Professional Development

Engineering Your Way to Success: Challenge the Stereotypes

by Mikaela Morelli Associate Engineer, Emergent BioSolutions

Summary: Women in STEM

Sharing ideas, experiences, thoughts and advice with others looking to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is important to me (Canada needs more women in STEM!).

I am a strong advocate for the advancement of female participation in engineering. By sharing my story, I wish to help in the removal of barriers that women may face in traditionally male-dominated professions.

In Manitoba, only 17% of newly licensed engineers were women in 2019. “The lack of diversity in these fields is not due to an absence of ability, but rather, due to persisting biases and stereotypes.”

One of the barriers that young people face when looking at career options is that they don’t see themselves in those roles. I hope this article provides some insight to those considering a career in STEM.

Choosing a Career Path/University Degree

I did not always know that I wanted to be an engineer. I considered and explored other professions, researching possibilities through talking to people and searching online for a career involving science, problem solving and people. In high school, I enjoyed debating and presenting my ideas and learning in many areas, such as language arts, mathematics and sciences. However, appealing career options were not obvious to me during high school.

Fortunately, my mother set up a tour for me through WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) at the University of Manitoba, which was a game changing moment for me. A female student showed me around the Engineering Faculty. After seeing the sights in the faculty, including labs and current research, and hearing her story, I became more interested in pursuing engineering. I began to research different areas of engineering, with a special interest in biological engineering. I realized that through this degree I could learn the skills to research, design and create on my own, while hopefully making a difference in the world.

Key Takeaways:

  • Do your research. Find your dream job. Look for the position that you could see yourself in. Read articles on what the job market will look like in 5-10 years. Look into the requirements for the job(s) that you want.
  • Talk to people in the field and ask how they got to where they are. Go for job and university tours to explore the learning and professional environments. Meet people pursuing the degree. Get their opinions and imagine yourself working in this area.
  • Look into the top universities and colleges for your desired profession. Check the university admission requirements and verify this with councilors, parents, and university advisors. Ensure that you have completed or plan to complete the required high school courses.
  • If possible, take university entrance courses that may be offered through your high school, such as Calculus 1 and 2. It is a lot easier to take them in high school, and it will shorten your university degree.
  • There are many scholarships and bursaries available to apply for before and during university. Extra-curricular activities and volunteering are beneficial but not always necessary to be selected for scholarships. Often, the most important factor is your academic history.

Navigating Through Your Degree

Earning my engineering degree was not easy; it took a lot of work and determination over a five year educational journey. I quickly learned why the drop out rate is so high in the first two years of engineering. The content was difficult, the class sizes were huge, and the professors moved through the material quickly. I sometimes found myself learning the material on my own outside of class. Thankfully, I met some older engineering students in the first week, who invited me to join their study groups. Those friends gifted me their old textbooks and class material to study from, which was much appreciated. I strongly recommend connecting with students who are a few years ahead and listening to their advice.

I would recommend finding classmates to study with as it is easier to go over the same course topics together. Finding study space at university is also important as I found studying at home was too comfortable and distracting for me. For exam periods, I created a weekly schedule, giving myself certain hours to spend on each class. I left the last couple days before an exam to study any relevant, old exams that I could find from the class.

I applied and received entry into the biosystems engineering department in my second year of university. After that, class sizes decreased, and classes became a lot easier. Towards the end of my degree, classes involved a lot of projects and group work, which I really enjoyed. I became interested in biomedical engineering, and I decided to specialize in biomedical engineering once I familiarized myself with the specialization options. This only required me to take a couple of extra courses outside of the general engineering degree.

Key Takeaways:

  • Make friends with classmates and older students in your area of study. It is incredibly helpful to have people to study and share resources with. It is also advantageous to have access to old exams, material, and textbooks from previous years. Find a group you work well with to do group projects.
  • Wait to buy textbooks listed in your syllabus until the professor confirms that they are required. Even so, check with older students to see if they have one that you can borrow or buy at a discount.
  • Develop good study habits. Some people study better alone, and some learn better studying with classmates. Some people find it more beneficial to study at university, and other seem to like studying at home. Learn what works best for you. Keep up in class, and ensure that you understand content, class discussions and assignments. 
  • It is okay to change your mind during a degree. Once you have taken some classes and experienced some internships, you might realize that what you chose is not necessarily right for you. That is okay. Check to see if any of your courses are transferable to another area or degree.

Mikaela Morelli
About Mikaela Morelli

Mikaela Morelli is an Associate Engineer at Emergent BioSolutions. She enjoys the challenges of problem solving and managing projects in the Manufacturing, Science and Technology department. In the last years of her engineering degree, she founded the University of Manitoba Biomedical Engineering Team, where students applied design skills to create medical devices to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. Mikaela is an advocate for women in STEM and enjoys sharing her education and experiences. She is passionate about engineering and pursuing a career in a profession that makes a difference.

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