But Seriously, What is Engineering?

Finding Your Tribe

September 03, 2020 EAIT Marketing Season 1 Episode 3
But Seriously, What is Engineering?
Finding Your Tribe
But Seriously, What is Engineering?
Finding Your Tribe
Sep 03, 2020 Season 1 Episode 3
EAIT Marketing

What's it really like to study engineering? And how can your university experience help to shape your career?

In this week’s episode of But Seriously, What is Engineering? we hear from two recent UQ graduates and best friends, Karminee Karuna and Karen Zhou.

Whether they were sharing a dorm on a semester abroad supporting disadvantaged communities or championing diversity together through UQ's Women in Engineering program, their friendship and support has seen them achieve some amazing things. And they're just getting started.

To learn more about studying engineering at UQ visit the Future Students website.

Show Notes Transcript

What's it really like to study engineering? And how can your university experience help to shape your career?

In this week’s episode of But Seriously, What is Engineering? we hear from two recent UQ graduates and best friends, Karminee Karuna and Karen Zhou.

Whether they were sharing a dorm on a semester abroad supporting disadvantaged communities or championing diversity together through UQ's Women in Engineering program, their friendship and support has seen them achieve some amazing things. And they're just getting started.

To learn more about studying engineering at UQ visit the Future Students website.

1. [Music plays]

2. Kartikee     
Welcome. You’re listening to But Seriously What is Engineering, with me, Kartikee Gupta. This is a podcast series from The University of Queensland that explores all corners of engineering. Today we talk to two of our recent engineering graduates, Karminee Karuna and Karen Zhou, who believe that forming your tribe at university is key to succeeding through an engineering degree.  Welcome to you both.

3. Karminee   
Hello.  Thanks for having us.  

4. Karen         
Hey Kartikee, thanks for having us.  

5. Kartikee     
Karminee, I’m keen to hear from you first, what your inspiration for studying engineering was. 

6. Karminee   
There was a couple of factors.  I had really encouraging maths teachers when I was in primary school that kind of sparked my interest and from there, I really enjoyed the science subjects in high school and I also did something called the National Youth Science Forum and during that time I was part of like an engineering team and from there it just kind of set the engineering and the type of problem solving and the type of diverse career options.  

7. Kartikee     
Is there any engineers in your family?

8. Karminee   
There’s one uncle but I had never talked to him about his career or anything and yeah, my parents were actually a little bit surprised and maybe a tiny bit resistant about me as a female going into engineering.  Pretty happy about it now.  

9. Kartikee     
Yeah, and how did you manage to have conversations with them for I guess them to encourage you to study engineering?

10. Karminee   
Yeah well, I just said that it did play to my strengths and my interests.  Like I said before, with the diverse career options, there’s a lot of paths to go down.  Yeah, you’re always going to have a job if you’re hard working and things like that.  I don’t know, just broke the ice and said this is what I want to do.  

11. Kartikee     
Karen, over to you now.  You mentioned you’re, you were worried about your biggest challenge at university being making new friends and I guess forming your tribe.

12. Karen         
Yeah, exactly.  

13. Kartikee     
Tell us a bit about that.  

14. Karen         
When I went into uni to study engineering there was only about two or three other people from my  high school that came with me and of the two, I was only really good friends with one of them, so and I thought oh, this is going to be interesting, I only have one friend going in, I’m going from high school where you have such, or you’ve been with these people for five or six years and you formed a really good group and going into uni I was just worried that would I meet the right people again, would I make the right friends and safe to say, I can definitely attest that you do meet all the right people at uni, I think when you go to uni there are so many diverse people that come in and I’m sure you, whoever you are, you’ll find your tribe and I’d really like to think that my tribe, like Karminee’s main part of it, but my tribe really got me through uni because you really rely on your friends when it comes to like crunch time for assignments and exams and also as a support network to get you through the day and all your courses.  

15. Kartikee     
How did you meet your tribe?  Was it through your lectures or was it through other networking events at university?

