Engineering a life change

Dr Paulione Pounds holds a drone as part of her research.

Dr Pauline Pounds. Image: supplied

Dr Pauline Pounds. Image: supplied

Associate Professor Pauline Pounds knew she wanted to be an engineer at the age of five, but it took until she was 35 to realise she was a woman.

Dr Pounds knew she never fit the stereotype. The School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering Associate Professor had tried for years to blend in as the bowtie and jacket wearing robotics expert.

Despite her success and the immense respect of her peers, Dr Pounds knew the life she was living as a man was  “a façade”.

“I realised when I was about 35 that a lot of the time and energy that I’d been putting into my career had been a means of not dealing with things about myself,” she said.

Dr Pounds calls it her “puberty 2.0” and reflects on the topic with a sense of humour.

However, the path to her transformation was rarely one of laughter, until one morning, about six weeks after she started her first estrogen treatment.

“The sun was shining, people were cycling to work, people were walking, and for the first time in 30 years or so, I felt happy,” Dr Pounds said.

“The world was alive for the first time in decades, and I was grateful for all those times I hadn’t taken my own life.”

It’s a sad anecdote that Dr Pounds hopes will inspire other trans people on their own journey towards happiness.

Dr Pauline Pounds

“I had a lot of internal discomfort and a lot of anger about the world that I didn’t really understand,” she said.

“I wore a bowtie and a jacket, because I looked the part of the inventor, but I think I knew it was a façade. 

“It was something I put on to stop people from looking any deeper at who I really was inside, and it couldn’t last.”

In academia, Dr Pounds has a long list of achievements.

She created lightweight whiskers for drones that allow the machine to sense forces around it. The idea has been courted by law enforcement and defence organisations.

Dr Pauline Pounds with a drone

Dr Pauline Pounds

Dr Pauline Pounds

Dr Pauline Pounds

A pre-transition photo of Dr Pounds. Image: supplied

A pre-transition photo of Dr Pounds. Image: supplied

She has also worked on a project to create a more efficient quadrotor for a drone.

The small rotor sizes of quadrotors and multirotors make them significantly less energy efficient than a traditional helicopter with a large single rotor. 

She has discovered that the simplicity of a quadrotor’s configuration and inexpensive construction means it can be used in many different types of aerial robotoics.

“I grew up with this love of technology and this love of mechanics and electronics. I always wanted to strive to be that person who could take raw, disobedient matter and bend it to my will and make it do something cool,” she said.

“I wanted to work at places that had the most amazing technology.

A pre-transition photo of Dr Pounds. Image: supplied

“I discovered during my final year thesis that there were such things as flying robots, and the barrier to entry for flying robots was just a little bit lower than it was for aerospace, and I said ‘groovy, I’ll work on that’.”

March 31 marks Transgender Day of Visibility.

Dr Pounds’ message is simple: you don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not anymore.

“Before I started, I was a big hairy guy with a beard and no one would look at me and say, 'there’s a woman'. I certainly didn’t,” she said.

“You are going to find people who love you. You may find your parents will surprise you. 

“The world will surprise you, so don’t give up hope.”

Transgender Day of Visibility is dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide, as well as a celebration of their contributions to society.