Welcome to WEC2019 Mini-Series, a mini-series introducing you to some of the speakers you will meet at the Convention in Nov 2019. Sarah Watson is our first guest and speaks to us about the importance of having engineers at the table when discussing UN SDG14
Extra discussions during the episode
Advice for future engineers: Collaboration
I think that there needs to be more interdisciplinary collaboration
Engineering item Sarah really likes: any item which balances environmental and social good. Some examples include the WASH
So every time I look at something that’s brilliant in one angle, there’s always a trade off to be able to get that balance
Engineer Sarah admires: Her sister!
About Sarah Watson
Sarah Watson – Marine Engineer
Sarah Watson studied at the University of Western Australia where she received a bachelor in engineering for civil and structural.
She is very close to completing a masters degree in environmental law focusing on international environment and ocean law at the University of Melbourne…. while still living in WA!
Sarah specialises in the area of marine environmental risk management and is the principal and creator of a marine environment risk specialist firm called Mitagado.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 2 Episode 13
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Sarah Watson
Hi! Welcome to Season 2, Episode 13 of Engineering Heroes. A podcast that presents the incredible engineers that are shaping our society and battling our challenging issues.
My name is Mel. My co-host and our podcast’s resident engineer, speaking to us from the trenches, is Dom.
Welcome to the first in our mini-series in the lead up to the World Engineering Convention which takes place in Melbourne late November 2019.
This convention is set to unite the global engineering community to identify sustainable development challenges, take action, and commit to change
Our guest today studied at the University of Western Australia where she received a bachelor in engineering for civil and structural.
She is very close to completing a masters degree in environmental law focusing on international environment and ocean law at the University of Melbourne…. while still living in WA!
She specialises in the area of marine environmental risk management and is the principal and creator of a marine environment risk specialist firm called Mitagado.
Our guest tonight, and the first in our mini-series in the lead up to World Engineers Convention 2019 is Sarah Watson
Sarah has the traditional talents in maths and physics. However she also really enjoyed music. So when it came time to deciding on her university degree, she decided it had to came down to following her love for music or her talents into engineering. And while she did choose engineering, she continued to play in a band with a few other musically-mind engineering class mates.
Oh, that engineering may provide me more doors to be opened down the path. I actually decided what I wanted to do, which still hasn’t happened but that’s why he doing it.
Mel De Gioia 0:47
Was there anyone that that you knew of that was already an engineer? How did you know about engineering?
So my dad’s an engineer, which I think is pretty common for girls, when they go into egineering. But I didn’t want to follow his footsteps so I tried to find other areas. My big brother is also an engineer. So yeah, I kind of had an idea about what engineering was.
Well and truly runs in the family. Are they both civil as well?
No, no, my dad’s civil. My big brother is electronics, electrical programming. And my little sister is an electrical biomedical.
All right. We could just line your whole family up.
Mel De Gioia 1:32
Family mini series. Right. Okay, so you definitely knew about the the industry. That’s good. What was the first role that you did when you were an official engineer?
Oh, official engineer. Oh, um, so I worked in construction materials straight out of uni. Got a graduate placement where I was doing some rotations spending real time on site and providing the actual materials and I don’t know whether you’ve been to Perth but the Narrows Bridge is the main bridge that connects the north and the south of the city and was built back in the, I want to say 16 years I don’t know. Anyway, there’s this coloured concrete that goes on to the panels of the bridge. And now we’re duplicating the bridge and my company is providing all the concrete and all the raw materials for the project. And so I had to design all the concrete as a new grad. So this bridge that everyone was going to drive over to and from work every day.
and match the colour this cream colour from the old bridge to the new bridge, allowing for how long it would take for it to change over time and yeah, try to match it as close as possible. So no pressure.
Mel De Gioia 2:45
Do you do a case where you go over that bridge, going check out that concrete. Like do you keep an eye on it now? That is fabulous.
I do I do. I look back and I think that’s a lot of responsibility to leave, to have given a graduate engineer Yeah, but and I heard the guys that was working with at the time said, I don’t know whether I believe them, but they scratch my name into one of the panels. So I was like, honestly, I have no idea if that’s true.
Mel De Gioia 3:17
Go check it out.
