Google girls bound for South Korea

Google girls bound for South Korea

Three UOW students claim sought after Google Scholarship. 

Three of UOW’s best and brightest have been recognised by tech-giant Google as part of the 2017 Women TechMakers Scholars Program.

Alanna Vial (Doctor of Philosophy in Electrical Engineering), Rhiannon Grace Bolton (Bachelor of Computer Science and Mathematics) and Lexie Condon (Bachelor of Computer Science) have been selected to travel to South Korea later this week to engage in discussions about how to improve female leadership in tech fields.

The memorial scholarship came about in recognition of the leadership work by Anita Borg, who promoted the representation of women in the field of computer science.

The award recognises the achievements of students who are studying computer science and/or working on outreach programs to support and increase the number of women interested in computer science.

Alanna Vial and Rhiannon Grace Bolton currently work as STEM ambassadors for UOW, supporting school outreach activities and promoting women in STEM.

Alanna initially chose to study electrical engineering as she wanted to improve people’s lives through developing new technologies – and to prove that a girl can do just as well as any boy (her father and brother are both electrical engineers).

“As I progressed through my degree I learnt more about how programming can be useful in developing new technologies and I was inspired to develop assistive technologies, hence I made a dementia care fall- assist wrist band,” she said in her application.

“After completing an internship at Cochlear I became even more excited about the possibility of using programming to improve people’s lives by developing technologies that assist deaf people to hear.”

Earlier this year, Alanna and Rhiannon were involved in the UOW STEM camp for girls, participating in the camp as group leaders and mentors. Alanna discussed her research and showed how programming and electronics can be used in humanitarian projects to report floods in Jakarta and prevent unnecessary deaths or injuries. Alanna and Rhiannon are both executives of the UOW Women in STEM society and helped run the recent WiSTEM Networking night and seminars on unconscious bias in the workplace.

The students will be attending the Google office in South Korea from 29 August to 1 September 2017.


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Promoting Women in STEM

Why I chose to pursue my career path…

I initially chose to do electrical engineering as I wanted to improve people’s lives through developing new technologies, I was inspired to do electrical engineering as my dad and brother both did this degree and as a girl I wanted to prove that I was just as smart as any boy and could do just as well as they did.  As I progressed through my degree I learnt more about the how programming can be useful in developing new technologies and I was inspired to develop assistive technologies, hence I made a dementia care fall assist wrist band.  After completing an internship at Cochlear I became even more excited about the possibility of using programming to improve people’s lives by developing technologies that assist deaf people to hear.

The challenges related to being a woman in STEM have been…

As a woman in engineering I have encountered times of self-doubt during my studies as an undergraduate student, where I have looked around me and viewed little to no female students, and as a result I felt very out of place.  However, I really enjoyed the challenging work that the degree provided and my grades also demonstrated that I was good at it, so I persevered through the degree.

However, once I entered the work force it was a whole other story… I scored an amazing job working as an ABB graduate engineer where I was offered the exciting opportunity to travel around Australia and the world.  At first I didn’t feel particularly isolated based on my gender, it was more based on my age, as the average employee at ABB was a 40 year old white male.  Despite this, there was a high percentage of women working at ABB, mainly due to a lot of secretarial work that needed to be completed in the office.  However, I grew very bored with the office work as I often felt like I was doing all the secretarial work so I looked for other opportunities, preferably relating to programming.  I realised that my best chance of interesting work was to work in programming PLC’s for large scale control systems.  The only downside was all the real programming work happened on site, so I had to become accustomed to a brand new world of engineering.

On site, I was one of two female engineers out of fifty within the ABB site team.   While I found the work challenging and interesting, I found the lifestyle combined with the lack of female support and role models to be unbearable, so after two years of site work I eventually quit.

I am passionate about promoting women in STEM…

Earlier this year I was involved in the UOW STEM camp for girls, this camp involved running various STEM related activities to encourage 55 girls from over 20 different high schools, aged 14-17 to choose a career in STEM.  I participated in the camp as both a group leader and mentor with individual responsibility for four girls. I also taught some STEM activities where I discussed my research and showed how programming and electronics can be used in humanitarian projects to report floods in Jakarta and prevent unnecessary deaths or injuries.