16. Karen         
How did we meet, Karminee?

17. Karminee   
I think it’s a combination of classes and…

18. Karen         
Friends of a friend.

19. Karminee   
…yeah, and mutual friends and like university society events.  A lot of my friends came from that, because you just hang out all the time.

20. Karen         
Yeah.  A lot of my friends came from when I went into engineering on day one, I saw a person that I hadn’t seen for quite a while but we were friends back in primary school and through her, I sort of met people she knew and then the net just kind of got cast bigger and bigger and definitely meeting people from uni events, especially when you get into your later years and you start specialising in whichever discipline that you want to go into and I think we, Karminee and I found our chemical engineering friend group and we’re still friends with these people today and they’re just awesome people.

21. Kartikee     
Yeah.  And it’s great that the friends you’ve made at university you’ve kept in touch with, cause that’s really important as well when you go and work in the industry, to have that connection and support network out there as well.  Karminee, you, before we started this podcast, you mentioned you moved out of your comfort zone, cause you moved out of  home, you moved to a big city, you’re a country girl, I believe.  You went to uni and that’s a big change, you had to make new friends, so there was lots of changes coming your way.  So I’m keen to hear how you managed that.  

22. Karminee   
I grew up my whole life in Townsville, which is a lot smaller than Brisbane, and you know everyone there and especially in that high school space, to a really big uni which UQ is and to a really big course, cause engineering in first year had about 1000 students.  So there was a lot to take in.  I think when you move cities you just have to kind of put yourself out there to find friends and that support network and try and be social and go to events and just put in that effort to get to know people and hang out and things like that and every time your relationships just start to form naturally.  In terms of managing uni and what that was all like, it was a learning curve because it’s so independent compared to school, it’s really up to you what you do and when you get things done.  You’re not watched on and you’re not spoon fed.  And that was just about setting goals and like keeping a timeline, keeping calendars, making sure I kind of knew what was coming up so then I can prioritise my time and get a good social life as well as a good study life in, throughout the whole degree.  And I think Karen would be pretty similar in that way.

23. Karen         
Were you a time tabley person back in high school?  Did you have to train yourself to sort of emphasise that side of organisation more?

24. Karminee   
Yeah, I think in high school I was a little bit time tabley but it was just way easier than uni, just because of the workload and the independence that you have at uni.  I had to definitely get better at it, especially with like the semester at uni, knowing, you know, week 10, 11 it’s going to ramp up, got to know when my exams are, what order they are to prioritise the different courses.  Yeah, so definitely had to get better at it and I think I got better at studying, as you know, cause we spent a lot of hours together.

25. Karen         

26. Karminee   
Just at desks for like…

27. Karen         

28. Karminee   
…a whole day or more. 

29. Kartikee     
So, I guess both of you had lost of changes coming your way, Karminee, especially you, you were, you know, you had a lot of changes, you moved to university, and that’s, that’s a challenge.  Was there a time that you felt a bit lost and how you would overcome that situation?

30. Karminee   
Definitely moving cities was a big step and no one from my high school really came to UQ with me or no one I was close to.  I was fortunate to live with my sister at the time, so I had that support network at home.  But otherwise, I think you form friends fast when you spend time studying at uni, like some of my best memories from first year with developing those friendships was just like long study sessions and then, you know, going to get Maccas at odd hours together and things like that.  There’s support services that you could always reach out to, so I knew I was, I was lost with what discipline to pick in engineering, like it’s all pretty clear that you can reach out to an academic advisor and I took that step when I was in first year to kind of help me, yeah, direct what courses I should be doing in the following semester.  That was how I dealt with that feeling of being lost and not having the support.  

31. Kartikee     
Actually, I’m keen to hear, you mentioned you had a little bit of couldn’t decide what discipline to pick.  How did you choose chemical engineering?

