A Day in the Life of Alex Bannigan

Passionate. Educator. Catalyst.

Three years ago I changed from an academic to a professional career when I moved back to Australia after 10 years in the US university system. It was a big change from Assistant Professor in Biology to Women in Engineering Manager, not to mention moving from small town USA back to the hectic life of Sydney! I still haven’t quite adjusted.

At UNSW my mission is to improve the recruitment and retention of women in engineering, with a target of 30% female engineering students by 2020 (historically fewer than 20% of our engineering students have been women). Many people believe that this is an almost impossible feat, but in the last three years, the proportion of first year students has increased by more than 1% each year – and this year 25% of engineering offers went to women.

I live with my husband Dan, who is currently studying to embark on a career change of his own, my daughter and son and our enormous black Labrador Gobbo. My husband takes care of a lot of the parenting duties, and with 3 hours of commuting each day, balancing work with family can get pretty challenging.
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  • 5:30 am - My alarm goes off. I had the best intentions to take the dog for a walk, but it's too dark, and I decide I'm not going anywhere.
  • 6:00 am - I force myself out of bed and into the shower. My son always wakes up early and we eat breakfast together before I kiss my waking husband and my sleeping daughter and am out the door.
  • 7:15 am - On the train I answer emails and check if there's anything I didn't finish yesterday that I can get done now.
  • 8:45 am - Once I arrive in the office I spend a few hours finalising details for the Women in Engineering O-week first year welcome. At this event, new students learn about the Women in Engineering Program, engineering student-led activities and, most importantly, meet other women who are studying the same thing as them. We're expecting about 175 first years and about 50 volunteers from the Women in Engineering (WIE) Program who will help welcome the new students and make them feel at home.
  • 12:00 pm - I have two overlapping meetings, neither of which can be moved or missed! One is with a CEO of a tech company in America who wants to recruit more female engineers, the other with the Engineering Education team to discuss a team restructure. I have a great talk with the Industry visitor, but miss half the education team meeting, as I haven't yet perfected the art of time travel.
  • 2:00 pm - I spend a couple of hours on the 2016 Women in Engineering annual report and send it to the printers. I use the report when meeting with Industry, to illustrate the work that we are doing to improve gender diversity, and to encourage Industry to get involved.
  • 4:00 pm - My husband is usually home early on Thursdays, so he picks up the kids from school, but today I leave work at 4pm to get to an evening yoga class near home. On the train, I work on the semester one schedule for the Women in Engineering Development Program, which is a series of talks, workshops, development activities and volunteering opportunities the students can participate in.
  • 5:30 pm - I get home, say a quick hello to my family, then run to get to my yoga class, which, as it turns out, is taught by a friend of mine from high school who I haven't seen in over 20 years. I take the opportunity for a quick catch up!
  • 7:30 pm - I get home to find the rest of the family tucking into homemade pizza, so I sit down to join them and hear about the kids' days at school.
  • 8:00 pm - I hustle the kids into bed, read a chapter of a book to my daughter, make tomorrow's lunches for the kids and myself and tidy up a bit.
  • 9:00 pm - I get my laptop back out to finalise a presentation to Careers Advisers that I’m doing tomorrow for the Future Students Office. Every year I try to get in front of Careers Advisers to remind them that engineering is for girls too and let them know about our WIE activities.
  • 10:00 pm - I'm exhausted. I attempt to read a book in bed, but don't last long (as always).