3rd year Standard Grade Chemistry, Unit 3: “Hydrocarbons”, end of unit test… I got 100%! The energy industry had caught my heart, and from that point, I was hooked.
I applied to study Chemical Engineering at Imperial College in 2005. As a young gay teenager, the lure of London and starting a new life in a vibrant, metropolitan city was too enticing to turn down. Results day came, grades were achieved, and off I went at the tender age of 17.
Yesterday saw the QEPrize holding its very first annual QEPrize Engineering Ambassadors’ workshop.
Taking place at Prince Phillip House, we met young engineers from different organisations, disciplines and regions. The aim of the workshop was to explore the public perceptions of engineering. Is industry doing enough to engage the engineers of tomorrow?
QEPrize ambassadors are an international network of young engineers. Coming from both business and academia, they are the future leaders in engineering. With a passion for engineering, they frequently engage in activities to promote STEM. Together, Ambassadors provide an influential voice to the engineering engagement community.
Upon first impression, mine may appear to be a story of failure. At the age of 17, the idea of deciding what to do with the rest of my life was quite daunting. I didn’t know where to start. I chose the option that required the least amount of effort; do what my parents did and become a medical doctor. After applying and being rejected from medicine for two years in a row, I thought I’d better try something else!
Meanwhile, a blue and orange ‘whynotchemeng’ leaflet had found its way into my hands. I remember being impressed by the wide variety of areas chemical engineers can work in. And of course, drawn to the ‘high graduate starting salaries’… I felt like I would have a choice at the end of this degree. As I didn’t have a strong answer for ‘why not chem eng?’, I decided to try it out and see where it took me!
In celebration of the digital release of 20th Century Fox’s Academy Award nominated ‘Hidden Figures’, I was invited to take part in a very special movie night featuring a panel discussion of engineers from both BME backgrounds and the space industry. Joining me on the panel was fellow QEPrize Ambassador and structural engineer, Roma Agrawal; director for spacecraft platforms and demonstration missions at Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, Anita Bernie; and President and CEO of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering, Dr Nelson Ogunshakin. Chairing the evening’s discussion was Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, host of the BBC’s ‘The Sky at Night’.
The event opened with a welcome from Dame Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a Trustee of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. She began by introducing the work of the Academy in promoting engineering to young people, and hailed films such as Hidden Figures for highlighting the variety of exciting careers on offer, as well as the incredible human stories behind them.
I was inspired to set up InterEngineering in 2014 when I realised I did not know any other LGBT+ engineers! A spotlight existed on gender and ethnicity, but there was nothing on sexual orientation and gender identity; they are harder to see by virtue of the fact that they are hidden identities. In response to this, I co-founded InterEngineering, and our success has far surpassed anything I originally expected.
InterEngineering connects, informs and empowers LGBT+ engineers and supporters to foster greater inclusion in engineering. Our vision is to be the leading LGBT+ organisation catalysing change and fostering greater inclusion in engineering by working with engineering companies, institutes, government and the future talent pipeline.
I became an engineer because I was curious about how things work. I recall trying to understand how images got to our TV screen from a TV aerial and how radios work as a child. As my Dad is an engineer, it seemed an obvious choice to consider a career in engineering. Yet, choosing a career was difficult because my mum thought architecture would be more suitable. In the end, I chose to study electronics engineering because I could see myself enjoying it long term.
I now work as a telecommunications engineer within WSP, a world-leading engineering design and professional services company. I design systems and networks using SMART technology within the transportation environment. My designs apply digital systems and wireless technology to provide real time information on various modes of transport to customers. Using SMART technology ensures that information can adapt automatically to help commuters make better informed choices, safer and seamless travel from location to their destination. Some of my design projects include Crossrail, the Blackwall tunnel and Edinburgh Gateway station. As well as making a difference in what future technologies can meet customer’s transport needs, my work also contributes to saving lives. I am responsible for designing networks for end-users, including the fire, ambulance and police services and members of the public.
Rhys Phillips is a research engineer at Airbus Group Innovations, where he works in the lightning and electrostatics team. As an active science communicator, QEPrize Ambassador and STEM ambassador, Rhys regularly gives public talks and has even received awards from STEMNet and the Institute of Physics for his public engagement work. We met him this month to find out a little more about what it takes to keep planes in the air.
Rhys, tell us what you do as a research engineer…
I work in a team that focuses primarily on two areas of research. The first is lightning protection for the next generation of aircraft. The second is developing an understanding of the fundamental physics of the electrostatic environment during fuel tank filling inside aircraft.