers, follow your heart. Don’t get lured into clichés like “girls aren’t technical enough… it’s a man’s job because …” Women have a different view on matters than men, which is very helpful and desired in engineering.
If you are curious, have ideas, dreams, or you just like to solve puzzles – that is the beginning. You can become an engineer!
The SKA inspires me because of its vastness. The impact it will have on science and our society is beyond anyone’s imagination. I feel very honored that I can contribute my creative ideas and engineering skills to the SKA construction.
“The perspectives that drive engineering innovations will greatly determine what shape the future takes”
Mia Baquiran – Digital Systems Engineer, CSIRO
Mia has worked on the correlator and beam former of the SKA-low telescope, as part of the Central Science Processor consortium. © 2017 CSIRO. All rights reserved.
Engineering is not just about solving problems, but using all the knowledge and tools you have available to reach the most optimal solution. You’re constantly learning how to leverage new technologies to reach better solutions which can eventually be used to build exciting and ground-breaking projects.
Given how pervasive technology is in everyday life, it’s important not only to know how to use it but to help direct it’s advancement. The perspectives that drive engineering innovations will greatly determine what shape the future takes.
The capabilities of the SKA telescope will make huge strides in our ability to observe and understand the universe. Getting to work with cutting-edge technology and the brilliant people that make such a revolutionary scientific instrument possible has been very exciting and a huge privilege.
“I’ve never been bored. Challenged, yes, but never bored!”
Andrea Casson – Head of Project Management Group, SKA Headquarters
Andrea has been working on engineering projects for more than 20 years and now leads the Project Management Group at SKA HQ. © 2018 SKA Organisation. All rights reserved.
Engineering is about designing and delivering things, making things work to solve a problem or improve something. What could be a better use of your time and energy?
I’ve worked on engineering projects in telecoms and science for over 20 years and I’ve never been bored. Challenged, yes, but never bored! It’s such a diverse sector, so once you have learned and mastered your discipline you can apply it in a range of situations and follow your interests.
The SKA has everything you would wish for in a project: amazing goals to find out more about the universe and our place in it, a multi-disciplinary international team based at the HQ and across tens of organisations around the world, a diverse range of stakeholders, a complex political landscape and the need to develop new technology in order to deliver the project’s science goals.
“In engineering, it’s creativity that makes designs that are awesome and revolutionary”
Suzy Jackson – Radio Frequency Engineer, CSIRO
Suzy specialises in radio astronomy receiver and back-end electronics at Australia’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, in what she describes as “a reasonable approximation of the middle of nowhere”. © 2018 Suzy Jackson. All Rights Reserved.
The cool thing about engineering is that it’s a really creative process and you get to put a little bit of yourself into the product you design and build. When you’re working at the coal face on a huge project like ASKAP you get to come to work and be reminded of all the little bits and pieces around the place that have your unique touch.
Then when there’s a scientific paper or press release about new Fast Radio Bursts, Epoch of Reionisation signatures or other wonderful things, you can say to yourself: “My gear, my creativity and hard work had a role in making all this possible.” That gives some pretty serious warm fuzzies.
As a student I often really struggled with maths. I see engineering as a totally creative thing; maths has a role in that, but it’s creativity that makes designs that are awesome and revolutionary. Sometimes you have to just jump through the hoops that someone else has thrown in your path, so you can make your own mark on the other side.
With the SKA, we’re gathering quantities of data from the early universe that are staggering, we’re applying the biggest telescopes, fastest computers, and best talent to do wonderful things for everyone. And the really cool bit is that I get paid to do this stuff. What’s not to like about that!
“Engineering is a very tangible way of contributing to society”
Debbie Schutte – Project Analyst, SKA Headquarters
Engineering teaches you the skills and thought processes you need to enable a very large spectrum of people to make their inspiring ideas a reality, by developing the technology to make it happen. It is a very tangible way of contributing to society.
If you are interested in it, try to get as much practical experience as you can. Don’t be scared of what you don’t yet know, the best way to learn is to try. Most great engineers I know are keen to teach. In engineering the possibilities are endless. I studied Metallurgical Engineering and Environmental Engineering, and have been able to use that expertise across a variety of roles as an engineer, project manager and analyst in heavy industry, the renewable energy sector and now in science.
What inspires me about the SKA project is the possibility of what future generations might discover. I would like to hear my children and grandchildren mentioning as a matter of fact aspects of our universe that today are still a mystery to us.
