I stumbled into engineering by accident.
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!
I’m pleased to confirm that 11 years on, I have no regrets. The four years at Nottingham University opened up my mind further to the vast variety of fields in engineering. Chemical engineers get involved in everything from food to plastics to healthcare.
While at university, I took another risky decision and spent my second year of studying in Malaysia. That year unleashed my curiosity for travel and working with diverse groups of people. I ‘m going back to Malaysia for a 10-year reunion next month.
Deciding what course to study is tough, as is choosing a sector to work in. I tackled this by speaking to professionals in industry and doing internships. After working at a gas-fired power station, I suddenly realised how deeply reliant we are on a secure energy supply, and that this was the area for me.
Since then, I have worked in coal fired power generation and in oil and gas exploration and production. I am currently the control room manager for E.ON’s district heating business. My team monitors heating and hot water supply to over 25,000 customers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Throughout my life as a student and a professional, I have struggled with believing in my own skills and capabilities. Becoming a Chartered Engineer last year was a huge milestone for me. It was my way of proving my abilities to myself, as well as the outside world. Receiving chartered status is recognition of the depth and breadth of the experience I have acquired as an engineer so far. It also shows to myself and to future employers, my desire to continuously develop and my commitment to the profession.
Without the Institution of Chemical Engineering’s ‘whynotchemeng’ campaign, I wouldn’t be where I am today. This is why I dedicate much of my time to promoting engineering to young people and the public. Outside of work, I present at schools and events, introducing a new area of engineering to people. Mainstream media is another powerful way to reach a wide audience of children, parents and teachers, and I actively seek opportunities to get engineering into the media. Being interviewed for television and radio is simultaneously terrifying and satisfying! I also write articles and produce radio pieces for various outlets, including the BBC.
The balance of engineering and public communication is perfect. They go hand in hand. Engineering allows me to make a real difference to the world, and talking about what I do gives me the chance to take a step back from the day to day and remember why I do it.
My journey so far has been delightfully varied, and I look forward to discovering what is yet to unfold.