Being told to do work experience at a garage would have put a lot of people off a career in engineering. People tell me that it ticks a lot of the stereotypes that come to mind when they think about what an engineer does: the grease, the overalls, the need to work with your hands, the workshop environment, and predominantly just fixing things. Not to mention that most of the people working in this environment are men.
Well, not me.
I had spent most of my childhood with limited exposure to the world of engineering, and I thought engineers were the people you called in a power cut, or when your boiler stopped working. Thankfully, at the time when I was making decisions about what to study at university, there were programmes available to me that provided a taste of what engineering is really about. I also had a thoughtful teacher who told me about engineering and suggested that it might be the right career for me.
Programmes and events that show young people what engineering is about really do work: after two weeks at the University of Southampton on one of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Headstart courses, I was convinced that engineering was what I wanted to do.
I went on to study mechanical engineering at Imperial College London, where I was initially keen on the area of nanotechnology. That was until I realised I preferred to work without requiring a microscope most of the time! During my time at university, I considered both academic and industrial career paths. I undertook a summer placement helping PhD students after my second year and a three month work placement at Nissan in Japan after my third year.
In the end, I went on to study a further double masters degree in Innovation Design Engineering, a joint course with the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. This course allowed me to complete projects in multi-disciplinary teams and fully explore the wide variety of industries where I could apply my engineering skills.
From there I entered the world of work. Firstly, I gained experience in developing the content of the Siemens city portfolio of products and managing the publication of a book. Next, I worked as a design and test engineer at a startup called Ikawa, where I experienced everything from specifying and manufacturing parts to managing various suppliers. I then rejoined Siemens as a graduate engineer for two years, before starting my current role as a railway signalling project engineer.
If you asked me 10 years ago what I would be doing now, I don’t think that working in railway signalling would have ever crossed my mind!
And how does being an engineer compare with my first impression of work experience at the garage? I still have the same curiosity to understand how things work, which is what makes it fun. The difference is that my role allows me to play a part in creating the products, systems and services that people rely on, which is particularly satisfying.
In terms of work environment and content, there are so many different types of engineering, so it’s important to choose what fits you best. Also, as we live in a technology driven era, continuing professional development is highly encouraged as engineer, allowing you to stay equipped for the future.
Currently, I am often still the only woman in a room full of men during meetings or when on site, which is something that will take some time to change as more women find that engineering is right for them too. For the time being, I feel it’s important to be the change I want to see in the industry.
In addition to inspiring the next generation of engineers, I enjoy sharing what engineering is about with people in other disciplines and learning from them too. There are plenty of opportunities available to young people today that are not only great for gaining skills but that we can contribute to as well.
As an engineer, I’m always learning, creating and sharing. I’m looking forward to what comes next!