What is your current role?
I’m a PhD student in the aeroelastics group at Imperial College London. We’re developing pioneering methods for modelling and designing flexible structures which could be applied in the future to things such as wind turbine blades and solar-powered aircraft. Computer tools are used to model (or ‘simulate’) how structures react to fluid flows and how that in turn affects the fluid itself. Understanding this helps engineers come up with the best possible designs for their structures.
As well as this full-time PhD, I also have a part-time role at Williams Advanced Engineering. The company provides world-class technical innovation and engineering services to help its customers improve the energy efficiency of their products. I’m involved in running simulations on a range of projects and ensure that the team is using the most up-to-date simulation tools. I love the intellectual challenge of research and this role in industry helps me keep perspective of how the tools I’m developing will be used in the real world.
How did you end up in your current role?
I was exposed to engineering from a very young age through my family. My granddad was a signal engineer in the railways and I inherited his passion for learning and finding out how things work. I specialised in science and maths at A level, but I still enjoyed other subjects like art, music and languages. I took a French module at university just out of interest and I still like to pick up my flute and play whenever I can – it helps me unwind.
I was conscious that there was a big difference between university and industry, so I was keen to gain industrial experience. I successfully got a year placement at Williams F1 during my degree, an experience that cemented my desire to work in that industry. After I graduated, I returned to Williams as a Vehicle Dynamics Engineer which was a fantastic role working on many aspects of the car as I performed the pre-event simulations for all the tests and races. This role also had a balance between hands-on testing and computer-based work which I really enjoyed, particularly the full car suspension testing.
I always wanted to do a PhD, but I chose to go into industry first, to get the perspective of what is really important, what can make an impact. The experience in F1 helped me focus on being able to apply simulation tools for not just analysis but also optimisation and design.
What’s the best thing about being an engineer?
For me, the most satisfying aspect is solving a problem – breaking it down, fully understanding it along with the constraints you have to work within and coming up with a solution. Then seeing something tangible and real at the end.
My work has also given me some great opportunities. I was very fortunate to spend a season as a Performance Engineer with a Formula E racing team which meant I was able to travel to all the Formula E races, to places like Hong Kong, Marrakesh and Buenos Aires, to work with the car, the driver and the trackside team in an intense and extremely dynamic working environment.
Can anyone become an engineer?
Absolutely! In my opinion, people aren’t born to be engineers. I was fortunate to have had the awareness early, and if more young people understand the roles of engineers, they may take it up as a career as well. You need an understanding of maths and physics, and attention to detail is important, but it’s such a broad field that people with different skills can be very successful in engineering. For example, creativity is critical in engineering design, or if you are very hands-on and meticulous, quality inspection engineering might be more interesting. The roles are there – their awareness needs to be raised to help find the one that best suits the individual’s personality, skills and interests.
There are presently more men than women in engineering, but I’ve never found that an issue as I’m seen as an engineer rather than by gender. My field is very results-oriented – it’s far more important how well you do your job rather than what gender you are. The current president of Imperial College London is an exceptional professor who happens to be a woman, showing that gender does not limit achievement.
What three things should young people know about engineering?
- Young people have a voice and can make a real difference on projects – you’ll be listened to and your input welcomed: it’s not just older engineers telling you what to do.
- You’ll work in a team, towards a common goal, and feel part of something much bigger.
- It’s really rewarding. You get the satisfaction of producing something tangible at the end of a project, but you get countless little successes along the way as challenges are overcome.
My advice to anybody considering a career in engineering is to keep your interests broad and your options open. It is important to get as much experience of the workplace as possible, it’ll give you a much better understanding of what the world of work is really like, and the range of jobs available – it may also give you a route into your first job.