SEEING THE MEN’S WORLD THROUGH WOMEN’S EYES
In the 21st century everything seems to be possible. From technological advances and deep space exploration to pandemic, climate disasters and international armed conflicts. The status of women has also changed and now they can achieve much more than women living barely a few decades ago. As a result contemporary women are not only resourceful housewives, but also businesswomen, influencers, and specialists in the fields previously reserved only for men.
Despite such a dramatic breakthrough in the sphere of professional opportunities being open for women, we cannot forget about the fact that they still keep struggling with unequal treatment in their workplaces. It often happens that they are forced to work harder and longer to obtain their stabilized positions in the companies, as well as to gain success, the one that seemed to be out of their reach at the beginning.
This extensive effort which accompanies women while walking their career paths in the dominated by men world, makes the female specialists more engaged in their work, so that they become role models for the future generations. Of course, these are the women who manage to gain their top positions or at least to stay in one place on the positions equal to the ones of highly respected jobs occupied mainly by male professionals.
I’m truly pleased to introduce you to my today’s interviewee – Petra Jan – who not only fulfills herself professionally as a mechanical engineer, but also lives her life to the fullest through traveling, following her passions and spending her time the way which makes her happy.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Petra: Hi! My name is Petra and I come from Slovenia, a small European country. I’m a mechanical engineer by profession and I’m currently working on my PhD as a researcher, but otherwise I’m also the person behind the blog Erratic engineeress, where I write about my travels, sustainability and food experiments. Hence the name erratic, because my blog doesn’t really have a defined niche as such and I also have a lot of different interests. For example, I’m learning how to code in Python and taking Spanish classes at the moment.
Passion Piece: You’re passionate about thousands of things. The interesting part is you’re a mechanical engineer writing her PhD in Tribology. Is it an easy field for a woman?
Petra: Well, everyone always asks me that, haha, and the short answer is no, but it makes for a good personal growth challenge. I would say it depends a lot on the country you’re in, but Mechanical engineering is still a very male dominated field in general. Although there’s an increasing number of women in the field, and I’d say there are more in Tribology and the Energy sector than in Mechanical design for example, there’s still a lot of prejudice and dismissiveness towards women and their ideas, particularly from older colleagues. On the one hand, you’re often underestimated and people tend to be easily impressed, because they expect less from you, but on the other hand you have to work twice as hard for them to take you seriously. However, the attitude towards female engineers is changing for the better, and fast.
I’m currently working at our Mechanical engineering faculty and the difference between my generation and the current generation of students is already immense within a few years. There are more female students and staff and a lot of the older professors have retired, so the current ones have a more modern outlook. Another thing I’ve learned is that representation does matter. I teach lab tutorials and I’ve had more than one female student mentioning how much it means to them that they are taught by women as well as men – which is another thing about being a woman in this field, whether you want it or not, you automatically become a role model and if you’ll be a good or a bad one is up to you and your actions. I like to think that I’m doing a decent job of it.
Passion Piece: You love traveling and experiencing your life to the fullest. How do you choose your travel destinations?
Petra: I always have multiple trips planned in my head, so I usually decide which one to realize based on my time and budget constraints. Of course, there are some destinations that I’d like to visit sooner than others, but my ultimate, probably unrealistic goal is to go everywhere, so my final choice is often based on the availability and price of plane tickets, accommodation and the amount of vacation days I have at that moment. I rarely care about the weather or the season though.
Passion Piece: What are the strangest places you’ve ever visited? Have you ever tried unusual dishes typical of the countries and regions you visited?
Petra: I guess everything unfamiliar is also strange, but the two most wondrous places I’ve visited so far were Svalbard and the Daintree rainforest in Australia. Svalbard is an Arctic archipelago, the northernmost inhabited area and it’s an absolutely gorgeous wilderness. It’s so remote and the conditions are so extreme for the people living there, that it felt like I was visiting one of the few places left where humans don’t matter and we aren’t the masters of everything. Even a short tourist visit was a refreshing and humbling experience and I fell in love with the north. The Daintree tropical forest in Australia had a similar vibe as a deeply primal natural place, and the trees and wildlife there are so crazy that it’s like stepping into another world.
