Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Women in postgraduate study and research

Hear what some of our talented and hardworking postgraduate students have to say about their path to engineering and what they do.

Chemical & Materials Engineering

Joy-Yi Zhao

I chose engineering for two reasons. Firstly I really enjoyed science subjects at school and generally like the idea of knowing the whys and hows of things work. I like the idea of being a know it all (laugh~). Naturally Engineering seemed like a good degree to learn science as well as how things that we use every day, such cars, came to be. The other reason that influenced my decision was that both of my parents were engineers so I was able to see what the actual professional side of engineering involved which was more team work and a social environment.

What I like about the Engineering degree was that it teaches you a variety of skills and to think in a multidimensional way. After you are trained through the process you will understand that engineering is actually a design to application process that takes basic science and makes it into a functional product. Along this process, one has to consider all aspects from technical to financial and be creative at the same time. Engineers from different specialisation will often come together to finish a product so there is a very interactive environment as well.

After my bachelor’s degree I stayed on with The University of Auckland doing a Master’s degree in Engineering specialising in biomaterial research. I am currently investigating the biomechanics of cartilage in knees and using the scanning electron microscope to analysis its structure at a nano-scale. My research will hopefully help to improve understanding cartilage properties and contribute to the field of orthopaedic medicine.

Serene Chuah

I graduated from Monash University with a BSc (Biotechnology) and BSc (Hons) in Environmental Science from Murdoch University. Instead of heading into science, I decided to pursue a PhD in Chemical and Materials Engineering as I am more interested in potential applications rather than just the nature involved.Research is typically random, and you take opportunities you get to do something new. Engineering is all about “making things happen”. As a general rule, it can be said that engineers study nature but their main goal would be to design and create products and services while scientists build tools but their main goal being to study nature hence engineering is considered as applied science rather than pure science.

While browsing for appealing topics, I happened across my current research interest “Transforming mussel shells into high-value hydroxyapatite adsorbents: feasibility and scoping studies in the recovery of high value proteins from model solutions” which caught my eye and prompted me to contact my supervisor and the rest is history. For my research project, it is actually a mix of chemical engineering, materials engineering and a bit of biology (in a way, my undergraduate studies will not go to waste). Chemical engineering is actually applied chemistry which involves the design, construction, and operation of machines and plants (at PhD level, construction of rigs/pilot-scale equipment) that perform chemical reactions to solve practical problems or make useful products. However, one part of my project would involve finding out the nature for how the transformation works thus it still involves pure science. Many PhD students from science have focused on building equipment, and many engineers have done great science during their doctoral work as well. Therefore there’s some overlapping between science and engineering.

I have not “studied” engineering but I do like the aspect of engineering whereby ideally physical knowledge will be applied to improve on or to design a device/plants for the betterment of society. I would like to contribute to society as well through engineering innovations. Engineering expertise converts scientific information into technology and from technology into successful invention. Numerous seemingly simple facets of our day to day lives have been conceptualised, designed and developed by engineers.


Civil & Environmental Engineering

Emily Voyde

When I started my undergraduate studies in Engineering at The University of Auckland I was looking for a degree that would give me the opportunity to get out of the office and would also enable me to work all around the world. The practicality of the degree appealed to me; the ability to apply scientific theory to solve everyday problems.

Within Environmental Engineering, I specialised in stormwater management placing particular emphasis on how to incorporate sustainability principles into design. I am now in the final year of my PhD in Civil Engineering studying the hydrology of living roofs, or vegetated roofs, for stormwater management in New Zealand. There is a lot of variety to my work; although part of the day is spent working in the office, much of it is spent outside on the living roof or in the laboratories.


Electrical & Computer Engineering

Maja Krivokuca

At school I loved all my subjects, and so was interested in a variety of things, including the sciences, mathematics, arts, languages, and so on. Naturally, then, it took a lot of thinking to decide what I would study at university. During my 7th form at school, I went to a seminar at The University of Auckland, directed at women interested in engineering. There I had the chance to get some hands-on experience at doing what engineers from various disciplines do, such as building and programming a little robot, testing the hardness of metals, and observing chemical experiments, among other activities. At the time, I had a number of theories as to what engineers did, but I didn’t know for sure. This seminar opened my eyes to what engineering really is and all the exciting career opportunities that the world of engineering offers. From what was presented to me and from listening to the speakers who talked of their experiences in this field of work, it seemed like anything I could imagine was possible with engineering.

After the first year of the degree, having acquired a taste of each of the engineering disciplines, there was something about each of them that sparked my interest, so the decision to pick one specialization
was again not an easy one. The discipline I chose after careful deliberation was Computer Systems Engineering. I was looking for a field of engineering that is in demand, that is challenging but rewarding, that is useful in a range of applications, and that will continue to expand in the future so that I will never stop learning. Computer Systems seems to promise all of these things: it is a field that is continually evolving, especially driving innovation via the development of new technologies; it finds a place in many important current applications, from personal computers, to gadgets, to control systems, robotics and so on; it is challenging, and because it is challenging there is great demand for skilled Computer Systems engineers worldwide.