I currently work as a STEM Ambassador for the university where I run STEM activities for students in primary and high school.  These activities include making bristle bots or moving tooth brush robots, running 3D printing workshops using tinkerCAD, building electronic circuits with a raspberry pie.  I have also helped to develop workshops on making an electronic piano using an Arduino, making sandwiches by writing pseudo code and I have plans to teach students about the philosophers round table threading problem with ramen and learning how to do bubble sorts through partner dancing. 

In addition to this, I am an executive of the women in STEM society and as a postgraduate I have used my network to encourage my peers to return to the university to discuss their experiences working as women in STEM.  I have run a seminar on unconscious bias in the workplace and plan to run another seminar on return to work mums as I think these are important topics that most people don’t wish to tackle.  I also run extra coding workshops within the society aimed at people who have never coded before but want to learn.  I have also created a local IEEE WIE affinity group that I am the chair of and I regularly update my blog on working as a woman in tech.

If I had the resources of a company like Google…

I genuinely believe the only reason I struggled as an engineer was due to lack of numbers of technically minded women in the work place.  This means increasing the number of women enrolling in STEM careers, by increasing funding for STEM high school outreach activities specifically aimed at girls.  It means promoting unconscious bias training for men, using more immersive strategies such as the Devika Equal Reality virtual reality simulator and to provide extra support for women persevering in the workplace.  The last but most important change, requires a complete culture shift, where STEM careers aren’t considered a male career but simply a challenging and interesting career.  This is a much bigger challenge, however a company like google would be better equipped to change this.  The solution is simple, remove gendered marketing for children. 

Unconscious Bias in the Workplace


Unconscious Bias in the Workplace


Annie Harper, Jacqueline Jezzard and Emma Jane Baird


I recently organised an event to examine unconscious bias in the workplace so as to understand why exactly this issue has arisen in the first place and how we can work together to remove it.

The IEEE Women in Engineering Affinity Group and Women in STEM (WiSTEM) society hosted an event on Unconscious Bias in the Workplace on Monday the 27th of February 2017, from 5pm-8pm.  Annie Harper, our guest speaker, is passionate about improving the representation of women in STEM and she is using her skills to create a virtual reality simulation focusing on unconscious bias in the workplace.  This purpose of this event was to provide a forum for participants and presenters to share their stories of working in the industry when you are part of a minority group, so that these ideas can be used in Annie’s project.

We invited three past graduates to speak about their experiences in the workplace and there was also an opportunity to ask questions and for the audience to share their own experiences in the workplace.  At the conclusion of the night, all guests had the opportunity to try out Devika’s virtual reality system while enjoying subway sandwiches in the company of like-minded people.

This event was successful in providing new insights into the issues of unconscious bias in the workplace.  Some of the key insights include:

  • Gendered marketing seems to be a key reason for lack of female representation in the workforce, as in the 80’s the number of female programmers was much higher and video games were designed for both genders, however it was believed that to sell more games a specific gender should be targeted.  So the simple fact that girls received a lack of exposure to technology and video games made girls not want to choose it as a degree as the topic is foreign and boyish.
  • Reasons for why the presenters choose their degrees were discussed
    • The most popular reason was a family member, usually Father, did the degree or a similar profession.
    • Another reason was receiving strong encouragement to study harder subjects in high school such as Maths and Science, with teachers promoting healthy competition between students.
    • Co-ed team sports also helped to make girls realise they were just as capable as their male counterparts.
  • A full video of the event may be viewed here:
  • It is only through encouraging more girls to choose STEM careers that we will be able to fully remove these unconscious bias’.  This is not something that can be solved immediately but perhaps it could be gradually solved in twenty years time by encouraging every young girl, to do their best, never give up hope and to always reach for the stars.


For anyone looking to stay in touch with Annie Harper. Follow Devika.

For anyone interested in our learning program, check out Devika Learning

You can find out more about our unconscious bias application at

You can reach Annie at

Thanks for having us and for helping raise awareness of issues facing women in STEM!

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What I wish I knew about working as an engineer

As a student you become pretty familiar with the above triangle, you can either get enough sleep or get good grades or you can have a good social life and enough sleep.  The third option of having good grades and a social life is possible but not very manageable in the long term.  I’m not sure whether this is an absolutely correct approximation of student life but for the most part it holds true.

