BE and BA
1st year PhD student
(Materials Science and Engineering)
Our eighth profilee is Erin Brodie, a PhD student in the MSE department. I met Erin a few years ago when she was a bright spark in our department, and have enjoyed seeing her progress through the undergrad degree and various internships, to her work now, investigating alloys for the 3D printing of maxillofacial implants. I've always admired her technical mindset and her sense of humour, as well as her readiness to share her expertise.
Erin completed her double degree in Arts and Engineering at the end of 2016, and through her undergraduate years was involved in almost every project and group possible! Her knowledge of and interest in German (not to mention archaeology - Mesopotamian, natch) led her to a semester abroad at Heidelberg University in Germany, while her interest in community service and poverty alleviation led her to Kolkata, India, through a fellowship with Pollinate Energy (not to mention almost 10 years of steady blood donations to the Red Cross - that's more than 100 lives saved!). She's also had a storied career in metallurgy and materials engineering, with internships at Boeing, Engineers Without Borders Australia and the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing. Somehow, while saving the world, she also managed to keep her grades high enough to win various awards such as the IJ Polmear Materials Engineering Prize, the Sir John Monash Medal, a Baden-Wuerttemberg Scholarship, the Australian Defence Force Long Tan Leadership Award and the prize for the Best Overall Student in the Faculty of Arts.
On to some words from Erin herself, the future Dr Brodie, engineer extraordinaire!
What is your involvement in engineering?
I'm a PhD student 9 months in to my first year. I'm working on a project looking at developing new 3D printable materials for maxillofacial surgery. My undergraduate degree was in Materials Eng/Arts so there's been a big biology learning curve for me. But I've really enjoyed learning a completely new field as well as consolidating my metallurgy skills. At the moment I spend most of my time 3D printing new materials, looking at their microstructure and now just starting some basic cells tests to see if the alloys are going to do any harm in the body.
What inspired you to choose materials engineering?
I never thought I'd end up doing a PhD. I'm really keen to get out into industry and see how things are manufactured and help to change those systems but my supervisor approached me last year with this particular research topic and I couldn't pass up the chance to get experience in the biomaterials field - something that had always fascinated me. Plus, doing a research project which will drastically change the quality of life for people undergoing this surgery definitely seemed a worthwhile occupation for 3 years. I love working first hand with a surgeon, a female surgeon at that (Dr. Elizabeth Sigston - check her out, she's an inspirational leader in her own field, as well as running her own businesses...) and the way some metals can bond directly to bone I still find absolutely fascinating.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM?
I can't say anything springs to mind. In the path I've taken from high school until now, I feel I have had a lot of encouragement in the STEM fields because that's where my strengths lie. If I lived 'back in the day' and my only option for employment was a seamstress like my Nanna, I'd have been in big trouble. My sewing attempts have only ever left me with a sewing machine needle shattered in my finger... so I'm very thankful for STEM fields! I did have an interesting experience working in Calcutta/Kolkata, India as an engineer. I was working with a humanitarian group called Pollinate Energy and I was often hung up on as soon as the potential business partner heard a female voice. I was lucky that most people thought Erin was a male name so I got responses to emails at least! A super eye opening experience.
What advice would you give to young women in STEM?
Don't corner yourself into having one passion or interest. Be interested in lots of things and try and treat every experience as a different type of learning experience. The weirdest combinations of things come together in ways you don't expect, certainly in research, so gain some knowledge and some skills and then apply them to a completely new field.
Finally, what's something (unusual) that keeps you going every day?
My secret passion is archaeology. So when I've got mounds of powder to clear away from a 3D print I just have to pretend I'm on a particularly exciting excavation site.