Roanne Maxwell

Roanne Maxwell

University of Newcastle
Graduate Chemical Engineer
Roanne Studied Bachelor of Chemical Engineering (Hons I) at University of Newcastle

What's your job about?

Orica is a leading Australian mining services company with global operations, servicing customers in over 100 countries. We are the largest provider of commercial explosives and blasting systems to the mining, quarrying, oil and gas and construction markets, a global leader in the provision of ground support in mining and tunnelling, and a leading supplier of sodium cyanide for gold extraction.

My role is within the Manufacturing section of the business, working in the process team at a Specialty Emulsifiers Plant. At the plant we make emulsifiers for a range of customers and applications, mainly for use as a raw material in the making of mining explosives. As a graduate, my work is designed to vary throughout my rotation, but my main areas of work include day to day process monitoring, which involves making sure the plant is running safely and efficiently and dealing with any issues as they arise, as well as project type work. The current project I am working on is installing a new control room for the operators at our plant, which will enable all the plant control systems to be operated from one central location. This initiative will also improve the working conditions for the operators by moving them indoors and away from the plant equipment. This project has required planning, project management, budgeting, team work and leadership skills, and has given me a higher level of responsibility and accountability than I have previously experienced.

What's your background?

I grew up in Newcastle, attending Merewether High School and studying a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Newcastle, graduating with Honours in 2012. During my degree I was selected for a scholarship that enabled me to work with a water and wastewater treatment company, giving me great exposure to the realities of working life, and providing context for the theoretical subjects I studied at uni.

I was able to get vacation work with Orica after finishing my degree, which was unusual timing, however I saw the chance to develop new skills and learn more about the company and leapt at the opportunity.

After the vacation work I took a year off, working part time for 5 months and then travelling solo for 7 months. I had applied for graduate roles before I left and was accepted into Orica’s program, starting after returning from my trip.

The break from study and work was a great decision, the resourcefulness and independence I developed from travelling alone is invaluable and the chance to experience a diverse range of cultures and meet countless fascinating people was life changing.

I’ve since completed two graduate rotations, and am partway through my third now. I started in the Environment Team at our Ammonium Nitrate and Cyanide plant in Gladstone, then moved to the Technical Team at the Ammonium Nitrate plant in Newcastle, before relocating to Melbourne this year. Each of these placements has had a very different focus and has required largely different skills.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Yes, while there have been some parts of my graduate rotations that are very clearly chemical engineering related, there are many parts that require a broader range of skills, including communication, teamwork, leadership, planning and project management, budgeting, understanding of licencing and environmental legislation and experience with safety and risk assesments. I have developed these skills over time, and they are qualities that are not specific to chemical engineers. The aim of the Orica graduate program is to provide a flexible development program that’s tailored to the individual, and we select from a range of backgrounds.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

My favourite part of my job is being given projects and tasks that are meaningful and important to the functioning of the site, for example my current Control Room project. While parts of project work are always going to be slow or time consuming (for example updating documentation and procedures), completing a task and seeing the tangible benefits that your work provides to the site, whether it’s through improved process safety, efficiency or risk reduction is hugely rewarding.

What are the limitations of your job?

Throughout my rotations there have been different limitations, for example in my first year very little of my work was specifically related to chemical engineering. I was initially disappointed as I wanted to put my engineering skills to use, but instead I developed a detailed understanding of licencing requirements and how the site liased with Environmental Authorities. Another limitation is that it is easy to get stuck at your desk in the office and not spend much time on the plant. During my rotations I have ensured that I regularly schedule time to be on plant, speaking to operators and developing my understanding of the processes.

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

Firstly, I would highly recommend participating in a semester abroad during you university degree if you can. I was able to study at Leeds University in the UK for 6 months, and it was a fantastic experience. Seeing how your degree is taught in another country and having the chance to meet and engage with students from other countries is a great opportunity, and you make friends from other countries that you will keep for life.

Another important part of life at university is being involved with clubs or societies. There is a club to suit every interest, and its adds a lot of depth to your university experience, giving you the chance to develop a range of skills including the vital abilities of teamwork and leadership.

Finally, when you are looking for a job in the future, remember that it is essential that you put yourself out there and push for it. Not all jobs are advertised and if you don’t try you’ll never know, there are a huge amount of opportunities to be discovered by just asking a question.