So has there been a highlight to your career so far in regards to a project that just sticks in your mind that sort of stands out?
Yes. So it was about three, four years ago now. I did a project where I was consulting to a UN organisation. The organisation was the route that does the regional seas programme in the Mediterranean, where all the different countries around the Mediterranean have grouped together and signed an international environmental agreement on how they’re going to go about protecting the environment, The Mediterranean. So I was brought in to co author a study of best practices in environmental management regards to offshore oil and gas activities and how you actually go about doing it in the best way. Risk Management measures and things like that. And we had to present the findings. And I just remember at some point throughout the presentation on mid presentation presenting to all these regulatory folk from all of the different countries and experts from Europe and the UK, they all had their headphones on because it’s all different languages. And I was about midway through and I suddenly thought – I’m being consulted here as an expert. It was one of thosemoments where, I don’t know I’d always thought I’m, I’m learning, I’m constantly learning, but it was just one of those light bulb moments of, oh, I’ve made a milestone or something.
When was that? When abouts did you deliver that project?
That was a few years ago now. I think was 2013 or 14.
Mel De Gioia 4:48
Okay. Oh, that’s great. It’s amazing when you stop for a minute. Dom’s talked about a time where he was in a room and he didn’t feel like…
I was sitting, I was basically sitting at a table with a whole group of entities. And I’m thinking to myself, I feel too young to really be doing this sort of project. And then I looked around the table and realised I probably had 10 years on everyone else who was there was certainly a lot greyer than anyone else who was sitting in the room. And I went oh, yeah. I’ve been doing this for a long time. Yeah, haven’t 1? So, you know, it sort of dawns on you that the the experience that you’ve caught along the way that you just don’t even realise that you have. It’s amazing in those moments to say, yeah, how it kind of catches up with you. I suppose.
It is funny, isn’t it? I don’t know whether you guys do the same but just every, probably five years. It goes past it. I don’t even catch up. I don’t even feel like I’m that age. Yeah.
Mel De Gioia 5:45
Let’s not talk about age. So tell us about where you’re at now.
So, like I mentioned before, I love learning and constantly learning new things. I think it’s the only way that I’ve remained interested and engaged and motivated. And I decided there was so many gaps in the environmental law regarding activities in the ocean, that I wanted to start learning more about it officially. And so I decided to start a Masters of Environmental Law focusing on the oceans and international environmental laws that apply. And so I’ve been doing that, I did that part time for a few years and then this year just decided to go part time with work, and then finish that off as quickly as I can and try and I’m trying to finish it this year. I think it will spill over a little bit into next year.
So how did you fall into marine environment risk management like considering when you started you were working on cement for bridges over harbours? So how did that transition come?
Yeah, good question. I started as a the field engineer. So field engineers typically get given all of the quality management, the health, safety environment management and the coordination roles that go along with that. And so as part of my roles, I kept on getting more and more interested in the environmental management and risk management side. And not long after graduating, I think it was three years after I jumped over into the oil and gas industry because I wanted to move into the marine space. So I started off there is a field engineer, moved into risk and reliability type work, and then managed to keep on narrowing it down until I got to environment which is where I really wanted to go. So that was kind of the transition.
All right, just moving into marine as well. It seems like one of those areas when you’re going through engineering, I wouldn’t have ever really thought of it and it’s not until people talk about it that I think that would have been awesome sort of area of engineering to work in.
I agree. Yeah, it’s funny. So a lot of the people in the area where I work, they’ve either come from a marine science background or come from an environmental engineering background or they don’t tend to ever be trained at university to do exactly what it is, but we all fall into it. And so I, I think it’s good because it means we have all these different backgrounds to kind of bounce off each other. And you learn a bit more, I guess, rather than what you just ever learned at uni.
I just wanted to take a short break here before we get into Sarah’s topic for the World Engineering Convention.
From the 20th to the 22nd of November of this year, Engineers Australia and the World Federation of Engineering Organisations is holding the World Engineering Convention in Melbourne. Dom and I will be speaking there about topics that were inspired by all the conversations we’ve had with engineers so far.
Check out our website for more details. We hope you’ve gotten your ticket and can come see us give our talks.
