Jessica Middlemiss: My engineering inspirations

Categories: Materials

8 March 2018

Author: Jessica Middlemiss


Jessica Middlemiss smiles at the camera in front of a house with a big garden

My career in materials engineering and management has been possible through a mixture of hard work and a passion for my subject. However, there have been a few people who have made a big difference to my journey:

Unnamed woman: I met a female chartered engineer on holiday in Turkey at the age of 12. She was so enthusiastic about the application of science through engineering. She inspired me to pursue this career.

My parents: I grew up in rural Dorset as an only child. No one in my family is an engineer. They encouraged me to follow my interest in science. With their support, I won a place to study mechanical engineering at Imperial College London.

Dr Sean Crofton: I failed my first year of mechanical engineering at university. Luckily, my senior tutor, Dr Crofton, threw me a lifeline: “You passed the materials module easily” he said. “If it interests you, why not study materials instead?” I took his advice, and in doing so I found the branch of engineering where I belong.

Dr David Rugg: In my 3rd summer as a materials undergraduate, I spent three months at Ohio State University researching titanium. Dave was from Rolls-Royce and had provided the materials samples I was working on. In the final year of my degree, Dave suggested I apply for the Rolls-Royce graduate scheme and I got the job. The Rolls-Royce graduate scheme and my next role in repair technology gave me a fantastic grounding in materials engineering. I worked on many different materials and processes including titanium, nickel, composites, powder metallurgy, and linear friction welding. I received project management training, took responsibility for project budgets and coordinated large teams. When the time came to leave Rolls-Royce (to live with my now husband, Ben) I turned to Dave for advice. Should I look for another technical role or try something outside of materials? Dave helped me to realise that I wasn’t ready to let go of my materials specialism and become a generalist yet. So I applied to be a materials engineer for Dyson.

Institute of Materials Minerals and Mining (IOM3): The shift from aerospace materials (mostly metals) to home appliance materials (more polymers and rubbers) was a steep learning curve. I turned to IOM3 for support in building my expertise in polymeric materials. Over 3 years, I grew the Dyson UK materials team from 1 to 5, providing materials support to the increasingly diverse product portfolio. This was also my first taste of management which I enjoyed. I also volunteered for the Women in Materials (WIM) committee at IOM3 to pay back some of the support I had received. When I had my first child, maternity leave was daunting. I knew I wanted to return to work but when and to what? The length of my maternity leave and conditions of my return were influenced by advice and support from the women I connected with through WIM.

Mark Wingfield: Mark was a former colleague at Dyson. About 2 years ago I got the opportunity to manage a team of multi-disciplinary engineers. This included mechanical, fluids, materials and acoustics engineers. It would be my first role requiring more management than technical work. Mark helped me realise that management did not mean leaving the technical challenges. Taking the decision to generalise gave me confidence in my managerial skills so I also became chair of the WIM committee. WIM hosts regular seminars around the UK to support and highlight women in materials, minerals and mining careers.

During my time as chair I have focussed on National Women in Engineering Day and encouraging more women to volunteer for IOM3. When child number 2 arrived a year ago, maternity leave was much less daunting. I decided to return to Dyson to a different role in a new team. With two young children, I needed a UK based role with some flexibility. Luckily, Mark was there to help again. He knew that I was looking for a new challenge and helped me secure a role as a Quality Manager. My new team handles design assurance, safety and reliability for one of Dyson’s product categories. Although I no longer practice materials engineering, the knowledge of Dyson products that I gained as a materials engineer has been a good grounding for Quality.

As you can see, a few people have had a big impact on my career path and I am very grateful to them. I hope that through WIM and as a mentor, I can have a similar positive influence on other people’s careers and “pay-it-forward”.

Jessica Middlemiss smiles at the camera in front of a house with a big garden
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Chair of the IOM3 Women in Materials group

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