Have you ever met someone and thought to yourself, “That person is cool. I want to know her and/or be just like her”? That’s how I felt the first time I met Jeanet. I met her while working in Australia, and at the time she had two young children and was working full-time as a production technologist with my husband. She seemed to have the work-hard/play-hard philosophy figured out and managed to balance her career and family.
To me Jeanet seemed adventurous (traveling and working as an expat with her young family takes courage!), mysterious (probably because she spent most of her free time home with her kids – which is a good thing!), and fun (when we hung out socially with Jeanet and her husband it was always a good time). She’s had an interesting career in petroleum engineering with international moves, a career break to be with her children, and now she’s started her own business. I hope you enjoy reading Jeanet’s story below.
Engineering Emily (EE): What is your name and occupation?
Jeanet Schouten (JS): My name is Jeanet Schouten, Production Technologist and founder of Schouten Energy. I am from the Netherlands.
EE: How and when did you decide to become an engineer?
JS: I was good in math, and aspired an international career. I knew that an MSc in engineering would give me the best chance to travel for work.
EE: What was your college major?
JS: My major was Mining & Petroleum Engineering (at Delft University of Technology).
EE: What was your university experience like as an engineering student?
JS: I loved being at university. I lived in a student fraternity house and partied a lot, especially the first 2 years. After that I became more serious, my grades improved and I organized several events for the fraternity, which proved useful as extra-curricular activities on my resume during job applications later on.
EE: Did you do any engineering internships during college?
JS: I did two international engineering internships during college: one in Al-Sukhna, Egypt for a Dutch dredging company (HBG) and one in Marmul, Oman for Petroleum Development Oman (Shell).
EE: How did you find your first engineering job?
JS: I sent application forms for graduation programs to several companies and, after interviews and assessments centers, received job offers from Shell, Schlumberger, and Fugro (a Dutch company providing geotechnical services).
EE: What industry do you currently work in?
JS: I started my own company, focusing on innovative technical solutions for a sustainable future. I only work part-time, and take care of our two children.
EE: What has been your career path from college graduation up to today?
JS: After graduating I started working for Shell as a production technologist. I worked for Shell for 7 years, mostly international and in various roles, as production technologist, well-site petroleum engineer, and field development coordinator. In Libya I left Shell to work for Petro-Canada to manage one of their non-operated assets. After 3 years we left Libya and joined BG-Group in Brisbane, Australia, where I started as principal production technologist, and moved into ‘New Technologies’ project management two years later.
After 5 years Australia, we moved back to the Netherlands. I took a gap year to look after the kids and decided to make a career change. I re-schooled myself via various MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) into bio-based/circular economy, renewable energy and physics. I struggled to find a part-time job that appealed to me, and started Schouten Energy. It was challenging to find projects not related to oil & gas, and I had a couple of sustainability project-tenders which were not successful. I am currently working on an atmospheric research project for Delft University of Technology.
As I only work part-time, I have time to do voluntary work at our children’s primary school. I give extra math lessons one morning per week for the kids that finished their math chores (our future engineers? ). It’s a great experience for them and for me.
EE: Have you had to move for work?
JS: Yes: In 2001 to Norway, in 2002 to Cameroon, in 2004 to the Netherlands, in 2007 to Libya, and in 2010 to Australia. The moves to Libya and Australia involved the whole family moving, which had a lot more impact than moving by myself, but also much more fun.
EE: Have you travelled for work, and if so how often and to where?
JS: I travelled a lot when working offshore in Norway and Cameroon (every two to four weeks). In Libya I travelled a lot due to visa issues, and occasionally to the interior (on average every month). In Australia and the Netherlands I travelled on project basis (approx. every two months), to wherever the projects were executed, i.e. Oman, Nigeria and various locations in Australia.
EE: What has been your best experience working as an engineer?
JS: Hard to choose! My two best experiences have been in Cameroon and Australia.
In Australia I was project manager ‘New Technologies’, and had the chance to screen and implement various new technologies around water recycling and well testing for coal seam gas wells. My manager provided me with a high degree of autonomy, which really made me flourish. A great example of leadership!
