Stepping into STEM: Philippa Vetten

While she was at Santa Maria, Philippa Vetten (2004) received a suggestion from her Year 9 maths teacher. This suggestion was that she consider engineering after school, as she loved maths and physics. Once she looked into what an engineer was, she knew it was for her. Fast forward to now, Philippa has worked in many different countries as an engineer in various industries. 

We spoke to Philippa to learn more about her interesting career. 

What has your life after Santa Maria looked like?

After I graduated from Santa Maria, I studied Engineering and Commerce at UWA. During my studies, I did a semester of exchange in Copenhagen, Denmark, which was a great learning experience. After graduating I started working as a Project Engineer in offshore/subsea construction. After seven years, I felt I needed a change and decided to move into the waste industry after being approached by an environmental services company. I was there for three years which was a great experience, and I learned more about myself and what I like in a job. I ended up moving back to my original company but in a role with more commercial aspects. That’s where I currently am now, as Tendering Manager at Subsea7.

Why did you choose to go into engineering?

In high school, I always loved Maths and Physics, and in particular, loved the problem-solving aspect of Maths. My Maths teacher in Year 9 suggested I should consider engineering, and after researching (only a little) what engineering was, that was my focus. It seemed so cool that I would be able to help design things that were so awe-inspiring to me. Originally, I thought I would be designing aeroplanes or spaceships but soon learned that there are so many different opportunities in engineering.

Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you?

These days, it doesn’t sound so exciting… Get up, go to the gym, go to work (in an office), take lots of meetings, go home and walk the dog, play netball or hang out with my husband. Some of the more interesting days in the past have been on board a ship out in the middle of the ocean, which is a pretty cool experience. Out there you see the work you have spent a long time planning for being executed. This is done by underwater robots (ROVs) or divers who work at up to 200m water depth and talk like Donald Duck because they breathe in a helium mix. More recently, in my new role, it’s been to go over and work for a few weeks in London and Paris…but that’s special, not just a typical day.

What is the most fulfilling part of your work?

Working with great people towards a common goal. I love working in a team, particularly with people who all want to achieve a good quality outcome and take pride in their work. I work with many different people, including those in different offices around the world, and love getting to know them and working together collaboratively. 

As an engineer working offshore, the most fulfilling part is knowing I have done careful planning to ensure a safe and efficient operation. It’s a risky environment, and you get to know your colleagues very well, so it’s fulfilling to know that you have helped send everyone home to their families without any incidents.

We heard you were the keynote speaker at the Get Wiser conference. Can you tell us a bit about your speech?   

“Get Wiser” is a series of presentations that are organised by an organisation called WISE (Women in Subsea Engineering). WISE is an organisation dedicated to achieving gender equity in the field of subsea engineering. I was invited as I am involved in the Diversity and Inclusion working group for Engineers Australia. The presentation aims to share knowledge within the industry whilst also showcasing women in this typically male-dominated industry. In my recent presentation, I talked about why we select certain installation vessels for different projects. 

Why do you think it’s important for women to be in STEM?

Because it’s lots of fun and super interesting! And we need to spread the word! I think in the past it has been seen as more of a male oriented role, but that is not the case at all. Women in STEM bring so much to organisations, and like any industry, we need that diversity of thought. We need to change the mindset and get more visibility of women in STEM so that we can remove that bias.

What do you like to do in your downtime?

My favourite thing to do is travel. One of the reasons I love my job is the opportunity to travel. I have had opportunities to work in many different countries, both on short visits or longer assignments. I have worked in Scotland for six months early in my career and hope to work in other overseas offices in the future. In my non-work related travels, I have been to every continent except Antarctica, but I’m not a fan of cold weather, so that’s not on the list yet. I’ve been to the Amazon Rainforest, safari in Kenya and Sri Lanka and even tried bungee jumping in New Zealand.

Other things I enjoy doing at home are reading, netball and socialising with friends. Plus of course I can’t forget spending time with my family, my husband and my dog. These are all things I used to enjoy in high school, it’s just about keeping them as a priority in life.

Do you have any advice for girls wanting to get into engineering?

Speak to as many people as you can about it. Engineering is so diverse, and every engineer you speak to will likely do something completely different. I didn’t really realise until well into my university career just how diverse engineering is. I would say, engineering is not a job or a degree, it’s a way of thinking and seeing the world. It’s about understanding how everything fits and works together to create something wonderful. If that sounds interesting, look into it. 

Thank you Philippa, for taking the time to talk to us. We are sure there will be many students who will be inspired by your career. 

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