To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day we're sharing individual stories of women engineers from across UKCRIC member institutions.
Tell us about your role and what you find most exciting about it.
My current role is as a post-graduate researcher in the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Birmingham. My research is focussed on systems thinking and visualisation to support environmental justice-led decision-making. The most exciting part about this is the ability to think freely and challenge the status quo. Having previously worked in industry which can become focused on delivery, the ability to think widely and delve into and discover new ideas and evidence is hugely enjoyable.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
My background is in science, however I became an engineer to link scientific processes and theory into real life applications and large-scale impact. I really care about the natural world and enabling people to live well, engineering is a perfect way to convert problems, or potential problems, into improvements using the application of science. I studied chemistry originally at university, however I wanted to use this knowledge and the scientific method to improve the environment. To do this I started working as a process engineer in the water industry and began my journey into engineering. Process engineering in the water industry neatly combined an understanding of chemical and microbiological processes with the practicalities of large-scale application so that environmental improvements can be seen.
How do you balance your professional and personal lives?
Sometimes well and sometimes with difficulty. I have a young family and their well-being is a priority, that said I love my work and will frequently be struggling to work out how I can fit everything in, sometimes having to say ‘no’ even when I want to say ‘yes’. It does mean though that my children know a surprising amount about water, rivers and sewage… To find balance it’s also important to find time to do the things I enjoy outside of work and family. Luckily, I have a supportive partner and we work well as a team to balance life between us, although I notice he gets asked about work-life balance a lot less than I do!
In your opinion is there more that can be done to encourage a greater diversity of people into engineering careers?
Absolutely. For me engineering is a way to change our environment for the improvement of our lives, including nature that surrounds us. The greater diversity of people we have in that process, advocating for the change that reflects their perspective, the better it will be for the whole population. To do this, we need to open doors to enable a broader range of people into engineering, informing young people and children of the potential opportunities and creating workplaces that are welcoming and adaptable to the varying needs of different people, including catering for the needs of pregnancy, young families and menopause. That said, improvements are happening, however I think we can always do more to ensure engineering teams become truly diverse and reflective of the communities they live and operate within.
What advice would you give for anyone interested in pursuing an engineering career?
Give it a try! Engineering careers are hugely diverse and cover a range of disciplines and industries with a lot of cross-over between them and they contain a lot of transferable skills. So, speak to as many people as possible about the range of possibilities and look for an internship opportunity if you can. But most importantly, if you are interested in engineering then go for it.
Bryony Bowman is a post-graduate researcher in the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Birmingham.