As for the local dishes, I always make sure to eat local food and try most of the weird specialties during my travels. I’ve eaten all sorts of strange meat (like crocodile and dried crickets) and I’m not very squeamish about strange food, but there are some things I just won’t eat – pineapple is a great example.
Passion Piece: Is there a dream place you’d like to visit? Why this particular one?
Petra: Yes, there are many, haha. Currently the Faroe Islands, Chernobyl and Petra in Jordan are at the top of the list, but I’d also love to go to Iceland again and explore South America. I don’t have one particular dream place though, because the world is too large and too interesting to pick just one.
Passion Piece: As I’ve already mentioned before, you’re passionate about so many things. How did you start your adventure with fire spinning? Have you ever injured yourself while practicing?
Petra: I was studying in the north of Sweden for a year during my Masters and they had a really cool student society there. Those folks became my people and they were into all sorts of acrobatics, parkour, juggling and also fire spinning, so I started learning as well. I chose poi, which are basically balls on a chain that you can spin around in different cool patterns, but I can honestly say they’re much scarier than a staff. I’m happy to say I haven’t injured myself yet, although I accidentally singed a part of my eyebrow off one time… I’m still a beginner though, because I haven’t had a lot of time to practice since I moved back to Slovenia and Covid began.
Passion Piece: Why did you decide to set up your own blog? What can your readers find on your website?
Petra: I’ve always loved writing and people really liked my random travel updates on Facebook, so I first started an Instagram travel page in 2019, but then I realized I’d prefer to share my travels in writing than just photos. The blog sort of developed naturally from there – at first it was purely a travel blog, but then I also started sharing my recipes and sustainable lifestyle habits. Now there’s all sorts of stuff on it: photo impressions from my travels, recipes and kitchen tips, sustainability discussions, think pieces, books recommendations, my impressionist poetry and lots of other things from my life. I’ve also started a podcast called the Erratic hat, which has 5 episodes already, but is currently on a break because my partner and I are in the middle of an extensive house renovation and I’m pressed for time.
Passion Piece: Where do you look for your life inspirations?
Petra: Honestly, I don’t ever actively look for life inspiration, but it seems to find me just the same. There’s always more to see and discover, more to learn, more to create and even a simple morning commute to work can often be fascinating – whether it’s pretty autumn leaves, a crazy person on the bus, some random thoughts in my head or whichever detail, it always makes me think.
Sometimes my life feels like I’m trying to ride a giant sea wave – sometimes I’m on top, other times I’m tumbling along with it, but it’s always moving forward and there are so many individual droplets you just need to pick and choose which to focus on, because unfortunately you can’t do everything, no matter how much I might want to.
Passion Piece: What do you love doing in your free time? Is there anything new you’d like to take up?
Petra: Obviously I love traveling and cooking, but I also love spending time with my partner and my friends and family. I also treasure my alone time and I need a lot of it, during which I work on my blog, read books and try to find the time for all my many hobbies and interests. Currently I’m taking Spanish classes and learning how to code in Python (which is actually more fun than it sounds), I also do embroidery during winter, which I’ve inherited from my grandmother, then there’s exercising and yoga, poi spinning etc. I’d also like to get back to dancing regularly, which had been put on hold when Covid started and I haven’t managed to get back into regular classes yet.
Passion Piece: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? Still on our planet or maybe somewhere in space?
Petra: That’s actually a tough question, because we all have the potential for so many different lives. Although I’d love to sign up for Starfleet and go into space, I think probably won’t happen in my lifetime. So, I’d say I see myself living in Slovenia with my partner in the house we’re currently renovating, maybe with some kids and pets as well, but definitely with a successful engineering career.
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this truly inspiring conversation and I can’t wait for the coverage of your future travel experiences.
See you around!
Photos by: Petra Jan