For civil engineer Thy Pham, going slow at uni has meant success in the world beyond.
Australia’s biggest public transport project, the Sydney Metro, has been a boon for commuters in Western Sydney – but no-one is quite as excited as rail buff Thy Pham. On a recent visit to Bella Vista station, she admits she was “in awe of how beautiful it looked”. That’s because Thy, a civil engineer, helped oversee construction of the Northwest line – not a bad gig for a grad in her first year out of Western Sydney University.
“I actually went on the Metro a couple of weeks ago and it was like I’d never been on one before,” she laughs. “I was like a little kid, standing outside, hanging onto the poles and saying to my partner, ‘You see that track? I built it!’”
As a Junior Engineer for CPB Contractors, Thy would be onsite from 5am, conducting quality inspections, tracking costs and ensuring the track team hit its targets. She finished work on the line earlier this year (on time and under budget) and is now a site engineer on the Parramatta Light Rail team.
Asked how her studies at Western prepared her for these demanding roles, Thy admits that failing subjects actually set her up for life beyond uni. “I struggled to get over it for a long time while I was studying,” she says. “But in my last year, I realised that it didn’t matter how long it took me to get through, that I was only competing with myself.” That attitude, she says, has helped her climb the ranks in a male-dominated field.
As for taking on the guys, she says that’s been a surprise, too. “I don’t think there are any disadvantages or advantages to being female: at CPB Contractors you get treated the same,” she says. “If you’re a good engineer and you perform well, that’s how you succeed. I just wish there were more females because it’s a great industry to work in.”
Her advice to everyone – male or female – is to get out there and network before you finish your course. Thy was part of Western’s Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) program and keeps in touch with her thesis supervisor, Associate Professor Olivia Mirza. “Your friends at uni become your friends for life,” she says. “Cast your net as wide as you can because in 10 years’ time, they could be the ones who help you get another job or to broaden your network.”
WORDS BY EMMA MULHOLLAND