For now, let’s get back to Sarah as she talks to us about how important it is for engineers to be included at the table, and what she and her colleague Elizabeth Harrison will be talking about at the 2019 World Engineers Convention.
There’s been a big focus on development on economic growth over the past probably I don’t know, 100 plus years. To actually have sustainable growth, the environmental side and the social side, it needs to be more balanced approach. And given the state of our environment at the moment, and a lot of the world, the state of the social welfare, there needs to be a bit more of a balance between how engineers go about doing sustainable development. And so I think that’s the future of engineering is figuring out how we do that, how we come together and how we get all the different disciplines together to figure out how we approach that, rather than keeping on being reactive in addressing all those issues.
Yeah, I think we’ve got a work cut out for us for the sins of the past. So we’ve kind of brought technology ahead, but haven’t really thought about what the implications are in regards to that, to sort of find ways around things.
Yes. Which is interesting. And that’s what Elizabeth Harrison and I are talking about at World Engineer’s Convention. We figure it’s because engineers are not at the table when doing all the planning when doing the policy development. So they’re just not showing up yet. We’ve got all the scientists there, we’ve got all the even the modellers that are creating the new modelling technology. We’ve got all the lawyers, we’ve got the commercial folk, but they’re not independent because they’re representing an industry yet the engineers figuring out how you’re actually going to go about making the change are not there in the planning stage, not there until afterwards. So that’s why I think we haven’t made addressing it as proactively as I think we could have.
Do you think there’s a shift? It is something that there’s a slow move towards that there are more engineers moving into those positions?
Well,Liz and I are talking about the ocean side. There’s not yet no, not in the ocean side. It’s a there’s definitely a lot of engineers working in the industry. But both her and I have been at some of these meetings, and we’ve been tracking a lot of the progress. And you’re just not seeing that ‘how’ come into it, and we’re not seeing on the agendas or meeting any other engineers at that stage.
Mel De Gioia 10:33
So who’s setting up these agendas and setting, you know, creating these forums that are missing out on the engineers? Who do we need to influence to get engineers at the table?
So we’ve been trying to go down this path of figuring it out. So we’re sticking with just oceans, because otherwise it’s just going to get enormously heavy at the global level. You have the Sustainable Development Goals. Number 14 is the oceans life below water. So the UN they have what they call their science and technology expert group, which is made up of the International Science Council and the World Federation of environmental organisations. And that World Federation environmental organisations is represented by each national country’s environmental organisation, so Engineers Australia are Australia’s representative to WFEO. Oh, yes. But that’s the body providing the scientific input to the UN for developing the SDG targets and indicators and things like that. So my question that I want to raise At WBC is okay, Engineers, Australia, let’s get this together. Let’s figure out how we’re influencing WFEO to help provide our oceans expertise into this process. But then at the national level, from what we’ve figured out so far, and I’m not saying this is definitely how it happens. But the learned academies are the ones who inform government at the national level. So the Academy of Engineering and technologists, I think it is, and the Australian Academy of Science. They’re the scientific technical bodies that inform our government on their policies to deal with these issues. But from what I understand, they’re mainly made up of academics. And it’s not a membership based Academy. It’s a fellowship based Academy so invited people in based on the merit levels of whatever they’ve said over the you know, in the constitution and things like that. I’ve been looking very much on how to do diverse teams to try and make sure you figure out that you have that diversity of thought, diversity of experiences, and I strongly believe you need to have young old like, your diverse you need to have like a really good balance of cultures and like backgrounds to actually be able to come up and problem solve it. And if you’re getting learned academies, only filtering that process as the independent bodies, you’re not getting those. It’s all being left up to the for profit industries to figure it out, which it shouldn’t be left up to for profit in my mind.
So that’s a good point because it at the risk of sort of saying that a lot of those sorts of institutions get stale. So yeah, when once you’re in there, the people are in there for a long time. Whereas you need that, that fresh blood and those fresh ideas and because you tend to..
Mel De Gioia 13:32
You’re not going to get any young people that are fellows.
No. And I think people get set in their ways as well in regards to what they believe and their opinions. Not say that engineers aren’t always constantly learning and taking on new information, but I think it’s a lot harder to get those new ideas across as part of it. But do you think that engineers we need to become better lobbyists? Is it really a case of we need to sort of get in there and in be poking people in the ribs and going, hey, you need to listen to us a little bit more?