32. Karminee   
Yeah, so when I came into uni and UQ in particular, I thought I would do civil and environmental engineering.  I’ve always had a really keen interest on the environment and in doing more work in that space.  In my first semester I did a thermodynamics course and I really enjoyed that and you know, the pamphlets or the academic advisor will tell you that if you enjoy thermodynamics, it’s more geared towards mechanical engineering or chemical engineering.  So from there I was left with two options, chemical engineering you could do with the environmental dual major.  So, I got that environmental side and I got the thermodynamics side that I knew I enjoyed from practising it.  So that’s what based my decision.

33. Kartikee     
Let’s talk traveling now.  So you’ve both been overseas as part of exchange programs.  So I’m keen to hear your experiences of studying a semester abroad.

34. Karen         
Probably the best experience of my life during university.  Karminee and I both went to Denmark together to study for six months and we were roomies as well in our share house.  

35. Kartikee     
Wow, you’ve really spent a lot of time together.

36. Karen         

37. Karminee   
Yeah, our bed was, you know, four metres apart, for six months.

38. Karen         
Yeah, we were put in a double room together.  Initially we thought it was like separate rooms within the same house, but then I arrived at the house first and I walked in and went oh, there’s no wall at all, its, we’re in this together.  I think that was when we became like really a lot closer during that experience, I mean we were in the same room, so.

39. Karminee   
We got a lot closer, exchange was, was awesome, as Karen said.  We were lucky to go with some other people that we studied with as well, so we organised a lot of travel with them to the rest of Europe during weekends, but it was also cool to study at a different university and see how they do things and what they focus on in terms of lectures and course types and things like that.  

40. Kartikee     
How is it different to Australia, like what’s the system out there?

41. Karminee   
The two big things we noticed was our final exams are all 100% of the course grade, so here we have like assignments and things to build up and then your exam is, you know, 60% of your course.  And then the second thing would be the class sizes, they were a lot smaller.  So, you got, had more one on one time with your lecturer and I thought yeah, that was, that was really interesting and really nice, especially when we were not from there.  Made us feel a little bit more secure.  How did you find that, Karen?

42. Karen         
I definitely found that the lack of assignments and the one big exam at the end was pretty daunting, but in retrospect when I think back, I think there was tonnes of support opportunities available, because of the small class sizes, the lecturer, that would be the main interface you’d go to because at UQ if you have a question you’d go to your tutor and then your tutor will answer it and but in this instance, you go directly to the lecturer and they carve out time to answer all the questions for you.  I think that was one of the main things that I found different, because you can go straight to I guess the person delivering the content and hear it straight away from themselves.

43. Kartikee     
And did you have to learn the language or with the, was the teaching in English?

44. Karen         
No, thank goodness, cause Danish is really hard.  

45. Karminee   
Yeah.  Danish is super hard, it took Princess Mary, you know, a good number of years with private education.  Thank God we, we could just do all our courses in English.

46. Kartikee     
Did you try and learn it?

47. Karen         
I learnt very, very basic phrases which I don’t really remember anymore, like Duolingo phrase like I want to eat an apple and I’m not sure when you’d use it but it’s a basic phrase apparently that you learn in lesson one.

48. Karminee   
Karen also memorised the Danish from the train announcements, cause we were so used to them whenever we’d go into the city.  So, I’m sure she could still recite that today, but no, I was pretty poor at attempting another language.

49. Kartikee     
Yeah.  But all important things you memorise, right?

50. Karminee   

51. Karen         

52. Kartikee     
The friends and the networks you made overseas, do you still keep in touch with them?

53. Karen         
I still keep in touch with them here and there.  Definitely for sure after we first left, we were very excited, but you know as time goes on, things, your friendships and connections do tend to wane a bit.  I still have all them on Link-, all my social media on LinkedIn, and I see what they’re doing and some of them have come and visited us in Australia and I’m sure once we’re able to, I’d love to go and see them again.  And a lot of the people we met were engineering students as well and I can definitely see how a couple of years in the future, when, I’m not sure if this will happen, but if I ever choose to work overseas, I have all those connections that I can talk to and get their advice in terms of how should I go about looking for jobs in this country or this area of the world.

