When Dr Fatemeh Salehi, a fluid flow computational modelling expert and lecturer at Macquarie University, told one of her school teachers that she wanted to be an engineer, her teacher warned Fatemeh that she wouldn’t be successful in the male-dominated industry. But instead of discouraging Fatemeh, it had the opposite effect. “Being told that I couldn’t do it made me even more motivated!” says Fatemeh.
Fatemeh grew up in Iran in a very STEM-oriented family: her father studied Physics, her mother studied Mathematics and her uncle is an engineer, so, her career choice was no surprise for her family.
After completing her Engineering degree, Fatemeh worked as a consulting engineer on projects such as combined cycle power plants, which produce electricity more efficiently than traditional power plants. Fatemeh says that this was the trigger which inspired her to work further on reducing CO2 emissions and pollution.
Fatemeh moved to Australia to undertake her PhD in Renewable Energy Engineering at UNSW, where she developed expertise in fluid flow computational modelling. Now at Macquarie University, Fatemeh creates models which are relevant to many engineering applications, from energy to biomedical. One of her key aims is the advancement of cleaner and more efficient combustion engines, which produce the lowest amount of toxic pollutants and CO2 while retaining high energy efficiency.
The fluid flow software she is developing can also be used to model drug delivery systems for biomedical applications. “That’s what I like about my research”, says Fatemeh, who is working closely with experimental scientists and industry to test out her models. “It’s the same physics but different applications.”
Fatemeh loves that her profession is all about understanding new concepts to create novel technologies. “We live in a wonderful world with too many unknowns, and I enjoy understanding the physics behind new things that will assist us to overcome challenges in developing new technologies.” She also loves teaching and says that as a lecturer, her responsibility is to motivate and encourage students and equip them with the knowledge and skills to succeed in their future careers.
She encourages high school students who like challenges and problem solving to consider engineering as their future career. “You can work anywhere in the world, because engineering is a universal language and you can see the immediate impact of your research.”
To girls who are worried about the industry being male-dominated, Fatemeh says, “Don’t believe everything you hear. There is great support in university and industry and you’re going to be treated really well.” She also advises students that computational skills are highly valued everywhere. With data analysis and programming skills, “you can work anywhere, from engineering to banking. Another benefit is you can work from your laptop at the beach!”
Fatemeh’s career path:
>>> Bachelor of Engineering (Aerospace), Amirkabir University of Technology, Iran
>>> Master of Engineering (Aerospace), Amirkabir University of Technology, Iran
>>> Consulting Engineer, Monenco Iran
>>> PhD (Renewable Energy Engineering), UNSW
>>> Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Sydney
>>> Lecturer, School of Engineering, Macquarie University
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.