This month for our Women in Engineering Interview Series I’m featuring Sarah, a Production Excellence Advisor. I met her while I was living and working in Brisbane, Australia. Her husband and I worked together as reservoir engineers and she and my husband worked together as production engineers.
I enjoyed getting to know Sarah and her husband and we’ve been able to keep in touch, even meeting for dinner here in the States when they were in town traveling for work. One of my favorite things about being an engineer is the people I’ve met through work and how our paths continually cross throughout our careers and lives.
Sarah is kind, smart, adventurous and a great role model for aspiring engineers. I hope you enjoy reading her story.
Engineering Emily (EE): How and when did you decide to become an engineer?
Sarah Kalfat (SK): For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by chemicals. I know that’s kind of weird for a kid but at an early age I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in chemistry. I also wanted to make a difference, learn something new every day, travel the world and have the flexibility to work across a vast range of industries. I concluded that Engineering was the perfect fit and have never looked back.
EE: What was your college major?
SK: Chemical Engineering
EE: What was your university experience like as an engineering student?
SK: I worked hard and played hard. Chemical engineering was no small feat, at times I was studying rocket science…. literally. I spent some late nights (and all nighters) cramming for exams and mulling over my final design project. But on the other hand, I had the time of my life, made some amazing friendships and priceless memories that I will never forget.
EE: Did you do any engineering internships during college?
SK: Throughout university I attended several career fairs where companies from around Australia would exhibit. These were a great place to learn more about different industries, network and meet recruiters from different companies. I was drawn to the energy industry, specifically to oil & gas. I applied for an advertised oil & gas internship program a multinational company, where I worked for 3 months over my 3rd year university Christmas break.
EE: How did you find/get hired for your first engineering job?
SK: After I completed an internship in my 3rd year of University, my supervisor offered me a guaranteed graduate process engineering position post completion of my final year.
EE: What industry do you currently work in?
SK: Upstream Oil & Gas in both onshore & offshore environments
EE: What has been your career path from college graduation up to today?
SK: I began my career in 2009 as a graduate process engineer in Melbourne, Australia where I worked on a range of projects in the upstream, gas processing and petrochemical industry. My graduate program allowed me to obtain a wide range of experience. During my first 4 years in industry worked in process design, process safety, operations, construction & commissioning on various process facilities and offices across Australia.
In 2013, I joined an oil & gas major in Brisbane and as a Production Engineer, I was responsible for optimizing gas production from Coal Seam Gas (CSG) wells in the Surat Basin for a CSG to LNG Megaproject. In 2014, I relocated to Trinidad and Tobago where I am currently a focusing on production enhancement projects, deployment of new technology initiatives and reducing overall operating costs across the onshore/offshore assets.
EE: Have you travelled for work, and if so how often and to where?
SK: Throughout my career I have travelled for work, conferences & training around Australia, UK, USA and the Caribbean.
EE: Have you had to move for work?
SK: Yes, I have moved from my home town Melbourne, Australia to Brisbane to Trinidad and Tobago. I’m not sure where I’m going next, but I find that kind of exciting.
EE: What has been your best experience working as an engineer?
SK: Some of my best experiences to date have been when I was responsible for end to end delivery of a project from conceptual design all the way through to construction commissioning & start-up. I supervised the execution onsite on an offshore gas platform and could see the initial design turn into a reality and add material value to the company. The experience was priceless.
EE: What has been your most challenging experience working as an engineer?
SK: Learning to take risks. It can be easy to get comfortable with what you know. There was a stage in my career where I felt unhappy and stagnant in my career but the thought of moving on was scary and uncertain. I finally decided to take a risk and apply for a job that I was excited about, it was well out of my comfort zone for but it paid off.
EE: Do you feel women are treated equally to men in engineering?
SK: I have had great experiences being a female in engineering and have personally felt that I’ve been treated equally to my male counterparts. I really didn’t focus on myself being a minority in the field. Many times, I have been the only female on a worksite / offshore platform and have never been made to feel any different from anyone else.
EE: How do you balance career and home life?
SK: I don’t have any kids yet, so I find it easy to balance my career and home life. However, I did find it challenging to move away from my family and friends to pursue an international career on the other side of the world. To balance this, I made a conscious effort to stay connected daily and visit home as much as I can.
EE: What advice do you have for girls interested becoming an engineer?
SK: As women, we can sometimes set limits for ourselves in our career and aim low when applying for jobs. Recognize this and break out of the mold. Women are often over qualified for jobs they apply for so they miss out on a lot of opportunities they could have been great at because they believe they are not ready. Aim high and you will be surprised where you end up. It’s all about having a positive attitude and believing in yourself.
Also seek out role models and mentors early on, they can be pivotal in shaping your career.
Thanks for the inspiration Sarah! My favorite part of her interview was her answer to my question about what has been her most challenging experience as an engineer. She said wasn’t happy with her career and took a risk applying for a new job and it paid off.
I love that she decided to take the risk which ultimately led to her having more job satisfaction. It can be scary to take big risks like applying for a job outside your comfort zone, and sometimes our fear can hold us back. This seems to happen more often for women. Sometimes it’s hard to realize we’re unhappy simply because of the job or environment we’re in and trying something new like applying for a new job can make all the difference.
I also loved her advice about seeking out role models and mentors early. I didn’t do this in my career and I always wish I had. I think it’s especially important for women engineers to find someone they admire and start a mentoring relationship with them early in their career.
If Sarah’s story inspired you and you’d like to share you story on the blog, please contact me.