University Medallist, Joy Zhang

UNSW Chemical Engineering undergraduate, Joy Zhang has been awarded the University Medal. 

One of the most distinguished awards to be bestowed on an undergraduate is the University Medal. It takes dedication and a high level of achievement throughout their entire degree to receive the University Medal in Chemical Engineering (and the medal is not guaranteed to be awarded each year).Joy Zhang - 2017 University Medallist, UNSW Chemical Engineering.

This year, Joy Zhang has been awarded the University Medal and the IChemE prize for her overall outstanding academic performance in the Chemical Engineering degree (Bachelor of Engineering).

Just by looking at Joy’s LinkedIn profile, it’s evident that her achievements go beyond academia and are well balanced across professional and volunteering experiences too. In this Q&A we find out about Joy’s interests, motivations and her plans for the future.

We can’t ignore the fact that you received an amazing ATAR score of 99.5 and achieved the top HSC mark for a number of subjects. There would have been a lot of choice when it came to deciding which degree to complete, why were you interested in studying Chemical Engineering at UNSW?

I always enjoyed Mathematics and Science in high school because I loved problem solving – however I also enjoyed arts and being creative. Engineering therefore felt like the best fit for me because it combined the best of these two worlds. I ended up choosing to study a dual degree in Chemical Engineering with a Masters of Biomedical Engineering because it seemed like the best way to open doors to a rewarding field of work where I could be helping people in a very impactful and positive way by improving health.­­­

Earlier this year you started work at ResMed as a Graduate Engineer, tell us a little bit about your role there and why you were drawn to this company?

I’ve recently started on the rotational Engineering program at ResMed, so I’ll be doing six monthly rotations across different areas of the business. My first rotation is in Research and Technology, which is all about looking at new areas of innovation and seeing what we can create with it. I have always been drawn to ResMed because of its history of innovation and inspiring commitment to improving lives. The company also offers great opportunities for engineers to work anywhere from product design to manufacturing to marketing all within Sydney. It also helped that both the founder and current CEO of ResMed are Chemical Engineers!

Carrying on from your high academic achievement in the HSC, whilst at university did you ever feel pressures to maintain a high performance in your tertiary studies as well, and if so, how did you effectively combat these pressures?

Rather than feeling pressured to maintain a high performance, I felt as though I just wanted to do well because I enjoyed what I was learning and wanted to open as many doors as I could when I left university. Doing well one semester motivated me to then do even better the next semester. Whenever pressure did start to build, I tried to put things into perspective and remember that university is all about developing yourself in all areas and not just in academics. It also helped to take a break when I needed it, rather than attempt to keep studying through stress or late nights.

I chose to study Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering because it seemed like the best way to open doors to a rewarding field of work where I could be helping people in a very impactful and positive way by improving health.

Joy Zhang

It takes a huge consistent effort throughout an entire degree to receive the University Medal. How did you stay focused and what kept you motivated? can you share some of your study and assessment tips/techniques?

The most important thing for me was maintaining a good balance of study and free-time. I made sure to give myself plenty of time to study or finish assignments, and set myself progressive goals no matter how small. I also found incentives to keep myself motivated – whether it was small breaks to enjoy my hobbies or having the night off if I had completed a big assignment.

During your undergraduate degree, you were quite active in participating in volunteer opportunities, gaining an internship and work experience. How have these experiences helped you? (perhaps they opened different doors or widened your network).

Participating in the extracurricular activities available to me was one of the greatest parts of university – they helped me develop my teamwork and communication skills in a way I couldn’t have gotten just from my studies. I also got to meet great people along the way that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Talking about how I was a creative director of the UNSW League of Legends gaming society was always a great icebreaker at job interviews, and being a part of any society is a great way to set yourself apart from other applicants at interviews and show off your personality and interests. 

What was your favourite student experience and why?

UNSW EngSoc (Engineering Society) Ball – mainly because it was the day after we had just completed our Honours theses but also because it was a great night out with friends.

Outside of work and study, what do you like doing in your own time?

In my free time, I enjoy drawing, board games, computer games, and pilates.

Did your undergraduate degree experience satisfy your overall expectations of university and what you were hoping to get out of it, academically and socially? Has your degree experience deepened or changed your initial interest in Chemical Engineering/Biomedical Engineering in any way and how?

With friends at the 2016 UNSW EngSoc Ball - which was one of Joy's favourite student experiences.

Yes, university was an overall great experience. I grew to enjoy learning about Chemical and Biomedical engineering and have been keen to apply what I’ve learnt in the workforce. I’ve also gotten to make amazing friends along the way to share a range of experiences with – from late nights completing assignments together to petting puppies on the Quad lawn. When I first started my degree I had no idea where I wanted to work or if engineering was really what I wanted to do. Since then, my degree has really opened my eyes to the variety of exciting opportunities available as a Chemical and Biomedical Engineer. 

Where do you see yourself in five years? Do you have any academic or professional goals for the future you’d like to achieve?

In five years, I definitely see myself continuing to work as an engineer in the Biomedical field. I’d love to be designing and bringing to life new technologies that will help save and improve people’s lives. I also see myself eventually coming back to university and completing a PhD.

What would your advice be to new students starting their degree or High School leavers who want to succeed in their prospective Chemical Engineering degree?

Look at the bigger picture – university is as much about academics as it is about making the most out of the experiences offered at university and developing yourself. Join a society you’re interested in, go to events, meet new people, and study hard not just for good marks but because you enjoy learning and for the opportunities it’ll bring you after you finish your degree.


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