UNSW PhD graduate Audist Subekti

From a PhD in Chemical Engineering to Country Technical Head for Indonesia of 3M

When Dr Audist Subekti enrolled in a PhD program at UNSW in Chemical Engineering in 1999, she never realised that in her four years away from Indonesia she would attain two major accomplishments that would change her life forever. She would achieve a doctorate but also become a mother for the first time.

UNSW Chemical Engineering PhD graduate Dr Audist Subekti.“I had two previous miscarriages so I was afraid when I became pregnant in Australia that it would happen again,” Dr Subekti says. “But everything went fine, and then I spent the next four months busily finishing my thesis, breast-feeding my baby all the time and sleeping very little!”

Now back in Jakarta, happily living with her two children and her husband 12 years later, Dr Subekti is the Country Technical Head for Indonesia of multinational engineering company 3M, and takes a lead role in conducting all of the company’s technical and R&D activities.

She is also involved in outsourcing, cost optimisation projects and new product commercialisation. With her involvement, 3M Indonesia has made more than 50 invention submissions and achieved five local patents.

“For me, working is a learning process,” Dr Subekti says. “My boss says that I’m a very positive person, full of passion and I never say ‘no’.”

In her role, she’s across many company divisions including automotive, oil and gas, personal safety - which includes personal protective equipment and fire protection - green building initiatives and also product design for the consumer market.

Dr Subekti also gets to spend 15 per cent of her time on innovation. She’s been a member of several regulatory bodies, is a subject matter expert and develops safety regulations and standards for oil and gas. “It makes me happy that I can use my expertise and contribute to the nation,” she says.

Advancing women

Dr Subekti also chairs 3M's Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF) - its global corporate program to encourage female leaders at every level in the company, accelerating their advancement and empowering them through training and mentoring.

“In Indonesia, the woman is the GM at home,” Dr Subekti says. "So for a wife to manage the house, pay the bills, take care of kids and have a career, women often face many challenges. We want to help our women employees face their issues with strength, perform well in the office and home while achieve the best career they can."

WLF is also involved with the global charity Project HOPE, which among other initiatives supports women to breastfeed and have regular cervical cancer screening. “We even get doctors to come into 3M’s plant and laboratory to conduct pap smears on our female employees,” she says.

A maths and science buff

Growing up in Bandung in West Java, as a young girl Dr Subekti was very enthusiastic about maths and sciences and her father, a mechanical engineer, was her role model and encouraged her aspirations.

“I always loved maths. Equations I found particularly exciting,” she says. "But then when I studied chemistry and found out that I could have a career in areas ranging from oil and gas, the chemical or food industries, I was really inspired."

When I studied Chemistry and found out that I could have a career in areas ranging from oil and gas, the chemical or food industries, I was really inspired.

Dr Audist Subekti

In 1990, Dr Subekti enrolled in a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Chemistry at ITB (Bandung Institute of Technology) in a class that was more than 60 per cent male, but this didn’t deter her and she graduated in first place.

This spurred her on to get a Master of Science in Chemistry, majoring in biodegradable polymers with a scholarship from the World Bank, while also working as a lecturer at ITB.

She jumped at the opportunity to go overseas and in 1998 won a scholarship to study a six month course in the Environmental Aspects of Geothermal Development at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

UNSW days

Her next goal was a PhD in polymer science, focusing on synthesising high performance polymers, so she enrolled at UNSW in 1999.

“I was here by myself – my husband worked in the oilfields at Balikpapan, Kalimantan and just visited me on his time off – I managed to make lots of friends with other students and lecturers. When I was walking around UNSW and also outside the campus in the city, I found it so multicultural. It made me feel welcome,” she says.

Even her lab had representatives from many countries: “I had people from Iran, Russia, one Australian and one Australian with Indian background and myself. I felt that in this mix of people I would never feel homesick,” she says.

Dr Subekti also loved the big green expanses in the UNSW campus. “My Chemical Engineering building looked right out on a sports field. So when I wanted a break I’d just go out, get a cup of coffee and watch soccer or rugby,” she says.

After finishing her thesis in December 2003, Dr Subekti returned to Indonesia, continued to work as a lecturer when her children were young and then in 2006, landed her first role at 3M as professional support and team leader in the Occupational Health and Safety Division. From there, it’s been a six year rise through the company ranks to today on the management board.

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