career

'My high school teacher laughed when I said I wanted to be an engineer. I proved him wrong.'

I am not one of those people that knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. 

As a child, I would change my mind every time someone asked me. 

I strongly bought into the ideals of the purple sticker plastered to my primary school backpack - As a girl, I could do anything!

Watch: When I grow up I want to be... Post continues below.


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I was lucky to be born into a household and family that placed a high value on a good education. 

I was encouraged to read, learn and dream. 

Growing up, we had a house full of encyclopedias and educational CD-ROMs. As a child of the early nineties, I didn’t have extensive access to the internet so I would spend hours poring over books and my dad’s collection of National Geographic magazines researching for school projects. 

I had a hunger to learn about the world around me. 

My dad was a builder who also had a fascination with learning and would share his learnings with me. 

My mum went back to university while I was young to study accounting. 

I remember dropping her at the university campus at night, enthralled by the huge buildings around me. I spent my school holidays watching concrete trucks pull up on my dad’s construction sites, strapping on my rollerblades to whirl around on the fresh slab. 

He taught me how to hold a hammer and putty a hole. I learnt how to plan and measure, and what materials went where. 

Image: Supplied.

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At school, my love of learning was accelerated and my primary school teachers fostered my hunger and encouraged me to celebrate my wins. 

In Year 7, I achieved in the top 5 per cent for maths in state-wide testing, and my teachers and peers all cheered me on as I walked up to accept my certificate. A moment I still remember with clarity to this day. 

You see, as a child, I was one of the lucky few that wasn’t treated differently by her immediate family because I was a girl. 

My dad never thought twice about teaching me the same things as my brother or whether I should visit him at work because I was a female. 

And my primary teachers supported my love of science, maths and technology (now referred to as STEM – with the inclusion of engineering). But sadly, in Australia, this isn’t the norm. 

The STEM Equity Monitor, a report released by the Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, found that 15 per cent of parents never discuss STEM with their children. 

The report also found that both mothers and fathers still believe that STEM professions are generally less suited to women, with women suited to jobs where STEM skills are less relevant. 

In high school, a certain self-awareness crept in and the pressure of not knowing what I wanted to do meant that I took on the subjects that I thought I should study to keep post-school doors wide open. 

I found advanced maths and physics difficult, and my grades began to slip. 

When we began discussing career options, I told my physics teacher I was considering engineering. 

Being a small, all-girls school, we didn’t have any engineering subjects unlike some schools, and I didn’t personally know any engineers, so I had no idea what an engineer was. I thought they used STEM skills to design things. 

I liked STEM and I liked design – so this seemed like a reasonable connection to me. 

Upon hearing my answer, my physics teacher laughed at me. I will never forget it. I don’t blame him for laughing – this moment later became the fuel that I needed to succeed.

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After high school, I enrolled in a non-engineering related course. The glowing confidence of primary school Genevieve had been bruised and battered during high school. I really believed that I wasn’t smart enough to study engineering – I could hear the laughter and see the average grades on my report card staring back at me when I thought about it.

While I was thriving at university, there was a part of me that spent the entire year wondering, “What if I had tried?” 

So, I found the confidence to re-enrol in engineering the next year and I decided to take the shame of being laughed at and use it to ignite a fire in me.  

Although not the healthiest reason to pursue a career, I had something to prove, and someone to prove it to. This doubt fuelled my ambition and prepared me for the many other doubters that I have encountered along the way.  

It wasn’t easy, but I worked my way through university with the support of amazing lecturers, faculty tutors and the best group of friends at QUT in Brisbane. 

I learnt what an engineer was as I was studying. I now describe engineers as professional problem solvers; with skills that can be applied to any industry, which suited my gypsy-like personality very well! 

So how did a girl who had no idea what she wanted to be when she grew up become the Owner and Director of an Infrastructure Advisory company, with a Civil and Construction Engineering degree under her belt? 

Whilst mixing concrete in a first-year tutorial, I had a powerful flashback; my young self, feeling confident and joyous on her father’s construction site. Life has a funny way of coming full circle.

Image: Supplied.

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Since graduating I have been able to carve out a career that combines my passion for building things that help communities, and my affinity for solving complex problems. 

When it comes to increasing the pipeline of women in STEM professions, I often get asked, “Where can we start”? 

To me, it is glaringly obvious - we have to start with the biases of parents and teachers. 

QUT’s STEM the Tide initiative aims to bridge the gender gap by celebrating women in STEM, with the aim of encouraging future generations of women to consider enrolment in STEM subjects. 

This visibility is crucial for our industry – when parents and teachers understand the importance of STEM skills and how these apply in the real world, we have a much higher chance of encouraging young women to explore career pathways in science, technology, engineering and maths. 

So, thanks mum and dad, for never treating me any differently to my brother and thank you to my primary school teachers – for fostering my love for learning and celebrating my achievements in STEM. 

And lastly, thank you to my high school physics teacher – for lighting the spark that exploded into the brightest flame of all; a drive to share my story with other young women, to be their purple sticker, and to hopefully help them to see that they CAN do anything!   

Feature Image: Supplied.

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