Michaela Gilchrist

Australian National University
Graduate Sustainability & Environment Officer
Michaela studied Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in 2014

What's your job about?

I am currently working for the North Eastern Program Alliance, a joint venture between Fulton Hogan, Laing O’Rourke and Jacobs, which involved the removal of 2 levels crossing and a rail duplication in the North-East of Melbourne.

As a sustainability and environment officer my work is split between the 2 disciplines. My current work in sustainability involves researching and developing evidence to obtain a score for 2 credits that are part of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) rating the project must achieve. For environment I’m working with the site environment advisors to develop environmental control maps for the project area, environmental factsheets and other environmental procedures as well as assisting the Environment Manager.

Long story short my role is to help protect the environment whilst we are performing works and work out ways that NEPA can be more sustainable in the project design and construction.

What's your background?

I was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia when I was 7 years old. I lived in Canberra for 16 years where I completed my university studies at the Australian National University. After finishing Uni I took a gap year and travelled to countries in Africa, New Zealand, Turkey and The Netherlands. I moved to Melbourne at the beginning of 2016 to start my job with Fulton Hogan where I was working as a graduate engineer in the Industries business. I then changed roles to my current one at the start of 2017.

Finishing university was a big milestone for me. Taking the gap year and travelling to countries in Africa in particular was such an eye opening and incredible experience.

I studied overseas in China whilst I was at university and moving to Melbourne has been great. It’s a fun city and Fulton Hogan has been a great company to work for.

I was a graduate engineer in 2016 and during the rotation program I did a stint with the environment team on some construction jobs. I really enjoyed the work and a couple of months after completing this rotation the role for the sustainability and environment officer at NEPA came up and I jumped at the opportunity.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Yes. I think if you have a passion for the environment and innovation then someone without my background could do this job. Like me, I was an engineer to start off with (and studied engineering) now I’m working in environment because it was a rotation I enjoyed and something I’m passionate about.

Having people skills and confidence is really important. You have to engage with a lot of different people outside your team and the company so you need to be able to communicate well with them (so nothing is lost in translation) and also be able to develop a good relationship, this makes working with them a lot easier and avoids lots of problems. Confidence to always ask questions if you’re unsure and to also stick to your guns.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

Being able to help a community by improving their infrastructure in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way is what I love most about my job. This rail project is so interesting with a lot involved as well as a lot of different people. I’m learning lots not just about the environment and ways in which to be sustainable but also about construction processes and different techniques. When you get that positive feedback from the community it’s really rewarding.

What are the limitations of your job?

There is some weekend work as well as night work. Occupation periods mean working long hours, 7 days a week for a period of a month or more. There are some long days (10, 12+ hours). You often get thrown in the deep end and can feel like you’re drowning a bit. Being a girl as well, you’re the minority, often on the site there aren’t any other female engineers or workers, you’re it. It can get a bit lonely sometimes like this, particularly when you realise that you really miss talking to another girl. There are still some out there that are hesitant to women being on a worksite and sexual harassment is still around but thankfully this attitude is changing. You do need to be resilient.

Three pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...

  • University isn’t everything – employers look for personality, social life, hobbies, what you do on weekends, not just good grades on a piece of paper

  • Go on exchange – if you can, go study overseas, it’s so much fun and you learn a lot about yourself

  • Enjoy uni holidays while they last, the 20 days of annual leave become very precious!