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Tina at work

Student Story: Studying STEM in the WA Capital

18/06/2020 |

If there’s anything Tina Yang knows a lot about, it’s hard work. Originally from China, Tina has lived, worked and studied in Perth for the last five years, juggling not only her studies but plenty of extracurricular activities, jobs and academic prizes too. 

But, she’s also found time to enjoy Perth’s more laidback side: Tina has happily found that the city’s natural landscape and relaxed lifestyle suit her quite well.

“I’m a nature person and I love spending lazy afternoons at the beach with my friends. Perth is quiet but with fantastic hotspots for food and shopping. The city has a great culture – it’s open to a diverse range of people and very welcoming to internationals.”

We spoke to Tina about her experience studying a Master of Chemical Engineering at the University of Western Australia (UWA), being a woman in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and her exciting plans for the future. 

Leaving home

When Tina finished high school in China, she began looking at different university options and she was immediately drawn to the adventure of studying overseas. 

“I wanted to have a different university experience to my friends at home,” she said. 

Tina’s decision to start studying in Perth was made easier by the fact she already had a family member living there.  

“I was only eighteen at the time and my mum was very protective. But I had an aunt that lived in Perth. And because China and Perth share the same time zone, it meant I could easily communicate with my family back home.”

Tina on a bench at UWA

University life and studying in Perth

Tina is currently completing a Master of Chemical Engineering at UWA. She initially decided to pursue chemical engineering because she had enjoyed studying chemistry in high school.

“I had thought the degree would be just like chemistry, but it’s actually completely different,” she aid. “It’s not an easy subject and it has pushed me outside of my comfort zone.”

Tina’s course involves working on a range of different projects over the academic year.

“Our final year design projects involve designing a plan over a year with our teammates. The projects aren’t about being right or wrong, but about making good engineering assumptions and justifying them. We test our design shortcomings and potential impacts under different conditions. We undertake drawings, modelling, presentations, meetings and report writing.” 

Chemical engineering offers many exciting opportunities to work in innovative sectors such as oil and gas, mineral processing, and renewable and sustainable energy. Tina is particularly excited about the future opportunities that her degree can offer.

“I really enjoy travelling and learning about different lifestyles around the world. Chemical engineering could potentially lead to an international placement. There’s so much potential to contribute to society and impact the industry in my own way.” 

For Tina, one of the best parts about studying at UWA is the flexibility around her schedule. The university’s class allocation system allows for students to organise their own class times. This results in a much more manageable academic calendar for students.

“I was really surprised at UWA’s flexibility,” she said. “I control my own timetable which lets me undertake a wide range of activities such as part-time work, clubs and social activities. It has taught me how to manage my own time and gives me the time to explore who I am and what I want.” 

Tina on a beach

Getting involved 

When Tina isn’t studying or working, she keeps busy by getting involved with clubs, societies, and extracurricular activities. 

“I like to be competitive to prepare for after graduation,” she said. “I’m part of The Society of Petroleum Engineering, the Chemical Engineering Club, and Women in Subsea Engineering. I also participate in the MentorLink program at UWA, which connects students with industry professionals.”   

Despite having a busy schedule, Tina still takes the time to relax and recover from a big day.  

“I like to play badminton with my friends and go to the beach to relax. I know how to treat myself after a busy day.” 

Women in STEM 

Tina suggests that confidence, rather than ability, is the biggest barrier to women in STEM studies. 

“There are a really good number of female students in the class, who are all smart, self-driven, hardworking, and ambitious. But we don’t feel as comfortable standing up and being the leader of the team.” 

A 2015 OECD report suggests that this begins at a young age. Although there are no reported statistical differences in mathematics performance between young students, the report finds that girls are less confident than boys when it comes to pursing mathematics. Tina remains positive about the future of gender equality in STEM subjects and she advises other women to believe in themselves throughout their STEM studies. 

“Many companies are actively working towards achieving gender equality in the workforce and there are great opportunities for women in the future. Be confident. It can feel intimidating to be in a room full of men but if you are confident then they will listen to you. There are so many successful women in the industry so don’t feel like you can’t do it,” she advised. 

“Don’t pursue STEM just because your parents are in the field or because they want you to do it. Take the career personality test to understand yourself. And if you start a degree and find that you don’t like it, then don’t be afraid to change majors – you are the master of your boat!” 

Milestones and future plans 

Chemical Engineering is a challenging degree but that hasn’t stopped Tina from achieving academic success at UWA. She has been awarded a number of academic prizes including the 2016 Chevron Chair Prize in Gas Process Engineering, the 2017 ConocoPhillips Prize in Fluid Mechanics, the 2018 Fluor Australia Prize in Materials and Manufacturing, and the 2018 UWA International Masters By Coursework Scholarship.

While Tina is very happy with her academic achievements, she treats her non-academic achievements as similarly important milestones in her journey as an international student. 

“I’ve worked seven jobs in five years. I’ve worked for two engineering companies, restaurants, coffee shops, as a Unibuddy ambassador, and as a lab demonstrator. When I first got to Perth, I had to pick up English pretty quickly, I learned to drive, and how to cook for myself. I’ve recently learned some accounting as well.” 

After Tina completes her Masters, she plans on staying in Perth for at least two years to gain some industry experience. Tina said she will consider undertaking further research in her field but wants to be sure about her topic before she commits to it. 

“I don’t want to do a PhD straight after Masters without considering it. I need to figure out what it is that I want to research. I need to have a good understanding of the subject and have a clear target of something I really want to dig into.” 

Advice for other international students

When asked what advice Tina would give to other international students considering studying in Perth, she said:

“Perth is an amazing city, so work hard but also socialise. On my first day, I tried to make as many friends as I could. We need to leave our comfort zone. It’s easier to group together with people you already know, but you won’t really experience the Western Australian university lifestyle that way. Be positive, never stop networking and remember that hard work pays off!”

Tina and friends on Rottnest Island

This article was reproduced with permission from Insider Guides. The original article appeared here.

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