54. Kartikee     
Yeah, fantastic, actually, that was going to be my next question, would either of you go work overseas and where?

55. Karminee   
100%.  Yeah, it’s kind of the plan in the next decade to spend a year or two working overseas.  I think you just get way more immersed into a culture if you like work and live there properly, rather than just travelling for a holiday.  It’s a plan, as terms of where, no idea, just depends on what opportunities come my way which I guess you can’t really predict.

56. Kartikee     
Karminee, you, when you were at uni, you were heavily involved with Engineers Without Borders.  Tell us a little bit more about that.  

57. Karminee   
With Engineers Without Borders I first went to Nepal with them, doing a humanitarian engineering stint.  That was for two and a half weeks and it’s a really good program and UQ supports the funding for that.  That was amazing, cause getting to understand humanitarian engineering side of things was so different to what our normal courses were, which are very technical.  From there, I did some work with them in the student society, so just organising workshops and things like that, so that people at uni can get a better grasp of appropriate technology and humanitarian engineering.  The focus was on trying to help people that live in villages and so we spent a few days workshopping and then we stayed in the village for five days and the point of that stay was to really understand their way of life and not to go in with any preconceptions about what they, what they need, what we think they need, we should be listening to them and living their life to kind of understand how we could make improvements.  We all got split into little teams and worked on potential projects.  Ours for example was as simple as how they carry water from the springs.  It’s pretty laborious and it’s a lot of tension on the heads, the way they hold the basket, so ours was as simple as taking that tension and putting it to the hips like a normal backpack.  So yeah, ours was very simple but it went all the way up to like should they consider composting or a different way of garbage disposal, because of the fumes from burning garbage, so it was a whole span of things, but being immersed in that culture and living in the village was really, really good.

58. Kartikee     
I’m keen to hear what sort of stimulated your passion into this program.  

59. Karminee   
Being able to put your skills as an engineer into something that helps people so directly is really cool, like often if you work on big projects it’s a bit removed from the direct impact to society, like it’s improving society but it’s not that one on one seeing someone’s life change in front of you.  So that was a factor.  I was just keen to learn about what humanitarian engineering was cause I didn’t know a lot about it at the time.  I love travel, so an opportunity to go overseas and learn about a new culture was there, but also the people you meet.  So, we were in a group of 25 other university students from around Australia and plus the mentors on top of that, like that’s a really good network that I have now, to reach out if they’re working on something interesting that I would want to jump on board with or just friends as well.  

60. Kartikee     
What you designed for them, did that get implemented and used?  

61. Karminee   
I’m not too sure for this trip.  So the humanitarian engineering summit with Engineers Without Borders is more about a learning experience for the university students.  Because you’re only there for two and a half weeks, like realistically you’re not going to make big changes that last, but Engineers Without Borders as a whole, they do some incredible work and you know, they spend six months to a year in those communities before they implement a change. So it was more the summit itself was more for the student learning and to get us involved and to know about this kind of space of work.  

62. Kartikee     
And what a great way to be involved with a program whilst you’re at a university following your love for travelling and helping people, such a fantastic initiative, I’ve always been so inspired by the work Engineers Without Borders do and guess your, hearing your involvement in it, it has been quite inspirational for myself.  Have you been involved in any other programs like this one?

63. Karminee   
That’s another really cool part about Engineering that I didn’t know about when I was in high school but experienced at university, there’s just so many opportunities and programs that you can do throughout your degree.  That could either count towards your courses or just be a really good learning opportunity for you.  So, following Nepal I went to India for a month, actually in January this year, just before the COVID stuff got crazy, and I spent a month there working on similar things with humanitarian engineering but also getting female entrepreneurs in communities in India that are below the poverty line.  So, that was really good to immerse in that world, understand their struggles, put some of the things I learnt from Engineers Without Borders into practice in this context with a company called Pollinate Energy who were doing some very excellent and real work on the ground in India and Nepal.