I think so but not quite so much in terms of doing it just because we’re trying to poke them and say, we can provide expertise to help them at those early stages. Bounce around the ideas of how we go about it. As they figure out what science they need to gather, what are they doing with that science? The engineers are taking that science, right and then figuring out the how or how to make things better. If they’re doing the science, creating the policies, and then throwing it out to industry, then we’re only ever figuring out the how, and then it’s got the feedback loop just becomes much longer. So I think engineers can create greater good for society, if we’re in at that policy advocacy stage.
Mel De Gioia 14:45
Have you seen this in action? Have you actually been in a room where this has taken place and not being able to participate? But actually seeing the people come together and talk about things and you go in your head, you’re thinking – they’re missing a key point – like I could bring something to the table here. Has that actually happened to you?
Yes, but not in person. I’ve been following very closely development of the UN and what they’re developing to implement the SDGs, SDG 14 specifically. They’ve released their UN decade for ocean science, which is meant to be the science and technical, which is meant to include engineering solutions for 2020 to 2030 for actually addressing the SDGs. And engineering is missing from it. It’s just not there. It’s all Marine Science and technologies without the engineering piece.
Mel De Gioia 15:42
Okay, yeah, that’s looking.. Yeah. So what’s the what’s the big risk of not having the engineers there? Like, these are smart people, the scientists and technologists they’re trying to do well, but…
Definitely, I think we can do the full lifecycle with them. They’re doing some brilliant work, not taking away with what they’ve created and how much progress these bodies have done already, since the SDGs have been released. But I think if engineers that you know, invited to the table or go to the table, I don’t know which it is yet, then we can sit there with them as they come up with the ideas and discuss well, what do we think is actually possible, and then do that whole loop at that stage together, rather than being a very separated out discussion that happens maybe a year or two years apart from each other.
So I suppose it’s another piece of the puzzle, whereas people don’t even really know what the puzzle is at the moment. So just trying to get the right bits to join together to get the right answer. Making sure that you’ve got the right question in the first place.
Yeah, exactly. So Liz and I basically want to present it at WEC to get a conversation going. Get people interested in talking about it and seeing whether more people get involved as a result or doors may open.
Mel De Gioia 16:58
Is this your Wednesday presentation?
Mel De Gioia 17:01
I so want to go there.
So we’ve spoken about it before as well, that often it takes someone who is on the outside of your industry. So even the scientists, they’ve been so involved in it, that you need the engineers to come in to go, you’ve been looking at this and then the scientist says ah, why didn’t think of that? And, but you can’t have that moment without having someone sort of point it out when you’re so involved in it. And so that’s where you need all of those different people collaborating and joining in so that you can get a better outcome across the board.
Mel De Gioia 17:34
So how do you see the future of engineering in this space, especially iwith CDG 14?
Yeah, I think that there needs to be more interdisciplinary collaboration. I really think that everyone in their own little roll their own little blink of roles needs to start looking out and having those moments where you just stop and go into a collaboration to make sure that you’re not missing something, and I think it’s really going to take and bit of a shift of everyone being an expert, and only thinking about their area to starting to be a bit more interface across the different areas. So it’s like what you just said, not that they’re not doing a lot of good stuff. But you kind of go, Hey, I think I might be able to help you here. So it’s actually coming together being invited together, or actually being louder, and coming together to solve it.
Mel De Gioia 18:24
And I think technology is coming along to assist in collaboration. So that’s a big key. So I know, our kids in primary school it’s all about setting up spaces to allow for collaboration. So I think collaboration is on so many people’s tongues from now on that, I think, yeah, I think you’re right in saying that the future is going to be all about that. But just to harp back, it is also about making sure you’re collaborating with the right people, or you’re joining everyone together in the right ways at the right times. And that in itself is going to be a skill and a technique that needs to really be considered.
Yeah, I agree. And it’s going to be also encouraging people or educating people on that importance of that diverse inputs that you need. Because I think there is a school of thought that is very much oh, weve been doing fine without needing to have all of this diversity coming in helping out with the, with the solutions. I think we’re getting there. I see that we’re actually slowly making progress. I’ve seen some agendas, the UN meetings lately where the proposal abstracts have gone out, you have to state exactly how you’re engaging young people, exactly how you’re engaging both genders, exactly how you engaging across organisations. I think there’s progress.