One of the most challenging things in this discipline is the fact that so many talented people have already made great advances in the field of computer systems, so that any further innovation requires intimate knowledge of all that has been done before, before we can figure out what needs to be done next and how. This also makes Computer Systems fascinating – it is a very high-tech, competitive area of study, and so when we make any breakthrough, or gain new knowledge, or design something new (or new to us), it brings up a great sense of achievement. It is an exciting thing when you can look at something you've created, or hold it in your hands. What is most exciting about it is the prospect that, when we achieve something amazing, we will be standing on the shoulders of giants.

In the future, I hope to continue to further hone my skills and increase my knowledge in the field of Computer Systems engineering, so that I am able to call myself an expert. This is why I have decided to pursue a PhD degree, which I am studying for now. Though I am still in the first year of my PhD and exploring promising research directions, I believe that I will be looking at finding new and better ways to
compress 3-dimensional data. This is because 3D images, due to the richness of information they are able to provide, are becoming prevalent in a number of important areas, including human biometrics, medical imaging, computer vision, and so on. So, if we can find ways to use, store and transmit these images more efficiently, we can take more advantage of all the benefits they offer. Ultimately, I hope to use everything I learn to make a significant contribution in the world of engineering and make the most of all the bright places that I hope my career will take me. 

Vedrana Krivokuca

I have always been a naturally curious person, with interests ranging far and wide. One of my greatest passions is discovering how things work and why, which is one of the main reasons I have chosen to pursue a career in Engineering. I love learning, and I love being able to apply what I learn to real-life situations. Engineering offers me this by giving me the opportunity to see the results of my hard work in the form of physical creations. This is a highly rewarding experience, which makes the effort worth it. Furthermore, I have always wanted a career that would both challenge and excite me, one which would help me grow by ensuring that I’m constantly learning something new. I also wanted to pursue a career with a degree that would be recognised worldwide, so that I may have the opportunity to travel and engage with great minds internationally. An Engineering degree from The University of Auckland fits this bill perfectly.

There are two main reasons as to why I have chosen to specialise in Computer Systems Engineering. Firstly, it is clear that computers are becoming increasingly important in our lives, both in the form of personal computers and laptops, as well as the more subtle types of computers embedded in technologies such as cars, washing machines, and mobile phones. Therefore, computer knowledge is, and will continue to be, in high demand. Secondly, I find intricate components, like microchips, extremely fascinating, which makes CSE just the field for me!

I am currently embarking upon a PhD degree in the combined fields of computer systems engineering and human biometrics. Human biometrics refers to the automatic recognition of people using their physiological and/or behavioural characteristics, such as fingerprints, iris patterns, palm veins, gait, etc. As we begin to realise that traditional security tokens, such as passwords, PIN numbers, and access cards, are not as reliable a means of access control as we once thought, our need for more robust security practices is rapidly increasing. The power of biometrics in providing the level of security we require has already been recognized worldwide, which means that biometrics are quickly becoming ubiquitous for human recognition. However, in all this excitement of getting biometrics out there in our ATMs and car ignitions, not enough effort is being invested into ensuring that our biometrics remain safe when they are stored in massive databases for use in authentication. After all, if someone were to break into a database and steal one of your fingerprint images, they could easily use it to replicate your fingerprint and go around engaging in illegal activities pretending to be you. What’s worse is that, once a biometric is stolen, it cannot be replaced like a credit card, for example, because you only have a certain number of biometrics on your body. Privacy concerns, such as the aforementioned issue of identity theft, may cause people to be suspicious or frightened of using their biometrics, and as a consequence biometrics technology would be rejected by the wider public. This would be a shame considering the heightened security benefits that biometrics have the potential to provide for us. So, my research is focused on developing new algorithms to protect biometric templates when they are stored in computer databases. I believe this to be a challenging and intriguing problem, one that is of great importance both to the world’s security and to its technological advancement.

I would like to make a positive contribution to the lives of people, and believe that my chosen discipline will help me do this. After all, engineers make things happen.


Engineering Science

Anita Walbran

My name is Anita Walbran and I studied Biomedical Engineering at The University of Auckland from 2004-2007. Having an engineer as a father, my love of maths and science and my desire to make a positive impact on the lives of others all spurred my interests in engineering from an early age. While still at Westlake Girls High School, I was invited to attend Enginuity Day at the Faculty of Engineering – a day-long event especially for young women who want to find out more about engineering. I took up this opportunity and by the end of the day was sold on pursuing a career in engineering.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time studying engineering. From day one we were made to feel very welcome which made settling in easy. When I specialised into Biomedical Engineering with the Department of Engineering Science I began a journey with a small class which quickly became my engineering family. A field trip at the start of second year created tight bonds between students and staff that were invaluable for the course of my degree. The lecturers were great and always showed genuine care for their students. Department BBQ’s, sports competitions and the annual t-shirt design competition were always highlights of the year.

