Profile - Diane Mather BEng CEng ACSM, Geotechnical Engineer

Materials World magazine
,
27 Nov 2012

CV

2012–present Senior Geotechnical Engineer, Aurecon 
2008–2012 Geotechnical Engineer, Thiess John Holland Group Airport Link Tunnel 
2007–2008 Senior Geotechnical Engineer, Golder Associates, Leighton Baulderstone Hornibrook Bilfinger Berger JV Clem 7 Tunnel Project 
2005–2007 Senior Geotechnical and Tunnels Engineer, GHD Pty Ltd 
2003-2005 Temporary Works Design Manager, Balfour Beatty Construction Limited, Metronet Station Modernisation Project 
1999-2003 Assistant Geotechnical and Tunnels Engineer, London Underground Limited 
1998-1999 Graduate Engineer, Miller Civil Engineering Southern Water TBM Tunnel BEng (Hons) Industrial Geology, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, England CEng (Geotechnical) Engineering Council UK  

What made you choose to study industrial geology? 
I grew up near Wheal Jane tin mine in Cornwall and was fascinated by the mine. I studied Geology, Chemistry and Biology at A-Level. Geology was my highlight, and confirmed my desire to pursue a career in engineering. I applied to Camborne School of Mines, where the Industrial Geology undergraduate degree gave me a balance of geology with mining and civil engineering. 

What was your first job like? 
I worked on a stormwater tunnel, inside the tunnel boring machine. I’d learned a lot about them at university, they are such amazing and huge pieces of plant that I was really fascinated. It was enlightening to see and practice the principles learnt at university. 

The project ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which meant working one week of day shifts and then one week of night shifts – the night shifts were a bit of a shock, as I hadn’t been expecting them. I was carrying out site engineer tasks such as survey setting out, levelling, project activity, scheduling and purchase ordering of plant and construction materials, quality control and site testing. 

What does your current role involve? 
My current role is Senior Geotechnical Engineer at Aurecon in Brisbane, Australia. I am involved in feasibility studies for Australian mining projects in Queensland and South Australia. 

How has the industry changed over the course of your career? 
Health and safety regulations have changed significantly with use of mandatory personal protective equipment. Updated regulations and codes of practice have become mandatory in recent years, for example ‘no working under unsupported ground’. As a professional involved in the design and installation of ground support, this has had an impact to construction programming, methodologies and, of course, cost. Environmental management and approvals have certainly become more influential. The future is set to be a greater challenge to provide costeffective and timely construction solutions, including criteria in health and safety, durability, quality, and environmental codes and legislation. 

I also think the industry is becoming more receptive to part-time and flexible working for women and men. I believe it has to adapt, because there appears to be a significant skills shortage in the middle tier of industry, and we cannot afford to lose experienced and skilled professionals. For example, I worked night shifts during the construction of the Clem 7 tunnel in Brisbane when my second son was a baby. I found it very challenging and it takes planning. You need to be super organised, with a good support network, but it is possible most of the time. 

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? 
Without a doubt it’s gaining Chartered Engineer status, and being able to return to the industry to work part-time after having two children. You’re a graduate mentor – how important do you think this is to encourage young people to follow a career in engineering? I am active in mentoring both male and female graduates. It’s something I believe is very important. Providing feedback and guidance, and encouraging graduates to remain in industry, is crucial. There are often situations and challenges that arise where graduates may think ‘how do I do this’ or ‘is this normal’ and as their mentor I can share my experience and provide reassurance and guidance to help them through most scenarios. 

What makes your job worthwhile? 
Knowing that I am making a difference to the built environment, whether that’s improving existing infrastructure or designing and constructing new. There is a huge sense of achievement in meeting project milestones. Every tunnel breakthrough or opening of a new project is a celebration and a great achievement. Hearing my boys say, ‘My mum helped to build this tunnel’ or ‘My mum helped to design this’ is very rewarding.