64. Kartikee     
Both of you actually have been student leaders for three consecutive years supporting the Women in Engineering program here at UQ.  Tell us about your drive and passion to support gender equity programs like this one.  

65. Karen         
For me personally, I think everyone knows that in engineering it’s quite a male dominated industry and for sure it’s improving as the years go on and on.  But my main drive of wanting to support these diversity programs, especially ones for high school students is because when I was in high school I had no, like I never considered engineering, I kind of always thought it’s for the boys, it’s, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find an area which I’ll enjoy.  I think it was only through talking to mentors and also some teachers at my school, that I realise that engineering is so broad and it’s not just sitting in a room doing math all day or going to a construction site.  And if you want to do that, that’s totally fine as well, but I think there’s tonnes of different opportunities and I’d like to just sort of let the younger generation know, especially the young female high school students, that I have been, if you’re thinking about and you’re worried about not being able to find your niche, I’ve been in that position, I know what it’s like and I really encourage you to sort of explore the option and to read and listen to female engineers that are really changing the world with the work that they’re doing.

66. Karminee   
Yeah, that’s completely right and I’ve, I think I’ve said this before as well, that engineering does open the door to many opportunities, you’d, and like you said, you just don’t have to sit at a desk and do design work, you can be travelling around the world doing all these amazing things, you could be working on mine sites, you could, you could even be taking another career, but using your engineering skills to take that career.

67. Karen         
Yeah, for sure.

68. Kartikee     
Karen, did you have any engineers in your family?

69. Karen         
I actually had an older cousin who’s a female who studied at UQ, she did civil engineering.  But she lives overseas, so growing up I didn’t really have her influence a lot.  Because she was an engineer, my parents knew that it was a fantastic career and she was doing really great things and she was succeeding at her career, so my parents were actually pretty encouraging of me to sort of consider engineering, it was more myself that had the reservations.

70. Kartikee     
And that’s what you need around you, when you’ve got that little bit of doubt…

71. Karen         

72. Kartikee     
…you need that support network to encourage you to make that next step.  I’m really glad that your parents were quite encouraging and you were able to pick the degree that you wanted to.

73. Karen         

74. Kartikee     
Karminee, what about you? 

75. Karminee   
My passion for the Women in Engineering program kind of just sparked out of a passion for equality and as Karen said, like the industry right now is male dominated so I feel like there’s a lot of work to be done in the space, until we get to a point where female and males have equal opportunities to enter this workforce and yeah, and pick these careers.  And also, like Karen said, like I had encouragement when I was at school from great teachers that made me really keen to pursue this no  matter, you know, what gender, so I wanted other students to feel that way as well.  Like they can do anything they want.  

76. Kartikee     
Yeah, yeah, exactly.  And I mean, both of you, as I mentioned before, you’d been student leaders for three years.  Tell us a little bit about how you were able to inspire some of the younger generations to pursue a career in engineering.

77. Karen         
The best part about being the student leader was being able to go to all the high schools and present to an audience.  We, I think we presented to, all the way down to grade 8 to 12, I think we even did some primary school presentations.  And just being able to tell them about have you considered engineering, you know that you can do all of these different opportunities and you can go down all these pathways and you can definitely use these skills and transfer them to different industries, you can travel, you can do all of this and just making them aware and seeing, I think the best part about it was for me being able to talk one on one with students who had questions afterwards.  I remember talking to this one girl during my first year of Women in Engineering and then two years later in my final year she came up to me at like a first year uni event and I was like I remember talking to you a couple of years at…