Mel De Gioia 19:48
Yeah, there is real detail into that. Yeah.
So just on that, what would you say to young people who are starting out?
I think keep open, keep an open mind, about what you can do with your knowledge and your skills and it’s not all about what you learn in university, but where you want to take it. So follow your passions and be inquisitive, stay humble, like everyone can teach you something. Everyone can actually add to your future career path.
Mel De Gioia 20:12
What’s a piece of engineering that impresses you?
I try to find the balance, the whole sustainable development balance between the economic, environmental, social. So every time I look at something that’s brilliant in one angle, there’s always a trade off to be able to get that balance. And so that’s why I really struggle with which is the engineering that most fascinates me and, you know, most of my, I think it’s something that’s actually managed to do that balance a bit better. So it’s more of the water sanitation project. So any of the projects that kind of help a community become more developed in a way that isn’t slamming the environment. So it’s increasing their social well being. It’s actually working with the environment and then it’s provided them opportunity for economic growth.
I think that’s great because it’s almost like the unsung hero of engineering projects too, because everyone sort of sees the big shiny things that they all know. But they forget about these fundamental little things that are actually far more important than an Opera House or a bridge or whatever. Yeah, it’s actually bringing power or water to thousands, tens of thousands of people. Yeah, yeah. Reality probably far more, far more interesting piece of engineering.
Well, yeah, they are the unsexy engineering projects.
Mel De Gioia 21:31
Doesn’t matter how they look, it’s the impact that they have in the the advancements to society that they bring. They don’t have to be sexy they just have to work. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Yeah. It’s actually redefining merit for what sexy is in engineering. Not just big and like impressive and out there, actually. Yeah,works that everything’s balanced in society.
Hey, just to finish up Is there an engineer that you admire?
This is another question that made me think. And the first thought that pops into my brain was my sister. She’s my little sister. It’s not that little, she’s five years younger than me. So she’s now 15 years out of uni. But I think it’s because it’s the qualities in her that I see athat I wish, all engineers kind of a adopted. She’s a subsea engineer, she went through biomedical engineering, so the Biomedical Science and Electrical Engineering and then went into subsea oil and gas engineering straight out from uni. And she takes on these cutting edge projects. So they’re just so ahead of the curve from anything I think I’ve ever done more in the technology side or more, and she just quietly works away at them. And she’s very, very hard working and she’s very humble about it. And she also looks very strongly to the interfaces between all the different disciplines that she works with. And so I kind of think that’s the qualities that I admire in engineers is when they they do those forward thinking projects, and they do think outside the box and they don’t beat their chest about it.
Mel De Gioia 23:11
In a way, some would say that those sort of engineers do need to step up and take the congratulations in a way. And the accolades, I should say.
I think take the accolades. I don’t think we need to put them on a pedestal look, none of them want to be on one. But to Yes, I think we need to make sure that they get the accolades.
Mel De Gioia 23:32
Thank you so much for joining us today. Its been a great conversation.
Thank you very much. I’m really look forward to meeting you both in person in Melbourne, and coming along to see your talks.
Mel De Gioia 23:42
Yes, the Wednesday and the Thursday.
So much pressure.
Mel De Gioia 23:46
But I really like what you’ve spoken about, how you’ve brought to life UN SDG 14. So how you really presented that even just here today. So I’m looking forward to learning more about that and seeing you speak on the Wednesday about it.
And thank you for tuning in to another episode of engineering heroes. I hope you’re enjoying our world engineering convention mini series. If you haven’t already, there is still time to snap up your ticket to attend the convention in November in Melbourne. You’ll be able to actually chat to Doma and myself in person and experience some of the incredible speakers such as Sarah today. If you want to know more about our podcast and what we’re up to your best port of call will always be our website, visit www.engineeringheroes.com.au and take some time to check out what we have going on. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen today. If you really enjoyed the show, the best way to show your support is to go and tell someone. Go tell lots of someones! Seriously it is that easy. We look forward to you and your friends joining us next week when we bring you another interview with one of our engineering champions.