Name: Michelle Liu
Program: Civil Engineering
University(s) / College(s) Attended: University of Waterloo
Education / Degree(s): Hon. BASc
Current Job Title: Master of Applied Science (MASc) Candidate / Water Resources EIT
Current Employer: University of Waterloo / C3 Water Inc.
Email: Send Email
Fun Facts About Me
Share one fun fact about yourself: I have a strong passion (some call it an obsession) for craft beer and the craft brewing industry in Ontario. When the time is right, I hope to go back to school for a brewing certificate, become a Master Brewer, and own a brewery that will serve a lineup of organic sours and stouts that may or may not have engineering-themed names.
The most inspiring engineer I know is ....... Because ........ ?: It would be a tie between a science teacher from high school and my current master’s supervisor, who is an engineer and professor in engineering. Although I met them nearly five years apart and under very different circumstances, they both believed in me in times when very few did and continue to do so. I consider myself very lucky to have not one but two incredible women in STEM as mentors and role models, and it is always my hope to someday change a life the way they changed mine.
Why did you choose to study engineering?: I switched to engineering after one semester in life sciences because I was unsure of what the future holds for life science graduates. Financial independence has been a high priority of mine since my early teens, but I did not fully grasp the difference that an undergraduate program can make in reaching 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 science program, and I made the decision to withdraw despite discouragement from friends and family. Once I knew what I needed to look for to reach my goals, 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, 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?: I currently apply my engineering degree by making use of the valuable tools it gave me on a daily basis. Firstly and most importantly, my time as an engineering student enabled me to take my time management skill to a whole new level. I now strive for 80 productive hours weekly, divided between master’s research, courses, paid employment (4 positions, including one as owner-operator), and volunteer/leadership work (4 roles, including 2 as committee/board members). Secondly, my engineering degree trained me to analyze problems critically, a skill I often apply in combination with my innate sense of logic and artistic inclinations to yield creative, efficient and valid solutions. Finally, my engineering degree taught me that I have a duty to society, both as an engineer and a privileged individual. Currently in my master’s, I apply this sense of responsibility by choosing to conduct research in a transportation topic related to Northern Canada. This decision came as a result of witnessing the challenges faced by indigenous Northern communities, which I had the opportunity to do during my fourth-year capstone design project. It is my hope to be able to contribute to the improvement of deteriorating Northern infrastructure, which is just one of the countless challenges faced by remote and indigenous communities in Canada.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to pursue a career in engineering?: This is my advice for your career, in engineering or not: do not be nearsighted. Whether you have a general goal (like I did in terms of financial independence) or a specific career in mind, 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? This leads to my more specific piece of advice: always have backup plans. 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 that will have an impact on society.