Correy Tong now seizes the opportunity to help young people see the diversity and potential of engineering.
Qualification: BE(Hons) with First Class Honours in Mechanical Engineering
Role: Product development engineer at Fisher & Paykel Appliances
"I think university is less about what you learn, but more about how you learn. The University of Auckland exposed me to a broad range of subjects, even within a single specialisation. Throughout the course of my degree, I’ve studied Aerodynamics, Thermodynamics, Vibration, Mathematical Modelling, Control Systems, Engineering Design and more. It’s unlikely that there is any single job that requires the use of all of them, but they taught me skills that are greatly beneficial – from an understanding of fundamental physical principles, to analysis, communication and teamwork.
"As a student, I got involved with both UniGuides and MATES. The latter is worth a shout-out! They’re a group that brings student mentors into low-decile schools to tutor Year 13 students and provide direction for future career paths. I can’t really express it in words, but working with students taught me a lot about my own life, and articulating my advice to them clarified some of my own thoughts, all while helping to provide a warm and supportive atmosphere. It was definitely one of my most fulfilling experiences at University.
"I’m now an ambassador with Futureintech, which I discovered through some of my colleagues at Fisher & Paykel Appliances. They’re an organisation that connects scientists, engineers and technologies with potential future coworkers, such as students who are considering following our path. We provide understandings of what we actually do to help others.
"This initiative is of value to me, because my decision to study engineering at university was mainly based on my own research and what I’ve heard from friends. I know I could have benefited a lot from having the opportunity to talk to a real engineer, and to ask them questions to gain a better idea of what to expect so I can make a more informed decision on whether it is the right path for me.
"I came to New Zealand from Hong Kong with my parents and sister when I was 7. There was nothing particularly special about me beyond being considered to be fairly capable academically. I went to a school which stressed all-roundedness in academia, sports, cultural activities, and more. I wouldn’t say I fitted the mould.
"While engaging in more extra-curricular activities would have been advantageous, I think it’s never too late to start being proactive about bringing what you want out of life into your life. I learnt this from my sister, who for a long time was not considered academically successful, but is now a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University.
"I think that’s a great lesson for me – working hard to make the most of my skills involves doing my best to grasp whatever opportunities came. Students who take a proactive approach to their work can get a lot more out of their already approachable teaching staff. As a student, I reached out to Professor Cather Simpson – who became my supervisor at the Photon Factory – even if being at the Faculty of Science meant that she never formally lectured me. I found her on a list of employers that engineering students have worked for, and she was surprised by my proactivity – apparently I was the first to just “find” them!
"It led me to working at the Photon Factory for three years, which was an insightful experience. There were two major groups when I was there – postgraduate research scientists, and engineers involved with project and design-oriented work, so the nature of their tasks was very different. That said, the meetings we had allowed us to see what we all worked on.
"I realised that science and engineering go together, hand-in-hand. I see science as the fire that sparks inspiration, and engineering as the fuel that keeps it going with commercialisation. I also achieved what I considered to be my greatest accolade at university: winning the Best Student Poster award at an international science conference as a third year engineering student!
"Big leaps in life are possible. I consider going to a science conference as a pretty big leap from my academic career in engineering, but it all began with a small first step: the day I sent an email to Cather. If I could offer one piece of encouragement to future students, it would be to not let others’ perception of you colour your own, or limit you. Life would be boring if we all fitted in the same mould. Instead, we should learn to embrace our unique capabilities that have their own ways of contributing to the world around us."