After working as an engineer, I’ve experienced a few different career paths and so I’ve developed my own work based triangle, as seen below.

When I first graduated as an electrical engineer I worked as a project engineer in Sydney, the lifestyle was pretty great due to the good location and good pay, but unfortunately the work wasn’t particularly interesting.  As a project engineer my job was mostly management rather than technical work, I was asked to organise purchase orders for new equipment and to liaise with customers and suppliers to make sure the product was delivered and paid for on time.

In my subsequent role I worked as a site control systems engineer working on the QCLNG oil and gas pipeline.  This role was much more interesting in terms of needing to troubleshoot technical issues in the control system and implementing corrections in a fast paced environment.  It was also very well paid; the downside was the lifestyle was terrible.  Having to do a 19 day swing straight with only 9 days off each month was incredibly draining.  Every day was a 12 hour shift where you would wake up at 5am, get ready and have breakfast then be on site or travelling to site by 6am.  You would then get home at 6pm have dinner and get about 2 hours to relax before you needed to go to sleep at 9pm to be fresh for the next day.  To top this off you are in the middle of nowhere, in Chinchilla, away from family and friends, lifestyle wise it is pretty terrible.  I also realised, there is no point in having lots of money if you have no time to spend it.

Currently, I am working as a research student where I get the amazing university lifestyle and the interesting work associated with solving a research problem no one else has addressed.  However, the pay is not as good a worker in Sydney or on site but I love it one-hundred times more than my other roles as I somewhat idealistically have realised that I prefer lifestyle and interesting work over money.

Please feel free to leave a comment below as to whether you believe this theory is valid in your work.



What I wish I knew about Academia?

Research can be one of the most rewarding things you do with your life, but it can also be the worst thing you do, so here is a quick list of the important things to note.

Firstly, when choosing a research topic make sure you find the topic exciting. If you aren’t interested in the area in the first place you won’t find it enjoyable and you won’t be driven by a natural curiosity to try to solve the problem.

Secondly, you need to publish as many journals as possible as that is the new academia game, which means you need to try to produce at least 5-6 journal papers by the time you finish your PhD. Fortunately, most PhD’s will allow submission by compilation so if you have multiple journals you won’t need to rewrite your PhD you can simply put the journal together in one complete document.

Thirdly, early career research grants are only offered for the first 5 years after graduating from your PhD. These grants are highly desirable as they pay a post-doc a competitive salary to research an area that they are extremely passionate about so they can get more journals. As unfortunately 6 journals aren’t enough to get a lecturing role anymore, you need at least 12-20 journals to even be considered for a lecturing role now.

So those are the key goals for a PhD student, the bar has been set very high and you may start to think what exactly makes a PhD worthwhile and why would you do it. Well there are many good reasons, for one you are your own boss. You can decide when you work when you take breaks and what you will do to achieve your goals. Your supervisor is there to guide you, but they don’t stand over your shoulder constantly making sure you are working they just try to nudge you to the finish line. The other key benefit is you get to have the complete university lifestyle for your entire career except with the huge upside of a high salary with very flexible working hours. Also once you are a lecturer you get 6 months of study leave every two years to focus on your own research, without having to worry about any teaching or governance duties. No other job allows that kind of flexibility, but after earning a PhD and publishing many Journals the lecturers have definitely earned their benefits.

What I Wish I knew about site work

Site work can be the best thing you do as an engineer in the real world but unfortunately it can also be the worst. A 19/9 roster means you get amazing pay because doing a 12-hour shift, 7 days a week for 19 days straight means huge overtime rates, you can easily earn 200K a year, but it can also mean complete and total exhaustion. However, on the upside at the end of every month you get to effectively have a 9-day holiday by squeezing all your weekends for the month into one long break.

It’s not just the big dollars that makes site great, the work can be exciting too. You get to not only see, but also interact with the equipment operating in the field, so that ordinary CAD drawing of a substation turns into an impressive and scary piece of live operating machinery. Working on a huge project means fast progressive work but it also means huge responsibility and very tight deadlines, which is great if you are after a really good challenge.

