Name: Michelle Liu
Program: Civil Engineering
University(s) / College(s) Attended: University of Ottawa and University of Waterloo
Education / Degree(s): Juris Doctor in Common Law (in progress), Honours BASc and MASc
Email: Send Email
Fun Facts About Me
Share one fun fact about yourself: I consider myself a bit of a craft beer connoisseur and hope to someday be the first BIPOC woman to start a brewery in Southern Ontario. My brewery would be a safe space for women, BIPOC, and queer folks to brew, chat about, and enjoy beer—a space like this does not exist right now, believe it or not.
The most inspiring engineer I know is ....... Because ........ ?: It would be a tie between Susan Tighe and Andrea Atkins.
Susan is a close mentor and friend to whom I owe much of my success in the last 6 years. Susan was an engineering professor at the University of Waterloo for 20 years and held various senior administration roles, notably Deputy Provost and VP Integrated Planning and Budgeting, while blazing the trail for women in pavement and construction engineering. She is now the Provost and VP Academic at McMaster University and remains widely recognized as a senior authority in pavement engineering and asset management. As someone who is an engineering professional and also interested in academia and senior university administration, I recognize how incredibly lucky I am to have Susan in my life.
More information about Susan Tighe: https://www.mcmaster.ca/vpacademic/provost.html
Andrea is a close friend and ally who showed unprecedented support for my many initiatives as a student leader at UWaterloo. Andrea is an engineering professional and full-time faculty member in architectural engineering. She is an exceptional instructor in her delivery of course material and in her ability to consider the needs of her students and to connect with them. We remain in close contact, and she is a constant source of support for me. I feel very fortunate that our paths crossed, and I am always looking forward to the next opportunity to work with her!
More information about Andrea Atkins: https://uwaterloo.ca/civil-environmental-engineering/about/people/andrea-atkins
Why did you choose to study engineering?: I switched to engineering after one semester in life sciences because I was unsure what the future holds for graduates of life sciences. Financial independence has been my highest priority since my early teens, but I did not fully grasp the impact that my choice of undergraduate program can have on that goal until after high school. When trying to shortlist university programs in grade 12, I did extensive research on the content and quality of their curriculum but did not consider the employment rate of their graduates nor the diversity in career type after graduation. Luckily, these two aspects of a university program occurred to me after just a few weeks into my time in the life sciences program, and I decided to withdraw. Once I knew what I was looking for, it did not take long to discover that a professional program like engineering checked all my boxes, from the guarantee of a professional designation to the diversity in potential careers. Combining all of that with my consistent performance in STEM courses in high school, I decided that an undergraduate degree in engineering would be a good fit for me—and I have yet to regret that decision!
How do you apply your engineering degree to your current career?: Balancing engineering’s rigorous curriculum and my passion for volunteering and leadership work enabled me to take my time management skills to a whole new level. I have been able to achieve 90 productive hours per week over the past 6 to 7 years. Currently, I divide my time between coursework, a research assistantship, contract work, and a number of leadership roles in student governance and in the community. Secondly, my engineering degree trained me to analyze problems logically and consistently and to present solutions in a manner that is clear and concise. This has proven to be valuable in so many other areas of my life, including in law school! Finally, my engineering degree taught me that I have a duty to society, both as an engineer and an individual with the privilege of pursuing their third university degree. This is one of the many motivations for my tireless passion for advocacy, giving back, and serving my fellow students and colleagues wherever I find myself.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to pursue a career in engineering?: Do not be nearsighted! Whether you have a general goal (like I did in terms of financial independence) or a specific career in mind when you are choosing a post-secondary program, my advice is to play the long game. Some undergraduate programs paint themselves to be perfect for a postgraduate program, and I know this because I was in one for a semester. You should be very careful with what you choose, especially if the postgraduate program of interest to you is medicine, law, dentistry, and the like. Choosing an undergraduate program geared for entry into highly competitive postgraduate programs is very nearsighted, in my opinion. A decision like that begs the practical question of what happens when you do not get into medical school, law school, or dental school? The reality is that most people who apply to those postgrad programs do not get admitted. Will your undergraduate degree still take you to where you want to be in life? Will you still be able to make the difference you always dreamed of? This leads to my more specific piece of advice: always have backup plans, because life is unpredictable; it does not hurt to try to be one step ahead of it, and this is something I feel like I nailed by getting an engineering degree. It is broad enough that you cannot possibly run out of backup plans, but specific/technical enough that you can do meaningful work for our society.