For Winnie Tang, deciding what to study after high school meant a choice between two very different career paths: pursue acting or become an astrophysicist.

But it was her fascination with space, particularly launching rockets, which ultimately saw her undertake a degree in Aerospace Engineering combined with Physics at UNSW.

Now in her fourth year, she reflects on some of the moments which has pushed her to become a strong advocate for women in engineering. 

What fascinates you the most about aerospace engineering? 

When I first started my degree, I thought it was because I liked rockets but then I came to realise it’s because aerospace engineers have made such a big impact on the world. There is so much more in being an aerospace engineer than building planes and rockets. Beyond space exploration, it has been aerospace engineers that have developed technology such as GPS tracking which has helped flood relief areas during natural disasters.

This field as exposed me to learning about international law and treaties, how different countries view space travel and how this field of engineering allows pathways into so many different things like tackling climate change, global aid, cybersecurity and defence, and inevitably learning more about ourselves and the universe. I am constantly inspired by the innovation that comes out this field.

What message do you want to send to young girls considering a future in STEM?

The most important message I want to send to young girls is to not let being an engineer limit you to pursue anything else you love.

I like to think of myself as a creative person and modelling is my outlet. I'm very grateful to be signed to a modelling agency because I can express myself through the work of the makeup artists or the designers I work with. 

I’ve had people tell me I can’t do modelling or beauty pageants because I’m engineer but I say to them ‘no actually, yes I can’. I think there is a lot of stigma around women in engineering not being able to have feminine traits. I've had other students tell me they thought I was someone’s girlfriend just because I wasn’t ‘dressed the part’. What does that even mean? Why can’t I have acrylic nails and fake lashes and also be here to build a rocket? 

It’s important to show the world that engineering is not a masculine subject, why do you need to look a certain way to be an engineer?  I want to tell young girls to be who they are and wear whatever they want to. You’re not any less of an engineer just because you want to dress a certain way.

Engineering aims to help and improve the quality of lives around the world, there is so much diversity around the world so it only makes sense for the field to be more diverse. The stigma around it being a male dominant field needs to change and it starts with encouraging more young girls to take an interest to the subject. 

What advice would you give to your first-year self?

I would push myself to take more opportunities and don’t be afraid to network and join societies because it’s a great way to make friends and it open doors to other opportunities. Uni is hard enough as it is, so why tackle it alone when you can seek guidance from fellow peers? Oh, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! 

What do you want to do post-uni?

It took me a little soul searching to figure this out but at the end of my degree, I want to use the skills I’ve learnt at UNSW to help change the world, even if it’s in the smallest way. And that’s why I’ve been involved with humanitarian projects such as Engineers Without Borders and charities like 'Variety NSW' during my time at uni to be more hands-on, as I get the most fulfilment when I can help others. 

We don’t know what the future holds for us and I want to keep an open mind. My mother once told me 'you’re always learning and that whatever you’ve learnt is never useless'. I believe that no matter which field I end up in, I’ll never say I’ve regretted my degree because I am constantly learning.

If I can use my degree and skills, I have developed in uni to improve just one person’s quality of life, then I can say I’ve succeeded. 


Winnie Tang with rocket