My experience as a woman in STEM: Textile technology, is that even a thing?

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Working in a textile testing lab

Working in a male-dominated industry does not stop our contributor, Jessica Magdalena Lie to excel her career in textile industry. Jessica’s passion in textile technology has inspired her to continue her study to the University of Manchester. In this article, she shares her study and work experience in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) to break the gender stereotypes.

 

Many people are still unfamiliar with textile technology, especially in Indonesia. The reason I can particularly state that was due to my own experience several years ago. During holidays, I regularly went back home and were often asked about the course I was taking. The most question received was if I learnt and could design and make garments. Working as a fashion designer indeed was my dream job when I was still at middle school. I nonetheless also considered taking a degree in either medicine or other health related courses. This ultimately led me to pursue both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in textiles technology.

 

Winter graduation in Manchester
Winter graduation in Manchester

 

Taking an undergraduate course in Hong Kong indeed is a stepping stone as I could experience living in a city which could expose me to its extraordinary culture and of

Exploring Hong Kong (hiking with local friends)
Exploring Hong Kong (hiking with local friends)

course, advanced technology. Moreover, I was told by my friends that the number of places offered by the university for my course each year is very restricted, and that instantly made me feel truly opportune to be admitted. Following my preliminary three semesters, I decided to continue with fashion and textile technology specialism. This was in fact very challenging for me since I was not very keen on studying physics when I was in senior high. As materials are definitely one of the keys to produce textiles, I became very aware that I had to indoctrinate myself by ignoring my past circumstances with physics. My goal to explore textile technology further contributed to my attempt to enjoy learning physics since this was very beneficial to my material study. I also decided to join study exchange programme offered by my university to extend my knowledge. Despite receiving the offer, I was initially not satisfied with my department’s decision to place me in Sweden, since my first choice was Manchester University and the rest on my submitted list were other universities in the UK. Nevertheless, studying in Sweden certainly was a turning point and substantiated the purpose of my choice of study, to be more involved in green textile research and development.

 

Fashion and Textile Tech students at HK PolyU
Fashion and Textile Tech students at HK PolyU

Afterwards, another challenging moment emerged during my final year in Hong Kong. Through discussion with my project supervisor, it was decided my final year project (dissertation) required me to heavily involve physics. All the struggles I had to overcome, in the end, was very worthy as I received an A for my dissertation which was far from my imagination. Upon the completion of my study, I was given the opportunity to work for the Head of Department to join his R&D team. This eventually inspired me to join a master’s programme and I did, at Manchester University, which had to be credited to my study and work experience in Hong Kong, and certainly my exchange programme in Sweden. Considering what I had envisioned prior to my departure to UK, my master’s dissertation project heavily involved highly feasible natural waste to develop an advanced material.

 

Pizza night in Manchester
Pizza night in Manchester

 

After graduation, I returned to Indonesia and searched for a research and development related job. R&D was definitely on the top of my list, yet it was not very common due to many factors, i.e. resources, technology and facilities. Hence, I went with the second option, working for a textile testing company. The opportunity brought me to working for a multinational testing company in Jakarta. All the knowledge I earned during my study is definitely favourable to my career development as well to my current job. Coming back to Indonesia and applying for a job in a field people are not familiar with, this definitely challenged me to be adapt to a new situation. In fact, I was the only and first woman in my working station. This is because textile engineering graduates in Indonesia are mostly male, whilst female students in general opt to study textile chemistry. My experience to conduct physical testing during my final year project in Hong Kong was one of the reasons why I was placed in my station, regardless of my gender. The trust I gained from my company and team have pushed me to put confidence in myself. The acknowledgement from my male team mates and how they have never underestimated me make me realise being a female is not an issue for other females to choose their career paths.

I personally believe what I earned throughout my study with continuous support from people around me have extensive impacts on my motivation to grow, being grateful, and give back to the society. In spite of the current limitation I must deal with in my home country, my intension to contribute further does not stop. As a female living in a rather traditional society, I always believe everyone has the opportunity to shape their future regardless of gender, financial situation, nationality, and ethnicity.  Through my brief story, I hope I can help empower not just women, but everyone, to support the development of STEM industries. To all women out there, I wish this can inspire you to break the rules as well as to defy the society to show we are equally capable.

 

*All photos are provided by the author

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Jessica Lie is currently pursuing her career in textile industry as a textile lab technician and testing reviewer at SGS Indonesia. She graduated from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 2016 with BA (Hons) in Fashion and Textile Technology and The University of Manchester in 2018 with MSc Textile Technology. Prior to her masters study, she worked as a research assistant at her university in Hong Kong for almost a year. Through her experience as an exchange student in Sweden, she was introduced to green textiles and has been very keen on the development ever since. Apart from that, she has a great enthusiasm for cultures and healthy living.

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