Once I finished my undergraduate studies I embarked on a PhD with the Department of Engineering Science in 2008. The overall goal of my research is to find ways to reliably identify preterm infants at risk of brain injury after an hypoxic insult (lack of oxygen to the brain) so that they may benefit from novel neuroprotective treatments. This is an exciting but challenging project and allows me to do what I love - helping improve the lives of others! The Engineering Science Department provides a fantastic work environment and has made my time studying very memorable and enjoyable indeed. 

Emily Clearwater

I really enjoyed calculus and physics at high school, but thought engineering was all about cars and bridges. It wasn't until I attended an Enginuity Day specifically for school girls held at The University of Auckland that I realised how varied the exciting world of engineering really is and what it could offer me - there were so many different specialisations to branch off into. I chose to do engineering because I wanted to be able to use the latest ideas in maths and science to be creative and find solutions.

I chose engineering science as my specialisation because it gave me the tools to do just that - we learnt how to use maths and computers to define and solve real world problems. The four years spent studying were very fun but busy and flew by in a whirl. I made many new friends from all sorts of different backgrounds, the lectures were stimulating and even though there were way more guys than girls I liked that - it made me work harder and push myself to show them exactly how smart girls can be! The workload was large and often very demanding, but the projects and assignments were always interesting and fellow classmates were helpful and supportive. The feeling of elation when you saw your code running and finally producing the correct results, or the 'aha!' feeling when you finally solved a problem after working on it for hours, made all the hard effort worth it, and every day at engineering school was different and enjoyable.

I have since completed a Master of Engineering, and now work as a Research assistant at The University of Auckland. My job is in geothermal energy and combines nicely with the knowledge gained through my engineering degree. I generate large computational models of geothermal fields. These models calculate the flow of heat and mass through the underground rocks over time, so that we can help energy companies plan locations of new wells, optimal mass extraction regimes (fluid is removed from wells in order to generate power), and the sustainability of the geothermal field. To gather information for inputs into these models we liaise with geologists, geophysicists, engineers, geochemists etc. I also work on modelling subsidence (the deformation of land due to fluid withdrawal) to predict future rates or new areas of subsidence forming.


Mechanical Engineering

Natalie Mitchell-Lowe

Leaving high school, some people seem to have a very strong idea about what career path they would like to follow - unfortunately I was not one of those people. My complex selection process was based on the subjects I was good at, the skills valued in each degree, the jobs available after university, and a touch of gut feeling. Luckily, engineering won out. At school I liked calculus, science, and music, and engineering offered problem solving, creativity, and the widest range of job opportunities out of any degree.

There are a wide range of specialties which you choose at the end of first year, so chances are there is at least one you'll enjoy. I was drawn to mechanical engineering because it covers a large range of areas, from materials to static structures to dynamic systems. The engineering design papers every year were among my favorite as they ask you to apply some of the theory learnt in other papers to come up with a unique solution to a problem. Engineering has a good balance between teamwork and individual challenges - it was fun to push myself to do my best, and to contribute to group projects. While it was a bit of a culture shock for me (the only one from my year group at an all girls school!), there were some guys that went out of their way to include me in their group of friends which was really great.

I still enjoy studying engineering. Since completing my BE, I have continued to study towards a PhD at The University of Auckland focusing on biodegradable composite materials. I am based at the Centre for Advanced Composite Materials which has great research facilities and opportunities for postgraduate students. I am able to engage in research in the field of sustainability while gaining valuable experience in manufacturing techniques, large-scale problem solving, theoretical modeling, and communication. Looking forward, I'm particularly excited about getting the opportunity to travel to conferences to present research and hear about all the incredible work that's happening in my field today. It remains interesting to discover what engineers are doing around the world - it's so broad, and really the backbone of everyday life. 

Zareena Kausar

I always wanted to do the challenging tasks. Whenever I read about space shuttles or spacecrafts I wanted to see how they work. I have always been curious to know how cars are work. My curiosity about these things motivated me to join engineering.

I joined BE Mechanical Engineering where I studied engines, hydraulics, controls and engineering management. The study of these subjects answered my questions and opened my mind for its implementation.

I've worked in Water and Power Development Authority, as a Maintenance and Planning Engineer in a power house. That was a fantastic experience being able to work on turbines and generators. Automation of plants fascinated me the most during my work experience.

In order to understand how the plants are controlled automatically I did my masters degree in Mechatronics and now I am doing research on the stability control of two wheeled robots for my PhD degree. This is a wonderful area to work in. Using knowledge of computers, electronics and mechanics, the robots are being designed to assist humans.