As a project engineer I worked on the ABB control system that connected the equipment in the field such as valves to the Human Machine Interface (HMI). My job was to ensure that when an operator clicked the button on the HMI to open a valve the valve would open correctly. If it didn’t I would have to troubleshoot to find out where the issue was. This meant checking that the HMI image was linked correctly similar to editing an image in VBA. If this was correct, I would check the logic in the code to make sure it was correct which was written in a language similar to C programming. It could also be coded in logic blocks with AND, OR, MUX gates etc. Next I would ensure that the Datahub linking table had the variables linked correctly so that the HMI for another vendor was linked correctly to the ABB control system. Finally, if there was still an issue I would ask the technician to check that the cable was connected to the valve correctly to resolve the issue. It was challenging work, but it was always great to feel a true sense of accomplishment after solving a tough issue it a short amount of time.

The main downside of site is often the accommodation and food isn’t particularly good and you don’t get much time to unwind each day. Also there is no escape from your colleagues and bosses as it is likely that you will all be staying at the same camp. The trick to being happy on site is to be nice to everyone and try to become good friends with the people on site, as you will spend so much time with them they will basically feel like your new family. I met one of my best friends while working on site and developed a very strong friendship through shared interests and experience. As a result, we were able to help each other through the tough times on site and make the bad days much more bearable.

But what happens when things on site get bad? How do you deal with an unruly manager? What do you do when the work is no longer interesting? I found it was fine when you only faced one of these issues, if the work is dull but you have good management you can put up with the boring work. Conversely, when the work is interesting but the management is poor you can also get through the situation pretty smoothly. However, when the work is dull and the only thing your manager seems to do is try to make it worse, this situation combined with being away from your family on site, becomes intolerable. When faced with this situation I personally didn’t know how to deal with this, I even started to notice that my mental health was being greatly affected. So I did the only thing that felt right, I quit.

How to score your dream job?

As an engineering student, you probably realise that doing an engineering degree is incredibly time consuming, so you don’t have much time for a casual job let alone to look around for an engineering job. Hopefully this post will help reduce the amount of time you spend looking for that job, by placing all the important links in one easy to find place.

The sooner you start applying for these things the better. If you can score a cadetship in your first or second year you won’t have to worry about struggling to find a job when you graduate as somewhat unfortunately company’s value work experience more than good marks. However, if you want to score one of these jobs in the first place you really need to have good marks, so it is a bit of a catch22. The other thing you have on your side is that by being a girl in engineering you can use that diversity edge to score that job. Of course being a girl in engineering doesn’t automatically mean you will get the job, but if they have two candidates running for a job who both have the same grades, leadership and teamwork skills and the only key difference is one of them is a girl and the other is a guy, being a girl will probably be enough for you to score that job.

The next most important thing to do is to apply for as many things as possible; this may seem like an exhausting task but the more things you apply for the greater your chances of scoring that dream job. The good news is most of the time you will find that these roles ask the exact same questions, so save yourself some time and save all of your questions and answers when you are applying for roles, that way all you have to do is copy and paste once you have figured out your initial responses.

The following job board only advertises jobs for companies that support female careers so this is a great place to start when it comes to looking for that dream role.

Diversity Careers Job Board

Encourage the Women Representation in Engineering

Our Women in Engineering representative, Alanna has initiated the process of forming an IEEE Women in Engineering Affinity Group in UOW.

Women in Engineering membership is FREE when you JOIN / RENEW your membership. Therefore, please add the Women in Engineering membership to your this year membership to encourage the women representation in engineering.


IEEE Lunch Time Presentation Group

Hi all,
Welcome to year 2017. This is going to be our first event for this year.

———– IEEE Lunch Time Presentation Group ———–

** The presentation sessions will be started from January 2017 to be continued fortnightly.

** The presentation session is a 20 min presentation followed by a discussion session.

** You can present anything related to your research/study or any topic which is open for discussion in the group.

** This session is conducted during the lunch time.

** You can take this opportunity to practice presentation skills as well as to find solutions to a particular problem related to your research/study.

** If you like we can provide a video clip of your presentation which you can use to analyse your presentation for future improvements.

** If you are interested in joining the group as a presenter please fill the details in the following link.