“Engineering gives you the opportunity to travel and work with people from a wide range of backgrounds”
Prof. Angela Taylor – Engineering Project Manager, University of Oxford
Angela leads a team that includes experts in cryogenics, radio astronomy receivers, mechanical engineering and digital electronics. © 2018 Angela Taylor. All rights reserved.
I work at the interface between Engineering and Experimental Physics, leading the team who are designing and building the high-frequency receivers that will go on the dish array in South Africa. My work uses a huge number of skills and allows me to work in a range of different environments – it is rarely boring. During a project I’ll spend time in the lab, building and testing new equipment, and then travelling to usually quite remote sites to install and commission our radio telescopes.
Studying maths, science or engineering opens up a huge amount of opportunities in a diverse range of jobs. The skills you get while studying these subjects are in huge demand and are also transferable across many fields.
Working in engineering gives you the opportunity to work on ground-breaking projects, to travel and work with people from a wide range of backgrounds, and to be both creative and solve technical problems.
The SKA can play an important role in raising the profile of science and engineering and in encouraging the next generation into technical, scientific and engineering careers. I’m part of a project to provide training in radio astronomy and instrumentation in Africa in preparation for the SKA, but the skills and techniques being taught are applicable much more widely and are already opening up new opportunities for the participants in each country.
“If you are good with numbers and enjoy hands-on jobs, engineering is the best field”
Raji Chekkala – Infrastructure Australia Configuration Manager, CSIRO
Raji is part of the Infrastructure Australia consortium, which is responsible for all the work undertaken to deploy and be able to operate the SKA in Western Australia. © 2018 Raji Chekkala. All rights reserved.
In the engineering sector, within one role we get to do a variety of jobs on a daily basis. You can use your expertise every day and can also increase your knowledge base on a regular basis. If you are good with numbers and enjoy hands on jobs, engineering is the best field.
It is always interesting to know what more is hidden in the Universe and the SKA will enable astronomers to explore these hidden secrets.
As an international project, the SKA makes you feel proud to be working on it. Meeting people from different nations and travelling to different countries is an added bonus.
“Women have a unique perspective to add to the engineering sector”
Susan Nel – Configuration Manager, SKA Headquarters
Working in engineering provides the opportunity to be part of innovative projects across a wide spectrum of disciplines. Every project presents different challenges and you enter a life-long learning experience. There is never a shortage of challenges and it presents the opportunity to work with interesting and brilliant colleagues.
If your talents and abilities are in the engineering disciplines, don’t hesitate to pursue your dreams and act on the gifts and abilities within you. Women have a unique perspective to add to the engineering sector – if you like solving problems and innovating new ways of doing things, consider a career in engineering.
SKA is an inspiring project. It spans a wide set of engineering disciplines. We have to deal with establishing infrastructure and processes for asset management; advanced software development; network design, as well as specialised product development that will be industrialised and produced in mass quantities. All of these disciplines need to be established and executed as a coherent whole, pulling together diverse teams from different schools of thought to come up with the best solutions. Very few projects present this challenge in the same timeframe!
“If you’re a problem solver, definitely consider engineering as a career option. The skills and opportunities that become open to you are practically limitless”
Mia Walker, Electronics Engineer, ICRAR/Curtin University
Mia is based at SKA partner organisation ICRAR in Western Australia. © 2016 Kimberly Steele, Curtin University. All rights reserved.
The best thing about engineering is the opportunity to have direct input into large-scale science projects. It might not always feel like I’m making a difference when I’m fixing circuitry in the soldering lab or designing board layouts, but that effort contributes to the operation of a telescope which astronomers use to make discoveries about space – I am very proud to play a part in that.
If you’re a problem solver, definitely consider engineering as a career option. The skills and opportunities that become open to you are practically limitless. Engineering is a mindset for finding solutions, and how you want to apply that is up to you.
I find it incredibly heartening that an international organisation exists to build an instrument that will tell us more about the universe. It’s a goal that speaks to everyone’s adventurous side, and highlights one of the better parts of humanity: our curiosity.
The SKA has tremendous backing from many countries, which tells me there is mutual agreement across the world that enabling science is a rewarding goal, and I find that very inspiring.
International Women in Engineering Day is run by the Women’s Engineering Society and is under the patronage of UNESCO. You can follow the day’s events on Twitter using #INWED18.
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