78. Kartikee     
Oh, fantastic.

79. Karen         
…this event and I was like wow, you remembered me, that’s so, that’s.

80. Kartikee     

81. Karen         
I was really surprised.

82. Karminee   
You are, you are pretty cool Karen, so.

83. Karen         
Oh, thanks, thanks.  I prob-, thanks.

84. Karminee   
Another big part of the Women in Engineering program is retention right, like we’d go to high school students and trying to encourage them and spark their interest in engineering but we also want to retain the female students that we do get enrolling in first year, so I really enjoyed that aspect as well, and being able to relate to them and say you know, I was in first year, I was confused, I wasn’t sure if this was for me, I wasn’t sure if I was up to it.  All those doubts that they’re kind of facing and talk to them about it and you know, make them feel a little bit more supported and like they have those options for people to talk to if they’re struggling.  That was the part I really enjoyed about it as well.

85. Karen         
The best part for that as student leader you can do is just to let the person feel comfortable and to let them know that if you’re struggling that’s totally normal.  You’re not alone, a lot of people feel that way too, we definitely did and let’s talk about it and walk through the steps on what to do next.

86. Kartikee     
Yeah, no, that’s fantastic and like you said before, in the beginning of this podcast, how important it is to have a support network and really be able to, for you guys to be able to help first year engineering students, that must be such a great feeling to make that happen.  Well, we’ve reached the end of the episode, but before we go, we’re going to get to know you a little bit better, so are you ready for some fast facts?

87. Karen         
I’m excited.  

88. Karminee   
Alright, I’m sweating…

89. Karen         
Let’s do this.

90. Karminee   
…but let’s do it. 

91. Kartikee     
Okay.  What’s the one fact that listeners wouldn’t know about you?

92. Karen         
I absolutely really love to bake.  I think that’s pretty common now that we’re all in isolation, we love baking banana breads but for me my passion is making bread, so I’ve gone down the sourdough pathway.  Like, I’m sure a lot of other people have, but that’s one thing that I’m doing now.

93. Karminee   
Mine would be that I listen to more Bollywood music than western music and my friends and partner and not supportive of it, but I do it anyway.

94. Kartikee     
Yeah.  They will grow to love it.

95. Karminee   

96. Kartikee     
Who or what is your biggest influence in life?

97. Karminee   
I’ll jump in because that’s easy.  My sister, she’s 10 years older than me and has kind of been a second mum in a lot of ways and she’s my moral compass and things like that, so she’s, and she’s just really like calm and a good person so she’s definitely influenced me a lot and whenever I aspire to be better, a lot of it’s based around her.

98. Kartikee     
Oh, lovely.

              Karen          That’s awesome.  For me, probably my parents.  For I take away from them a really good work ethic and a drive to achieve better because they certainly worked very hard to get to where they are now and sacrifice a lot and they’re my inspiration to sort of get up every day and go to work and to push through and yeah.  

99. Kartikee     
Finally, what’s the one piece of music that best describes you?

100. Karen         
Whoa, music.

101. Kartikee     
Maybe Karminee, we know your answer now, Bollywood.

102. Karminee   
Yeah, like I don’t know the names of the Bollywood songs, I just listen to it.  

103. Karen         
It’s so broad, I feel like my one piece of music changes every single day depending on my mood.

104. Kartikee     
What’s it today?

105. Karen         
What’s it today?  I’m not sure, I think I’ve been revisiting my old classics that I used to love to listen to last year, and honestly, it just changes depending on the day, it depends if I’m studying.  But I guess maybe now, I’ve just been getting really into, so I used to really like this artist back in high school, like I’m going full nostalgia.  I used to really like this artist called Porter Robinson, so I’m listening back from that.  Yeah.

106. Kartikee     
Nice.  Lovely.  Well, thank you, thanks for coming, it was great to have you both.

107. Karminee   
Awesome, thanks Kartikee.

108. Karen 
Thanks for having us. 

110. Kartikee     
If you’re enjoying this podcast make sure you like and subscribe wherever you get your podcast, and don’t forget to leave a review, it’ll help others to find the series. My name is Kartikee Gupta.