6 mins read 16 Aug 2022

Women of the Australian Space Community: Sophia Lin

Women play a huge role in the Australian space sector, and each week will be sharing the story of an inspiring woman who makes our community so special.

Sophia Lin is the Co-CEO of the Melbourne Space Program. Credit: Supplied.

In March each year we not only celebrate International Women’s Day but we also enjoy learning about all the contributions women have made to society during Women’s History Month. Originally started in the US in 1987, it has in recent times, in part due to social media, become more well known across the world. 

As a celebration of all the wonderful work, inspiration and support that women across our region do in the space sector, will be speaking to a new women in the Australian space community weekly, to uncover their stories and find out who inspires them.

Sophia Lin -  Co-CEO of Melbourne Space Program

What is your role?

I am the Co-CEO of the Melbourne Space Program, a student-led non-profit developing future technology leaders through hands-on, challenging tertiary engineering projects. I have recently completed an undergraduate degree in Mechatronics Engineering and French at the University of Melbourne, and previously was a student engineer and later co-lead of the ACRUX-2 satellite mission within the Melbourne Space Program.  

The Melbourne Space Program (MSP), is a student-led non-profit aiming to develop future technology leaders through hands-on, challenging engineering projects for tertiary students. I love my role – it involves setting a vision for the growth of our organisation, and setting a strategy to get there. Day-to-day, this means guiding and supporting our student leaders within our engineering, legal, marketing and outreach teams, facilitating collaboration with partners and sponsors, and implementing our organisational strategy throughout the organisation. 

How did you end up working in the space sector and what drew you to it?

Honestly, it was a bit of an accident! I was in my second year of my undergraduate degree and I got an email from the University of Melbourne’s engineering faculty about the Melbourne Space Program. They were recruiting students to work on ACRUX-2, MSP’s second nanosatellite, after successfully designing and launching the 1U CubeSat, ACRUX-1. I was amazed that this was something that university students were able to achieve – it must have been an endlessly challenging task, and I wanted in!

What advice would you give to people looking to start their career in the Australian space Industry, whether they are new graduates or those looking to move their careers over?

At least from a student perspective, I think getting as much hands-on, project-based experience as a student is essential to complement the theory taught in class. My experience as a student engineer on the ACRUX-2 satellite was critical and enabled me to practise the engineering design process and get comfortable with identifying what the next steps are in an unfamiliar project, learning complex concepts independently, and making engineering decisions. There are quite a few space-related engineering student teams out there, such as university rocketry and rover teams, which is fantastic! 

Who have you met that has had the most impact on your career journey so far?

I am very grateful to our director, Andrew Wetherell, for his guidance throughout my time at the Melbourne Space Program. I have learnt a lot about leadership and strategy from Andy, and am always inspired by his work ethic, courage, and attitude to learning and problem-solving. Andy has put me forward for opportunities that I wouldn't have otherwise applied for, and I am thankful for his belief in me! It has highlighted to me just how important mentors are! 

Mary Jackson became the first African American woman engineer at NASA in 1958. Credit: NASA.

Which women in the history of the Space Industry do you look up to? What was it about their achievements that resonated with you?

I loved watching Hidden Figures, and appreciated how it recognised the achievements and work of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson in NASA, as well as highlighting the struggles that women of colour faced in the space industry.

What do you think are some of the issues faced by women in the space sector and how do you think they should be resolved?

The Australian space industry is small, and many of the companies are start-ups or organisations with a similar culture. Although the industry is growing, my impression is that there are often limited opportunities for graduates, so students often have to put themselves out there and network for work opportunities and advice.   

Networking is something I have had to get comfortable with – I sometimes feel self-doubt, and wish there were more women at different stages of their careers to act as role models! I think it would be good to have industry-run events that are directed toward women, and for companies to show that they are committed to supporting careers of women, such as through mentoring programs and equal parental leave.

What has been the highlight of your career so far or what are you looking forward to most in the future?

I would say that the highlight of my career so far is my current role as Co-CEO! I am very grateful to my mentors and past experiences which have prepared me for this position, and in this role, I’m learning a lot about leadership, business strategy and the space industry. The Melbourne Space Program has taught me a lot of critical technical and non-technical skills, and I am passionate about making sure the talented and passionate students in our organisation get a lot out of it as well.

What has been your most interesting discovery or been the most interesting space-related project you have worked on or been part of?

Being a part of the ACRUX-2 satellite mission has been quite the journey! I came in as a student engineer. without any satellite-related knowledge, when the mission had not been entirely scoped and was lucky enough to co-lead the team for a year. It has been amazing to see our progress, as each sub-team iterates on its technical development. Recently, ACRUX-2 had its first technical review, with the mission being to take an RGB photo of Melbourne. 

Although I’m in a Co-CEO role now as opposed to directly involved in the engineering, it is still very rewarding and exciting to see the progress of the team, and I can’t wait to see it continue to develop. 

What are you most excited about in the coming years for the Australian Space Industry?

It was really exciting to see the investments that the Australian Government has made in the space industry this year, and I am excited to see how the industry adapts and grows from this! I am particularly keen to read the Space Strategic Update from the Australian Space Agency once it is developed, to see their vision for the future.

Additionally, I am also excited to see how the growth of the industry feeds into education programs across schools, VET providers universities as well as programs like MSP. I think this is essential to improving graduate participation and career pathways, and insuring that Australia is developing sovereign capability.