UBC Reports | Vol.
51 | No. 6 |
Jun. 2, 2005
Looking for a Few Good Women
Engineering program aims to meet a need for female role
By Brian Lin
Spending a year with Naoko Ellis has helped UBC mechanical
engineering PhD candidate Dana Kulic solidify her conviction
to pursue a career in academia. The same journey, however,
has led second-year undergraduate student Carmen Lau in the
Ellis, an assistant professor in chemical and biological
engineering, met Kulic and Lau through a unique program in
the Faculty of Applied Science that provides female engineering
students with female role models in a predominantly male industry.
Through the tri-mentorship program, which matches a faculty
member or industry leader with a senior student and a junior
student, both Kulic and Lau have been able to explore the
various aspects of an academic career in engineering and landed
on their own path.
Kulic, who worked for several years as a mechanical engineer
before returning to UBC to complete her doctoral degree, says
she’s now more aware of the challenges -- and benefits
-- involved with an academic career.
“I was surprised to find out that Naoko thought her
first year as a prof was way harder than doing her PhD,”
says Kulic. “There will be a lot more deadlines and
various teaching and research expectations.
“I don’t know if I’m prepared, but I’ve
been warned,” laughs Kulic.
Lau, on the other hand, doesn’t see herself spending
years focusing on one specialized area. “Academia is
no longer my first choice. And I’m really glad I found
out early on,” she says.
“One of the biggest challenges for women in engineering
is the lack of female role models through their formative
years,” says Ellis, who has also attended Minerva Foundation
conference for B.C. women to help foster greater leadership
roles for women.
“And the number of women dwindles as you progress
up the academic or corporate ladder. But the benefit is far-reaching
so it’s worth the effort.”
“Female engineers will always stand out,” says
Kulic. “You’ll walk into a meeting and be the
only woman in the room. Then there’s the pressure of
balancing your family life.
“I’ve noticed a lot of young female engineers,
who do as well as the guys in the first few years, then they
get married and take the ‘mommy track,’”
says Kulic. “While the guys keep going up, the women
get stuck in middle-level positions and can’t seem to
advance beyond that. Naoko’s personal experience has
given me more confidence in making it work.”
Lau’s concerns were more immediate. Part of the first
group of students in the newly redesigned second-year mechanical
engineering program, Lau found a steep learning curve that
at times seemed insurmountable.
“I had trouble adjusting to the new learning environment,”
says Lau. “But Naoko and Dana encouraged me to keep
working at it, and reminded me that there’s always a
light at the end of the tunnel.
“And they were right,” she adds.