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Want your uni choice to help save the planet? Choose engineering

There are lots of uni pathways to careers working to reduce emissions and help get us to net zero, starting with engineering

As 2023 comes to a close and you await your ATAR results and (fingers crossed!) uni offers, it’s also time to double check your uni and course preferences and make any last minute changes.

If you’ve been thinking a lot about whether your career will help humanity manage climate change, you’re not alone, and you’ll be happy to hear you still have options.

Engineers working in solar and renewable energy are working hard to help make the future sustainable for all of us.

And there are many options in engineering that can lead to further study in the climate change-related field you might be drawn to.

That was the case for Shukla Podder, who started out wanting to be a mechanical engineer designing components for cars, but today is working with UNSW’s School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE), forecasting the impact extreme weather events and renewable energy will have on energy generation.

UNSW SPREE offers two undergraduate qualifications, both industry-renowned – the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Photovoltaics and Solar Energy) and the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Renewable Energy).

‘I didn’t start doing renewables from the beginning,” Shukla says. 

“I did my undergrad in mechanical engineering and realised gradually that I didn’t want to be in that space. I wanted to do my part in the climate area.”

Shukla started out wanting to be a mechanical engineer, but then embraced renewables to help save the planet.

Shukla’s undergrad grounding in engineering proved useful for her future career though, as during that time she learned about fluid dynamics.

“The basics of thermodynamics and fluid dynamics are key for understanding the climate system: both the ocean circulation as well as the atmospheric dynamics. You apply the same laws of fluid dynamics considering water/air as your medium to understand the circulation systems,” Shukla says.

Shukla went on to do a Master of Technology in climate science, but still wasn’t satisfied with her ability to affect change.

“I was looking at ocean color remote sensing and ocean circulation and saw the circulation patterns changing because of climate change, but being an oceanographer, I wasn’t contributing towards a solution. It was evident that anthropogenic carbon emissions were creating these changes,” Shukla says.

“Then I saw this opportunity where I could come to SPREE and do my PhD and probably help in terms of understanding how climate change might impact renewables in Australia.”

Shukla’s work will ultimately help organisations work out the best locations for solar power plants in the future. Her research involves projecting future scenarios for renewable energy integration to achieve net zero targets.

The school Shukla works in is home to some world-leading technology, with grads from there going on to launch businesses or work in companies or agencies at the frontline of helping Australia cut carbon emissions by moving away from fossil fuels.

There are some pretty cool things you also get when studying renewable energy at UNSW, aside from learning from the best!

Like being part of the Sunswift Solar Car Challenge, where engineers from all disciplines work together to make and race the world’s fastest solar car, across the Australian outback.

This post was brought to you in partnership with the UNSW School of Photovolatics and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE).

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