Getting the most out of your Engineering Degree

Project-based learning, practical experience, involvement with the engineering and STEM student ambassador programs, leading the Women in Engineering group and delivering engagement and development activities for current and future engineering students … These are just a few of Dominique MacDonald’s highlights from her time studying the Bachelor of Electrical and Electonic Engineering at Griffith University. Dom, 2020 graduate, has put her skills and knowledge into practice from her first year of study and has secured a position with mining giant Rio Tinto as a graduate robotics engineer. Read more of Dom’s story below. 

Why did you choose to study Engineering at Griffith? What sparked your original interest in this area? 

Towards the end of Year 12, I still was unsure as to what I wanted to pursue in university. I chose engineering upon the advice of a career’s counsellor within my school, who suggested that engineering aligned well with the subjects I studied at the time (Physics, Maths B & C). Prior to commencing the degree, I had no idea of the type of work an engineer could be involved within, and only had a vague notion of the different engineering disciplines. Fortunately, through having the opportunity to speak with students and lecturers, I was able to very quickly gain a deeper understanding of the breadth of different types of projects an engineer could work on. Their passion for the field excited me, and I suppose that they indirectly sparked my interest and made me more confident in my decision to study engineering! 

What are the highlights of your study at Griffith? 

It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific moment as the highlight of my studies at Griffith. I have had so many brilliant opportunities and experiences that otherwise would not have been available to me, and I have been able to meet such a wide array of people – incoming students, current students, industry professionals, and everyone in between. Most of these experiences stem from the numerous opportunities on offer to volunteer within the community. I’ve found myself sharing my passion for engineering at events ranging from Open Days, and even to the Science Tent at Splendour in the Grass. I absolutely loved volunteering at these types of events and seeing the wonder and amusement on adults and kids faces alike. 

Can you tell us about your involvement in the Women in Engineering team? 

It never really hit me how few women in engineering there were before I walked into the engineering orientation session. When the engineering clubs and societies did their introductions, I was curious to see that there was a Women in Engineering (WIE) group. I had already met a few of the other female engineering students – we had sought each other out quite early on. It had never struck me that this bond could extend beyond our cohort. I and a few of the other first-year female engineers attended the first WiE meeting, and sure enough, there were girls from all cohorts and all disciplines of engineering. It was a surreal feeling, to be surrounded by passionate and motivated people much further along in their degrees, who were willing to provide guidance and advice to us just starting our degrees. 

I was able to learn more about what engineering actually is through interactive activities with current or future engineers

Within WiE, we focus on both the professional development of current women studying engineering and the encouragement of younger girls to pursue careers in engineering or STEM through outreach activities. This is a cause I am particularly passionate about, as it is an opportunity which was not as prevalent when I went through school – to be able to learn more about what engineering actually is through interactive activities with current or future engineers. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to lead our team in 2019, during which we hosted over 20 outreach activities for primary to high school students – demonstrating new activities and projects to younger girls within our local community.
 
WiE was a big part of my undergraduate experience and has always been a community where I felt comfortable to be myself.

How do you think what you have learnt at Griffith will help you in the workforce? 

The technical and interpersonal skills I have gained from the classroom and professional development events alike have prepared me well for the workforce. In a technical sense, the variety of topics we cover between courses has really opened my eyes to the variety of technicalities in which an engineer may specialise in. Not only this, but it has also shown me the importance of being adaptable, to be able to learn and apply new concepts as solutions for different projects.  
 
With respect to interpersonal skills, a big part of engineering is being able to communicate the work you are doing to your co-workers, whether they come from a technical or non-technical background. I feel as though the coursework and assessments undertaken throughout my degree have developed my skills in this respect, thus also helping me in the workforce.  

Can you tell us about your internship/work experience? Where did/do you work? How did you secure that experience/work? 

I have been fortunate to have had a few different types of work experience throughout my studies. Between the second and third year of my degree, I was able to work within CSIRO’s Data 61’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group (RASG). In particular, I had the opportunity to interface with a tracked robotics system for the DARPA Subterranean challenge team, by wiring the robot and programming it to drive with joystick control. Working within the RASG was an incredible experience, and I was able to see firsthand an important application of robotics within the field, as well as able to develop my technical skills beyond coursework. 

Beyond my experience within the RASG, during my third year of study, I was also fortunate to secure a role within Bio Molecular Systems as an R&D Software Developer, where I am still working today. Within my role, I have had the opportunity to implement changes and improvements to the software for one of our robotics systems for liquid handling, whilst simultaneously learning a lot more about the standards and considerations associated with robotics for medical applications. I have also had the opportunity to work on the mechatronics side of the robotics system, which has involved prototyping improvements to the current protocols in place for production and quality control of the robotics system.  

There were so many doors open to me with an Electrical Engineering degree. I had the flexibility to apply for graduate roles for such a wide variety of companies – from software and cybersecurity consultancies, to robotics, and even signals processing roles.

In 2021, I will be moving into a graduate role with Rio Tinto as a robotics engineer, which is an opportunity I am extremely excited for. Having already seen the application of autonomous systems in CSIRO’s RASG, I’m particularly keen to see how automation is applied to mining sites, to improve safety standards associated with the industry. It will definitely be a change from the smaller robotics systems I have been working with in the past! 

What was your experience finding employment after university? How did Griffith help you during this time? 

There were so many doors open to me with an Electrical Engineering degree. I had the flexibility to apply for graduate roles for such a wide variety of companies – from software and cybersecurity consultancies to robotics, and even signals processing roles. With the variety of learnings, I gained through my coursework, I felt confident to apply for these roles, despite not being a Software engineer by degree.  
 
I also feel that the variety of career events I was able to attend throughout my degree, including networking evenings, resume workshops, mock interviews, and many more, equipped me with everything I needed to feel confident whilst applying for graduate roles. For me, taking on these opportunities and thus building my confidence was integral to being able to find employment after university.  

Any advice to people considering an Engineering degree? 

Go for it – there is so much more to engineering than you could begin to comprehend. Even as an Electrical/Electronics graduate, there is still plenty of variety in the work which I could undertake. It’s such a broad field that there’s always the flexibility to gravitate towards projects in which you have more interest. And even if you’re not sure what you’re interested in, it’s a great way to find out.  

Quite simply, the world is a place full of things that we can improve. And engineers help to find, prototype, and implement solutions to improve those things! 

To learn more about studying Engineering visit the Griffith University website.

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