Mom of the Month:February 2020

If I were to mention the word “Eskom” to any South African, it would likely involve an eye-roll and a groan followed by a lengthy conversation about load-shedding and the woes experienced by our nation. Yet whilst we all, justifiably, complain about the sad state of affairs, we forget that operations are still running and still being repaired, monitored and optimised.

This month’s Mom of the Month is one of those engineers making sure the best plan is utilised to keep our power grid stable. Maybe when the lights go out again, we’ll think about those engineers, like Ponny, who are doing the most to ensure that the power comes back on with the knowledge and skills they have available to them.

Mom of the Month: Ponny Thomas

Bio

Name:            Ponny Thomas

Age:               32

Location:        Johannesburg

Job title:         Network Optimization

                       Renewables Engineer

 

Company:      ESKOM

                      (Electricity Supply Commission)

Ponny and her husband

Interview with a Fellow STEM Mom

1. What does your everyday work entail?

I have to ensure network stability and give operational solutions for any abnormalities (planned and unplanned) so as to avoid voltage and loading violations to the interconnected power system. I do emergency preparedness plans, outage studies, normally open point studies, renewable operations monitoring, fault level calculations, technical evaluations of new projects etc.

2. What career path led you to your current work?

I’ve always been interested in renewables whilst completing my undergrad. I am employed as an optimization engineer. I applied for the renewables post when the vacancy became available. I had previously volunteered my time with the Renewable Energy Technical Evaluation forums, which provided valuable experience for my new appointment

3. How did you decide to move into this career path?-was it a certain person or moment which initiated it all?

I come from a very small town called Kuruman in the Northern Cape with my parents both being teachers in math and science. As a student I was not afforded the opportunity to do career shadowing and didn’t have much guidance from the school I attended. I did however receive the necessary guidance from my parents. I chose to pursue Electrical engineering as I had been awarded a bursary - I was really good at math and science. It turned out to be the best choice for me!

4. Was there ever a time that you recall wanting to change paths & what convinced you to continue on your chosen path?

Yes. Engineering is a very difficult degree and it takes a lot out of you to finish it. I thought about changing to another degree in my 3rd year but realized I just had to buckle down and finish it, I also went on to finish my Master’s degree part time whilst working.

5. Give us a brief description of a normal/extraordinary 24hours in your life. (You can choose one )

Lately as a mom to a 3 month old it’s been crazy. I try to get some sleep whenever I can, but it’s mostly been feeding, playing, changing diapers, drinking a lot of coffee and getting exhausted by the end of the day but with a full heart ️

6. Name the one thing which excites you about your field of work.

Reducing the carbon footprint and also ensuring the supplied power is of good quality.

7. What has your experience been like being a women in STEM?

It’s such an exciting field to work in with new challenges every day. The most exciting thing for me is the opportunity to be part of work groups and contributing towards developing technologies. It’s difficult when you are often the only women in meetings. I noticed it more when I was pregnant as everyone treats you like you’re strange somehow, even older gentlemen with families of their own. I remember an incident when starting off my career around 2011, when a fairly older employee, a level junior to me; assumed I would make the coffee and take minutes in a meeting. Thankfully this only happened once in my whole career. You don’t get used to it no matter how long you spend working in the field.

8. Do you find that there are still barriers within the STEM field?

Yes, being a women in the field is so hard because you meet men who are socially awkward and can’t relay information to you just because you’re a girl. Sometimes they forget to include you in social events where work gets discussed informally and this puts you one step back.

9. Did becoming a mom change how you experienced your field of work?

I’m still a very new mom and I’m hoping I’ll be all the better for it when I get back after my maternity leave.

10. How do you think organisational spaces could be improved upon in order to better support women in STEM?

Informal work discussions should still be discussed at a formal setting.

Mentors need to be better equipped to managing both male and female mentees

Females should be given equal opportunities regardless of the job requirements. Women shouldn’t simply be assigned to those departments historically populated by more females.

11. What do you hope to achieve within your career, whether in the short/long term?

To be a chief engineer in the renewable engineering sector in the next 6 years.

12. Would you encourage your little one(s) & other young girls to move into a career similar to your own & why?

Yes - The harder the path the more rewarding the accomplishments!

13. What's your favourite mom& kiddie activity?

She’s just three months so anything that is aimed at auditory and sensory development. Also just hanging with her is so fun because everything blows her mind as it’s all so new!

14. Please could you give fellow STEM moms some advice on how to navigate the challenges within our field.

Hold your head up and tackle one issue at a time.

Prioritize work but don’t take on too much that you end up looking inefficient.

Call people out if they are out of line.

Compliment yourself when you accomplish even small goals.