International Women in Engineering Day #INWED24

Celebrating Women in Engineering: Emma Maxwell’s Inspiring Journey

International Women in Engineering Day (INWED), celebrated annually on June 23, is a global event that highlights the achievements of women in engineering and encourages young women to pursue careers in this vital field. This year, Douglas Partners was proud to participate in two events organised by the Australian Geomechanics Society (AGS).

We proudly sponsored the AGS Sydney Chapter, “Juggling and Inclusion – Managing Work Life Balance ” and we were honoured to have Emma Maxwell, one of our talented geotechnical engineers, speak about her career journey at the AGS Breakfast event in Brisbane.

Here’s a closer look at Emma’ story and insights into her career.

From Milkman Aspirations to Engineering

Emma’s earliest career aspiration was a milkman, inspired by the fresh bottles delivered to her doorstep in the UK.

From Milkman Aspirations to Engineering

Over the course of her childhood in Australia, Emma’s ambitions changed, influenced by her experiences and interests – geologist, archaeologist, marine biologist. The range of potential careers was expanding. 

Emma recalls, “In year 4 I had to repeat a term of maths. Many of us may be familiar with this situation: tears at the kitchen table when trying to do your maths homework and your mum or dad are shouting at you because how can you still not understand fractions?! Whether that be from the child or parent’s perspective. That was me. I think so much of my approach to certain subjects and potential career paths has been highly dependent on my teachers. In high school, I lucked out and had an incredible maths teacher whose  teaching style really worked for me and because of him I ended up doing the advanced maths course and really enjoyed it.”

At the same time, Emma’s love for art flourished,

“I loved maths and art for different reasons. Maths provided a clear right or wrong answer, while art was open to interpretation. Combining both in a career led me to originally consider architecture, until my maths teacher suggested engineering.”

Discovering Geotechnical Engineering

Although initially unaware of what engineering entailed, Emma was intrigued by the diversity and opportunities the field offered. She enrolled in engineering at the University of Queensland (UQ), where the first year of the course provided  her to explore various engineering disciplines.

She considered mechanical engineering first, but eventually chose civil engineering. During her studies, she encountered various disciplines, including structural, transport, water, geotech and environmental engineering.

It was work experience at Douglas Partners that solidified her passion for geotechnical engineering. “I started as an undergraduate geotechnical engineer in late 2015,” she explains.

“At that point I hadn’t really considered geotech and approached the start of my work experience as if it were something necessary to complete to be able to graduate and then become a structural engineer.”

The mix of fieldwork and office work, along with daily problem-solving and critical thinking, helped Emma come to the realisation that this was the right path and started to tailor her uni subjects accordingly.

“I had friends who worked in structural engineering firms and honestly, the work they were doing sounded very standardised with little room for problem solving. So by the time I graduated, I was going to pursue a career in geotech.”

Key Projects and Career Highlights

Over her eight years at Douglas Partners, Emma has been involved in several significant projects.

Springfield Rise: One of her first major projects was the Springfield Rise residential subdivision for Lendlease. From initial fieldwork to managing the project, Emma learned the importance of time management and flexibility. This project introduced her to various geotechnical challenges, including landslide remediation and complex site inspections.

“After a few years I was made project manager for the job, which although stressful at times, was rewarding as I was the point of contact for the client and worked with them to come up with practical solutions to issues that arose on site.”

geotechnical investigation specialist
Springfield Rise residential subdivision

Inland Rail: Emma worked on the geotechnical data collection for the Gowrie to Kagaru section of Inland Rail. This project highlighted the importance of cultural heritage clearance and landowner liaison, providing a unique opportunity to work with indigenous groups and fauna spotters.

“It was great working with the Golder team and practice logging to a slightly different standard to what we were used to. The project was also my first-time logging on a tablet instead of by paper, which took a bit of getting used to. Looking back at this job I think it’s one of my favourites so far. It was a lot of long days, but it was a great team and a great experience.”

geotechnical investigation specialist
Emma on site

Cross River Rail: In 2019 Emma was involved in the Rail Integration and Systems portion of the Cross River Rail project. As a field supervisor, Emma managed multiple rigs and dealt with extensive underground services, contamination issues and traffic control in the city’s rail corridor. This project tested her coordination skills and ability to handle diverse site conditions.

geotechnical site investigation services
Cross River geotechnical drilling

Settlement Projects: Recently, Emma has focused on soft soil settlement analysis, working with Brisbane Airport and the Port of Brisbane. Her expertise in settlement analysis has become invaluable, allowing her to tackle complex projects with precision and insight.

Reflections and Advice for Aspiring Engineers

Emma’s journey in engineering is marked by continuous learning, adaptability and a passion for problem-solving. She emphasises the importance of fieldwork experience, saying yes to new opportunities and finding good mentors. Emma believes that mentoring is a mutual relationship that fosters personal and professional growth for both the mentor and mentee.

As she reflects on her career, Emma shares valuable advice for those starting their career in engineering:

  • Embrace Fieldwork: Make the most of fieldwork opportunities, as they are foundational to a successful engineering career.
  • Seek Challenges: Take on opportunities that push you out of your comfort zone to discover what you truly enjoy.
  • Value Mentorship: Good mentors are invaluable, providing guidance, support and different perspectives.


Emma is currently halfway through her master’s degree at UNSW and serves as Brisbane’s branch safety officer at Douglas Partners. Her journey, marked by a blend of technical expertise and personal growth, serves as an inspiration to us all.

As we celebrate INWED24, we are proud to showcase Emma Maxwell’s achievements and contributions.

Her journey is an timely reminder of the unlimited possibilities within engineering. Douglas Partners remains committed to supporting and empowering women in engineering, fostering an environment that encourages career progression and growth. With our commitment to mentorship, professional development and diverse opportunities, we strive to support our engineers achieve their full potential and shape the future of the engineering industry.