Danika Smith turned her love of STEM and passion for the environment into a fulfilling career focussed on water infrastructure
Danika was always interested in science at school, and particularly in the environment and mitigating climate change. But engineering didn’t enter her radar as a career option until she was in Year 12 and really enjoying maths, and learnt how much maths was involved in engineering.
She signed up for a degree in environmental engineering at UNSW, during which she undertook a vacation program at engineering consulting firm, Arup – which turned into an offer to sign up for Arup’s 12-month grad program.
With her degree under her belt and having completed her graduate year at Arup, Danika was recently promoted to her current role of Water Engineer and Australasia Water Skills Manager. This involves planning water, wastewater, stormwater and recycled water infrastructure, and using growth predictions and risk assessments to determine where new or updated water infrastructure will be needed in the next four to 10 years.
From recycled water to blockchain technology
Danika has worked on some pretty cool projects already in this role, including assessing the feasibility of upgrading and combining pump stations to provide recycled water to Sydney’s CBD. “This would increase resilience to climate change in the CBD by reducing demand, the risk of pump station failure, providing emergency storage and allowing easier maintenance,” she explains.
Another ongoing project involves assessing the impact of Arup’s water projects on people globally and how the projects meet the company’s sustainability goals.
“I also worked on a super cool project looking at using blockchain technology for water trading within the Murray Darling Basin,” she says.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Danika, though, who kickstarted her career at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has had to navigate building relationships with her colleagues and mentors whilst working from home.
Looking to the future of her industry, Danika is particularly excited about integrated systems and the circular economy – for example using biogas from water treatment as fuel. “Therefore there are growing opportunities for those who have interests across multiple areas (for example water and energy) which are underpinned by a passion for sustainability and the environment,” she says.
Danika’s tip for anyone starting out on their career is to find mentors and network.
“Talk to as many people in STEM as you can about what they actually do at work, what bits of their work they enjoy, why they enjoy it and how they got to where they are,” she says.
“Some people have some super interesting unconventional career paths, some people work in super exciting niche areas that you may not have even heard of.”
Danika’s study and career path
- Bachelor of Engineering (Environmental Engineering), UNSW Sydney
- Graduate Engineer, Arup
- Water Engineer and Water Skills Manager, Arup
Author: Gemma Chilton
Gemma is the Managing Editor of Careers with STEM magazine. She has previously worked as Digital Managing Editor at Australian Geographic and a staff writer at Cosmos science magazine.