Penelope pursues her path in urban design

Penelope Web Gilbert is a second year Bachelor of Design student at the University of Melbourne. She shared with us her family connection to the university and her student experience so far.

What major(s) did you choose?

Urban Planning & Design. I deliberately chose a subject from each of the majors I was interested in during my first semester and Urban Planning & Design won out. The more I study it, the more I like it.

What was your path from high school into the University of Melbourne?

I had a pretty indirect path from high school to university, including other study and work; some years I just made clothes and watched movies. There was a lot of happy crying for the immense feeling of validation upon being accepted. It signified an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of both my parents, and my maternal great-grandfather, who studied here before me. I also feel the presence of my paternal great-grandfather, Web, who I look to as a guardian of my own preoccupation with style, often making a point of passing his sculpture, ‘The Wheel of Life’, in the Medical building foyer on my way home.

I never saw my creativity as something to be ambitious or career-centric about and I certainly wasn’t aware of how it could be united with my personal values, and search for meaning in existence until studying urban design. It feels like in addition to the aesthetic aspects it also represents an opportunity to contribute to society in a compassionate way.

What was your favourite aspect of studying the Bachelor of Design?

I love being able to choose electives taught through the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music as part of the Bachelor of Design. Often they may initially appear to be unrelated to your major but in actually studying them you find commonalities and a different lens through which to look at your discipline.The flexibility to take summer and winter subjects can also mean you can accelerate your degree, or ease the pressure of doing four units during semesters 1 and 2, enabling you to focus on doing your work with finesse rather than last-minute exhaustion.

What are some of the skills you have learnt while studying the Bachelor of Design?

Recently I’ve been looking at position descriptions for work as an Urban Designer. Apart from the obvious requirements of a tertiary qualification and proficiency with computer programs, the soft skills of communicating and listening to clients and colleagues, and working well in an integrated team are emphasised more and more today.

Group work can be a particularly daunting challenge of university but it is also a great way to develop these skills. I’ve found that so much more can be achieved through collaboration.

What would be your dream project in your future career?

Home is everything to me, as T.S. Eliot eloquently put it, “Home is where one starts from.” My highest hope for my career would be to have a profound impact on the homelessness issue that is currently facing Melbourne.

The Wheel of Life by Charles Web Gilbert, 1910.
Originally located inside the old east entrance to the Union building.
Source: The University of Melbourne Collections

What advice do you have for other students?

Be completely absorbed in what you’re doing and find a way to enjoy even small tedious tasks. It will add up to the big picture that will form your life.It is easy to be caught up in perfectionism with your work, but stick to deadlines and keep in mind that undergraduate study is about learning and developing skills with freedom in a safe environment. Take pride in your grades and aim to excel by choosing subjects that you enjoy doing and take good care of yourself in the process.

University is not meant to be easy. It is not worth doing because it is hard but it is certainly hard because it is worth doing.

What has been the highlight so far at University?

Far and away, my first-year highlight was making furniture in the Fabrication Workshop (FabLab) during coursework downtime; I used a table saw, a nail gun, a jigsaw, an orbital sander, a drill, a driver, and lot of hand tools. I loved it.

Melbourne consistently ranks highly amongst Universities in Australia and the region. How important is it for you to graduate with a degree from a world standard university? Why?

It is very important. A world standard university draws world standard students and staff. Being around other talented people pushes us to become more innovative and productive as individuals and as a collective.


Thinking about studying urban planning and design?

Read more about the Bachelor of Design