Facteon People: Travel & Power the World

Following a talk at Kiwibots’ GirlPowered event, Facteon’s Dr Yan Jia sits down to discuss her career journey to date. With a PhD in mechanical engineering and a career that has taken her across the world, Yan makes a compelling case for doing what you love, reaching out of your comfort zone and taking pride in your accomplishments.

You have travelled the world with engineering. Tell me about your journey so far

Shanghai, China

I obtained my PhD from Shanghai Jiao Tong University. My research focused on advanced manufacturing technology, specifically electrical discharge machining. I applied this non-conventional machining process to dress worn diamond grinding wheels to improve the efficiency of the traditional grinding process.

Michigan, USA

I attended University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA for two years as a researcher to complete my PhD research. This was my first time living in an English-speaking country. It was also where I met my husband who comes from New Delhi, India and is currently lecturing Mechatronic Engineering at University of Auckland. Studying in Michigan opened international opportunities and inspired my next stop.

Stavanger, Norway

After briefly returning to Shanghai for my graduation, I accepted a job with a global oil field service provider. For the first two years, I was stationed in Stavanger, Norway as a Field Service Engineer. I worked on offshore oil rigs in the Norwegian Sea. This was extremely challenging both physically and mentally.

I travelled offshore by helicopter and regularly worked a 12-hour night shift. My role involved running production tubing and well completions equipment down to the reservoir below the seabed. Once installed, we performed rigorous testing. I spent half of my time at sea on the oil rigs and the other half on land in the office or workshop.

At the time, I was the only female engineer and the only engineer of Asian descent working on the oil rig. It was here that my focus on increasing diversity in engineering took root.

Singapore

After completing my two year oil field assignment in Norway, I transferred to the company’s research facility in Singapore. Here, I worked as a New Product Development Engineer. The Singapore R&D centre designs and manufactures the equipment installed at the offshore rigs. I enjoyed the opportunity to complete project-related research. I was also able to apply my field knowledge in a technology development setting.  

Auckland, New Zealand

I moved to Auckland, New Zealand with my husband in 2015. We love to live in this beautiful country with four distinct seasons. When I’m not working at Facteon, I enjoy hiking local trails around the Auckland region and gardening in our lovely backyard.

You moved between academia and industry. How did you manage that transition?

I found the transition surprisingly smooth. As the modern industry is becoming increasingly technology-driven, the process of applying my academic knowledge in a business setting was relatively straightforward. I would say the transition was helped by the two year oil field assignment in Norway. As I was (quite literally) thrown into the deep end, I had to learn how to adapt my knowledge to solve real world problems. As an academic researcher, one learns to explore the underlying causes for the purpose of solving a complex problem. This training is also useful in industrial settings as many complex systems often interact.

What drives you to continue paving the way for other women in engineering?

At its core, engineering is about using analytical thinking to solve problems. The analytical thinking and problem solving skills accumulated over the course of an engineering career are beneficial for dealing with personal challenges faced in day-to-day life. Of course, the gender imbalance within engineering limits the diversity of thinking. Therefore, I’m passionate about bringing more women into engineering roles to enhance the ability of the industry to better solve complex problems.

It is great to have organisations, such as Kiwibots in New Zealand, promoting engineering to young children. However, it is essential that employers continue taking steps to actively encourage and support diversity within their work environment. 

What advice do you give to engineers in the making?

Do what you love, it’s a cliché as it’s true. In that same vein, it is important to reach out of your comfort zone every once in a while as that is when learning and growth happens.

I stepped out of my comfort zone when I worked at the offshore oil rigs in Norway. It enabled my future development as an engineer in high-tech industry. Now, I’m happy to stay on dry land as part of my role with Facteon. I certainly surprised myself with what I was able to achieve when I challenged myself.

My closing piece of advice is to take pride in your accomplishments. Regardless of where you are at in your career, we all face setbacks but we are defined by our tenacity in forging ahead.  

Dr Yan Jia

Dr Yan Jia

Technical Sales Advisor

Joining Facteon in mid-2019, Yan brings a depth of both academic and industry experience. She has worked across a range of industries, including oil and gas, and manufacturing. In her role with Facteon, Yan supports our customers by delivering powerful solutions that drive manufacturing excellence. In addition to her depth of engineering experience, Yan holds a PhD from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in mechanical engineering.