"Be kind, be curious, and learn how you best work with others. Collaboration is a superpower and will take you way farther than any technical skill."
Juliette Mollard Thibault
- Degree: Bachelor of Applied Science
- Grad year: 2023
- Campus: Vancouver
I’d like to acknowledge that I have been born, raised, and continue to live on the unceded and ancestral territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Peoples, in so-called Vancouver, BC. I grew up in East Van, which helped shape me into someone politically minded and deeply committed to my community. I’m a loud, passionate, well-spoken queer person who genuinely loves being a woman in STEM, but who also loves being silly and slay, cooking for loved ones, sewing without a pattern, reading feminist theory, and talking with the besties. My big three are Gemini, Taurus, Leo, and what about it??!!
Why did you choose Civil Engineering?
For me, engineering was a logical decision based on my strengths in high school, even if I didn’t really know much about the profession (I actually didn’t really understand what engineers did until me and my friends were in our first Co-op jobs). I knew that UBC Engineering was a fantastic program, and I was very proud to be accepted into it. I chose to attend UBC partly to be close to my younger siblings, and partly because I don’t think I could live through the cold winters that I would find anywhere else in Canada. But I will admit that this decision was less about logic and more about a feeling that this was the right place for me, that it was the perfect combination of familiar and foreign, and that it seemed to hold a lot of promise.
At the end of first year, I chose Civil Engineering because I thought that I wanted to pursue Environmental Engineering, and at the time the Environmental program was within the Civil program. I was actually confused about what Environmental Engineering was, I thought it meant engineering that is good for the environment, which is what I was actually interested in pursuing.
In the Civil program, I learned that sustainability can and should be a part of all engineering work and will very much be a focus in my career. While many Civil courses teach about sustainable practices, I found that I wanted to learn a lot more about sustainability in the built environment, so I joined a design team that focuses on this.
What has made your time at UBC memorable?
For me it has to be the people I have met and connected with throughout my degree. I participated in an exchange abroad where I took a reduced course load and have taken part time courses since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic began, so my course schedule was disrupted. I ended up taking courses with two cohorts. In both cohorts, I made lifelong friends who supported me throughout our coursework and who will continue to be part of social and professional networks for the rest of my career. I have also had the privilege of working with absolutely brilliant professors and researchers who have given me unique perspectives on aspects of the civil engineering industry that I would not have gained my courses.
I want to highlight that, for me, the social and professional connections I have made with women throughout the department and the faculty have been the most precious and valuable part of this experience.
While engineering at UBC is much more diverse than in the past, it is still so important to me to have friendships and mentorships with other women who have shared this experience. These relationships have given me the knowledge and the confidence to find my technical and professional strengths and to me exactly who I am, a proudly queer women in STEM! Shoutout to Natalie, Asal, Kate, Anna, Chloe, Katie, Alicia, Agustina, Maira, Gab, Pam, Sheryl, Zsuzsa, and all of the other wonderful women who have been part of my engineering education.
Here is a chronological list of my most memorable UBC experiences:
- Working as Workshops and Camps instructor at Geering Up.
- CIVL 203, the Civil technical communication course taught by the incredible Dr Pamela Wolf.
- Working in the Utilities Management Branch at the City of Vancouver through the UBC Engineering Co-op program.
- Going on exchange to NUS in Singapore through the CIE program.
- Joining Third Quadrant Design as the Building Science team co-lead and winning my first design challenge with the team.
- Working as an undergraduate research assistant for the UBC BIMTOPiCs lab which is led by Dr. Sheryl Staub-French, who is also the Dean of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion for the Faculty of Applied Science, and is seriously the best.
- Working as a TA for Dr. Pamela Wolf in CIVL 203, which remains my favourite and most valuable course taken in the Civil program.
- Doing a two-month research exchange at the HTW Berlin through the DAAD RISE Germany program.
- Accepting my Iron Ring and winning an award from the BC Carbon Leadership Forum on the same day.
- Completing the design and construction of the Third Space Commons with Third Quadrant Design and winning 3rd place at the 2023 US Solar Decathlon.
- Being the student speaker at my graduation ceremony.
It is possible to fit a lot into your undergraduate degree if you go after different experiences and believe you deserve them. I have to admit that a lot of these experiences also caused me the most stress and struggle in my time at UBC, but they were absolutely worth it. I would not have been able to do all of this if I had not decided to extend my degree and take classes part time. Since Fall 2020 I have taken 3-4 classes a semester and have worked part time for the City of Vancouver. My degree took me 6 years, and I feel more ready than ever for what is coming next.
The most significant experience that shaped my time at UBC has been my involvement in the Third Space Commons project, which is a low-carbon, high-performance building that was designed and built at UBC by students on Third Quadrant Design, an interdisciplinary design team. I held the role of Building Science and Sustainability Team Lead, which meant that I lead the design of the enclosure of the building, which features hempcrete and reused materials, and I completed the life cycle assessment (LCA) of the project. Our team received an award from the BC Carbon Leadership Forum for our LCA methodology and results, and we placed 3rd overall in the 2023 US Solar Decathlon Build Challenge, winning 1st place in both the Embodied Environment Impact and Architecture categories.
This project was absolutely the most challenging thing I have ever been a part of, but it was also by far the most enriching experience of my time at UBC, and I am so grateful to the rest of my team and to the university for making this project happen. Check out the building on campus at 6363 Biological Sciences Road!
How are you applying the skills you've learned?
My teamwork skills are by far the most important skills I’ve gained from this program and will serve me regardless of where I end up in my career. I have used collaboration and effective communication in all of my professional experiences and especially during my time on Third Quadrant Design, given that our entire process was integrated between engineering, architecture and business students. These skills are also essential for getting through the very demanding and group-oriented course requirements of this degree. These are the skills I am most proud of and those that I will prioritize for the rest of my career, because they allow me to do my best work, and to help others do the same.
Your advice to incoming UBC Engineering students?
Most importantly, take the time to take care of your physical and mental wellbeing. Eat nice food, move your body, and give yourself breaks. Having chronic back pain and being burnt out at the young age of 21 is not cool, and not taking better care of myself is the one thing I regret, and is the most important lesson I learned.
But also, say yes to as much as possible, because you will get opportunities that will never come as easily as they do in your undergrad. Do the co-op program, go on an exchange, make friends in other programs outside of engineering, talk to your professors about their research and their career paths, get involved in student clubs that have nothing to do with engineering. This is your time to learn, and that learning should be as much about who you are, who you want to be and what your strengths and weaknesses are as it should be about your course content. The best decision I made was extending my degree and making time for things outside of my courses, because now that I am graduating, and I am in a much better position to begin my career and my life knowing who I am and what I care about.
What are your future plans to make a difference in our world?
I will be starting by gaining experience in building design at a consulting firm that focuses on structural and enclosure consulting. I don’t know where exactly that will take me, but I am considering going to grad school or moving abroad to continue my career. My ultimate goal is to be of service to my community by employing my technical skills to create a built environment that is inclusive and accessible. This goal is fairly broad and could be achieved as an engineer or in a different area of work, and I’m open to wherever my path ends up taking me.