In Cameroon I initiated a small project to re-rout two pipelines and by doing so diverting flow from artificially lifted wells for production optimization. I loved working on technical projects offshore or in the field, preferably in remote area’s far away from head office politics. 😉
EE: What has been your most challenging experience working as an engineer?
JS: My most challenging experience was when I was working for Petro-Canada in Tripoli, and was seconded to the local office of the national operating company.
It was a very valuable experience to work for a Libyan organization, my colleagues were amazingly welcoming, but it was also challenging to adjust to local ways of working, and to try to align the different interests of Petro-Canada and the Libyan operating company.
EE: How do you balance career and home life?
JS: When our children were younger (0-9 years old), my husband and I both worked full-time. We had a combination of daycare and nannies for the children, which worked very well. The nanny would also cook for the children, drive them to after-school activities, and help us out with household chores or grocery shopping. During the week we were all busy, but the weekends were for the family. I have fond memories of spending our family time together in the weekends, staying home playing games, or making trips to the playground or beach, and the four of us taking nap-time together from 1-3pm.
When we decided to move back home to the Netherlands, 2 years ago, I quit my job and chose to spend more time with the children (now 10 & 12 years old) while my husband continued working full-time. I missed work but also loved being able to spend more time with the children.
I started thinking of my future career and wanted something different, a part-time job and a career change – a challenging combination! Luckily there are the MOOCs, a great opportunity to re-school your self for free in any subject of interest. Starting my own company was the next step in trying to find meaningful and fulfilling work, combining it with taking care of the children. I try not to compare my current income to what it used to be, but have confidence that I will find a form which fits my purpose.
EE: What do you consider the challenges and advantages of being a working mom?
JS: Advantages: Having a career is great, the energy it gives you, and the freedom of having your own income. And you become so effective at work and at home!
Disadvantages: Practical challenges around logistics, hardly any time for yourself and coping with guilt feelings because you’re away from the children.
EE: What advice do you have for girls interested becoming an engineer?
JS: Definitely go for it! With an engineering degree, you will most likely always be able to find a good job, which will give you independence and freedom.
And then choose a supportive husband, which helps to combine having a career with having a family. 😉
EE: What advice do you have for working moms?
JS: Solve problems when they arrive, it’s impossible to plan everything ahead. Also, I think all working moms have guilt issues with not being home to take care of their children and instead wanting to pursue a career. But in the end, stay true to your self. A happy mom is the best example for happy children.
EE: Would you still become an engineer if you could do it all over again?
JS: Yes, absolutely!
EE: Do you feel women are treated equally to men in engineering?
JS: I’ve been treated well, and my male colleagues have made an effort including me. At times it was challenging for all of us, i.e. working on an offshore platform or in the desert being the only female, where all accommodation was shared. I think a lot depends on your own attitude as well. Don’t apologize for being female, or when addressing things different than your male colleagues would do, it’s your strength.
See the platform picture:
This is production-platform Juliet, offshore Cameroon. To the left is the smaller satellite-platform Bravo. When I arrived here January 2003, I was the first female to work & stay on the platform on rotation basis. My new colleagues were so shocked of having to accommodate a female on Juliet platform, which only had shared accommodation & shared bathrooms (and no locks!) that they accommodated me in a separate container on platform Bravo! Luckily within a few weeks they were ok with the new situation and I could stay on Juliet.
Thanks for the interview Jeanet! She is a great example of someone who took a career break from engineering to look after her children, and has found a career path (by starting her own business) that makes her happier and gives her a good work/life balance so she can spend more time with her young family.
Jeanet’s story definitely inspires me, since I am currently on my career break and thinking about how and when I will come back to work. I like the idea that she started her own business and can work from home part-time. That sounds exactly like what I would like to be able to do in the future when I’m looking to go back to work. It is similar to what Florence (a previous Women in Engineering Interviewee) is doing as well, and it seems to be a great way to have a fulfilling career and lots of family time.
If you’ve been inspired by Jeanet and want to share your story on my blog, please contact me. If you’d like to learn more about Jeanet and her current work, please visit her website for Schouten Energy.