International Women In Engineering Day

To mark International Women in Engineering Day we sat down with Jane Eccles and Charlotte Semp, both Programme Directors at the DCC, to find out more about their experience studying and working in engineering.

Why did you study engineering? 

Jane: I studied maths, physics and chemistry at A level but didn’t want to take a pure science degree.  An engineering degree appealed to me because it included a mix of classroom and lab-based training with practical experience in the industry.  I took a 4-year thin sandwich degree which meant that I spent 5 months each year on a work placement, the first of which was spent getting a basic apprenticeship. 

Charlotte: I enjoyed Maths and Physics so Mechanical Engineering was a natural choice. It was a great degree and I was able to be part of the International SAE Racing Car Build team and spent 1 year at a university in the US. 

What does your engineering degree specialise in?   

 Jane: I took a BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) in Electrical & Electronic Engineering, specialising in control systems and electricity generation, transmission, and distribution.  

Charlotte: I did my Masters in fluid dynamics and renewable energy systems. I worked on some really exciting and innovative projects including one that used laser photo imagery to capture wavefront propagation in spark-ignition engines.  

How did you end up doing what you do now?

Jane: I started my career in a boiler suit and hard hat building and commissioning flexographic printing presses (the type of machines that wallpaper and newspaper are printed on)  I moved to PowerGen (now Eon) and worked on a power station before taking a variety of corporate and consultancy roles within the utility sector. It’s been a while since I did a hands-on engineering job. 

How has your engineering background helped you in your current role?  

Jane: An engineering degree teaches you how to solve problems. When I worked as an engineer, I was either trying to fix something or create something new. Those skills are transferable to a range of other jobs.   

Charlotte: My degree has allowed me to have a varied career across different sectors and be part of critical programmes that have had huge, positive impacts on people’s lives.  I was part of the team that regenerated  Manchester City Centre, transforming it into the powerhouse it is today; worked to deliver security for the 2012 Olympic Games and led on the Grenfell task force for one of the largest housing associations in the UK. 

What advice do you have for women thinking about doing an engineering course?   

Jane: Go for it! An engineering degree opens up a lot of work opportunities, both in the UK and worldwide, including technical, commercial, project management, and corporate jobs. 

Charlotte: I have the utmost respect for any woman choosing to study engineering. There simply aren’t enough women engineers being recognised for their talent and scientific contributions and this should change. Engineering is a great degree with practical elements including experimentation, coding, and application into business and management, as well as learning maths and physics principles. Many courses have links directly with industry and offer opportunities for work experience as part of their courses, ensuring that engineering students are prepared for life after university.   

What do you think the challenges of being a woman in engineering are?   

Jane: I was the only female on my degree course and in most of my early roles, so there was pressure to prove that I was ‘as competent as the boys’. But more and more women have moved into engineering and that type of pressure should hopefully have ‘gone away’. I think a key challenge for the engineering profession is making girls aware of the breadth of roles that an engineer can perform and encouraging them to select school subjects that enable them to choose engineering as a career.  

Charlotte: Not enough girls are encouraged to get into engineering in the first place. Less than half (46.4%) of girls 11-14 would consider a career in engineering, compared to 70.3% of boys. The stats in recent years still show that only 1/5 students studying physics at A-level are girls, and the number going on to study engineering is lower again.