Q&A with Harriet Biddulph -Vacation student at Maules Creek Coal Mine, courtesy of Whitehaven Coal, read more.
Tell us a bit about yourself: I’m from Brisbane but have lived in Canada and Zimbabwe as my dad works in mining. I’m starting my second year of a double degree in Mechanical Engineering and Economics at the University of Queensland. I’ve just completed a vacation program at Maules Creek where I was part of the technical services team, but also worked with the autonomous haulage team and maintenance.
How did you choose to what to study? I’ve always liked doing maths and physics, building things and understanding how they work, so I knew I wanted to study some sort of engineering. I did economics in high school and to my surprise really enjoyed it, so have continued that at university. It’s all about understanding why people make the decisions they do.
Why did you choose to do a vacation program with Whitehaven? I learned about the program at a career fair at uni – where I got into a good conversation about the autonomous haulage project at Maules Creek. It’s the first coal mine on the east coast implementing an autonomous haulage system and I wanted to get involved in it as it’s the first.
Describe a typical day: I didn’t really have a typical day, but I’d wake up at about 5.00am, catch the bus to site in time for the pre-start at 6.30am. I’d then head out to the pit and do a pit inspection with a mining engineer, where we looked to see what had been done after night shift and how it was progressing against the weekly mine plan. Then I’d go back to the office and work on projects or do drill data logging, then I’d normally go out with the autonomous haulage team to learn about the trucks and the testing that they were doing. I’d usually finish at 4.30pm and get back to camp at 5 or 5.15pm.
How did you find the long days? It was difficult at the start, but I eventually got into a routine of working full time. I enjoyed it because every day I was working on something I was interested in, and my projects were having an impact at site.
What was the most challenging? Being in male-dominated environment was a bit of a shock at the start – I wasn’t treated differently at all, but I’m used to seeing more females around, especially having gone to a girl’s high school! My parents live overseas and at first it was hard not to be able to talk to them at any time I wanted, because I was working full time.
What was the biggest surprise? The sheer scale of a mine site, the mine itself and even the amount of dirt and coal that’s moved. I’d been told you come half way up the wheel of a haul truck, but you can’t really picture the scale it until you see it.
What was the best thing about the program? I learned so much about being an engineer, because everyone got me so involved in their work and taught me so much about the industry. They took care in teaching me and answering all my questions to help me learn – but I also appreciated that I could make a real contribution to the mine through my work. Having that experience also means that now that I’m back at uni, I have a better idea of how things I learn actually apply to real life situations. For my next vacation program, I’d like to see if I can solve problems based on what I learned at uni.
Do you have any advice for people still in school who might be thinking about what to do next? Take every opportunity you have even if it seems daunting at first – don’t be scared of the challenge! After the vacation program, now I know that if I can do it in Boggabri I can do it in Brisbane!