April 29, 2009Her job: Student, The University of Melbourne
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
University Student - attend lectures, study, do assignments, sit exams. Nudge founder and Chairman - build and maintain relationships with people, develop and continually refine the business model and business. Robogals founder - take on and champion development projects that will strengthen Robogals' name and help Robogals fulfill on its objectives of increasing the number of girls who study science, engineering and technology courses at a tertiary level. mew founder and mechanical engineer - go to manufacturing labs and manufacture robotics components, have weekly meetings with the team to make sure everything is going okay, come up with projects that will increase robotics learning and teaching practices.
Why did you choose engineering?
I study a bachelor of mechatronics engineering and computer science. I chose to study mechatronics engineering because I was fascinated by the potential of robots in society and because I want to be a part of the movement having robots shape our world. I was motivated by Larry Page and Sergey Brin to study Computer Science back in high school, because I read articles about the Google guys and was so inspired by what they had achieved that I thought computer science would be the perfect complement to my engineering degree. I also studied a lot of maths and science during high school and really enjoyed the challenges they presented.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I went to school in the city of Cairns, Queensland, Australia. When I was in high school, about 120 000 people lived in Cairns. It is the closest city to the Great Barrier Reef, and a stone's throw away from the Daintree - a naturally beautiful city, so a lot of the economy is driven by tourism. I graduated salutorian in 2006 and went to the University of Melbourne for my Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronics)/ Bachelor of Computer Science. During my first year, a friend encouraged me to apply to go on exchange, so I applied to go to Imperial College London. The exchange with Imperial College was only allowed for the mechanical engineering part of my degree, so I took first-year, second-year and third-year mechanical engineering subjects (but smuggled in 2 second-year electrical engineering subjects and 2 business school subjects for fun.) The variety was great! I don't have any degrees yet - I'm still studying at university!
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
Engineering students typically spend their days in lectures, tutorials and participating in clubs and societies during working hours.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
The best thing about being an engineering student is studying and learning about all these fascinating topics in science and then applying them to real-world situations. It's about asking yourself, "what's another way I can do this?" "how can I make this better? Cheaper? Faster?" The thinking skills you acquire are invaluable.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
My proudest accomplishment to date is Robogals Inc. Robogals is a not-for profit student organization at the University of Melbourne and at Imperial College, which aims to promote science and technology amongst young female school students (ages 10-14) in order to ultimately increase female enrollment in engineering and science courses at universities. The students volunteer at schools to give LEGO Robotics lessons using LEGO Mindstorms NXT kits. We design the lessons to make them a fun and exciting learning experience. I began it last year, in July 2008. We did quite a bit, teaching 126 girls from 4 different schools over August to October, with participation from about 80 university students. I'm proud that we have impacted so many young girls and so many university leaders in such a short time. Then when I went to London, I set it up again so that English school girls could also learn the delights of LEGO robotics. I have many plans for the future of Robogals!
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
The biggest challenge for me began even before my engineering degree - it was that I didn't have enough money to do a degree. So I studied very, very diligently during high school and worked all summer to save up. By the time I left my hometown, I had enough saved up, support from my parents and support from the government that I could survive the year. Fortunately, a month after I went down to Melbourne, I received an annual scholarship for the duration of my degree, which made my life considerably easier! I am so thankful to Bob and Helen Paterson for their scholarship and support.
Please tell us a little about your family.
My parents separated when I was 1 month old and subsequently divorced. I have an older brother who is three-and-a-half years older than me, and we have both always lived with my mum. My mum worked very hard (sometimes 7 days a week!) as a room attendant (cleaner) to support my brother and my education. Now she still lives in Cairns, while my brother is in Hong Kong studying his Masters in anthropology. My father has remarried and I now have 3 step-brothers and 2 step-sisters!
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
My short-term goals are to graduate from university, to manage a successful business and to have Robogals thrive internationally. My long-term goals are to get married, to be the CEO of a robotics company, and to have Robogals be an enormous force to be reckoned with.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
My mother has definitely had the greatest influence on my life choices. She has always encouraged me to participate, be enthusiastic, and be passionate. She is the one who told me anything is possible, and that though she will miss me, to follow opportunities wherever they led me. Whenever I think of someone who has dignity, pride and passion, and believes in service to others and hard work, I think of my mother.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
If you like maths and science and get inspired by the possibility of technology - go for it! It is a wonderful and rewarding journey that will stretch and challenge your mind, and give you tools to help change the world.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
One of my hobbies is blogging. I blog at http://blog.maritacheng.com/ about entrepreneurship and how people can act effectively and powerfully in any situation. I find it very empowering as it reinforces to myself the qualities which I value, and it's a way of sharing myself with the world.