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Engineering career starts with a simple conversation

July 14, 2022

A young woman stands outdoors in front of a colourful bed of flowers.

As Meg McPherson graduates with a BEng in electrical engineering and a new job in Vancouver, she recalls a pivotal conversation that started her on the path where she finds herself today.

“I was at a trade fair in my high school and got talking with a woman who was an electrician,” says McPherson, who is originally from Calgary and was in Grade 11 at the time. “We talked for quite a while and what she told me about her career really inspired me.”

McPherson told the electrician that from a young age she’d always loved immersing herself in tasks that involved designing and building.

“By the end of our conversation, she had me excited about the field and convinced me to apply for a summer job as a pre-apprentice electrician.”

McPherson spent the next two summers of high school working for a local electrical company, pulling wire, running conduit, installing pot lights and wiring receptacles. Following Grade 12, she enrolled in an engineering technologist program in Alberta.

After receiving her diploma, McPherson put her new skills into practice, heading to Peru to volunteer with the Light Up the World charity.

“We went to very remote areas of Peru and installed solar panels in very small villages that don’t have access to electricity,” she says. “It was a great opportunity – you think you’re going there to learn about installing solar, but it was much more about learning about the culture of Peru.”

Upon returning to Canada, she knew she wanted to take her education further. So, she signed up for the one-year Engineering Bridge Program at Camosun College, and then transferred to UVic to complete her degree.

Transitioning from college to university took some adjustments, and McPherson was glad to have made the journey with friends she’d found in the bridge program.

“We’re called ‘the bridgies,’” she says. “We’re a big group of engineering students who arrived at UVic at the start of the spring term and we stuck together because we knew each other and everything was so new.”

McPherson was part of a small group of “bridgies” who later worked on a capstone project during the requisite fourth-year engineering design course.

For their project, the five electrical engineering students used two types of machine learning algorithms to detect what are known as “eccentricity faults” in the motors of electric cars. These types of faults indicate that the rotor is out of alignment. Not knowing about the faults can lead to unpredicted breakdowns and costly repairs.

Detecting faults in the induction motors used in electrical vehicles motors isn’t new. But the UVic group’s approach – which focused on the time domain instead of the frequency domain – is considered unusual and opens more possibilities for cheaper, simpler and more robust detection of eccentricity faults.

The group’s project was so successful that their instructor encouraged them to turn it into a paper for submission to the international conference on Power Electronics, Machines and Drives (PEMD 2022).

“The group’s research finding has a huge impact on society and will be presented at a very prestigious conference to be held in the U.K.,” said T. Ilamparithi, an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

This June, McPherson was among three of the original group who were to fly to England to attend the conference at Newcastle University. She agrees that it’s a wonderful way to finish off her degree.

After returning, McPherson resumes working at BBA Consultants, an engineering consulting firm in Vancouver where she completed three co-op terms.

During those co-ops, McPherson undertook a wide variety of tasks, from developing electrical design documentation for a mining project, to consulting with BC Hydro on cybersecurity program compliance for the utility’s substations.

“With consulting, you can be thrown into totally different projects and that’s what I love about it,” says McPherson. “BBA also has a great work environment – they really strive for teamwork and collaboration and I really enjoyed that.”

Her first co-op was with Riverside Energy Systems in Kamloops, where she helped to design and install renewable energy systems, specifically solar technology for grid-connected and off-grid systems.

Over the longer term, McPherson says she’d like to participate in more engineering volunteer opportunities overseas, perhaps by getting involved with an organization such as Engineers Without Borders.

In the meantime, she feels like she’s in the right place.

“I don’t know exactly where in the field of electrical engineering I want to end up in – right now, I’m interested in everything,” she says. “With engineering consulting, you can get experience in so many different areas, so I think for starting out in my career, this is a great place to be.”

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