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.
I am currently a Senior Lecturer in Bioresources Science and Engineering at Cranfield University, with a focus on recovering valuable resources from organic biomasses that have traditionally been considered wastes, like sewage sludge or food waste. I focus on developing new technologies and different configurations of existing processes; like dark fermentation, anaerobic digestion or methanation; so that we can maximise the sustainable recovery of valuable outputs, including biogas, fertilizers, heat, organic acids or hydrogen.
What excites me more about my role is the constant learning, and the constant challenge, that comes from working in innovation; and seeing the positive impact that we are having in society and the environment. I love how my role gets me talking to many different people, from the team I lead which focusses on developing groundbreaking science, to industrial partners focussed on taking solutions out of the lab and into full-scale, regulators for strategy setting on the water sector, and many others. Is a constant learning curve and a constant opportunity to make a positive impact.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
I have always enjoyed finding how things work and trying to make them better; and I always knew I wanted to work on innovation. Becoming a chemical engineer was a natural step for me, as I used to love science related subjects during my school time. I remember that before university I was not very clear on the differences between chemical engineering and chemistry, but I had the opportunity to chat with others in those professions and chemical engineering was certainly the right choice for me. I have never looked back!
How do you balance your professional and personal lives?
I haven’t always been great at keeping that balance, I am very passionate about what I do professionally and sometimes I don’t switch off enough. I have become much better at it over the years though, and I do make a point of having sufficient time doing other things that I love. I tend to go with a “work smart play hard” motto, and during that play time there tends to be a lot of sports, dancing, travelling and cooking (eating?), always with friends and family. I feel much more energised when I have a balance, and I am also more productive, so I try my best to make it happen. And when I fail at it, I reflect and reset.
In your opinion is there more that can be done to encourage a greater diversity of people into engineering careers?
I certainly think so! As an academic I regularly interact with people that want to start a career in STEM, and I find heart-breaking and incredibly frustrating the hurdles that some of those people have to overcome to follow their passion. There are still too many stereotypes about what engineers or scientists look like or how we behave, that are simply not true. I don’t really mind if it’s engineering, science or anything else, everyone should feel empowered and supported to realise their dreamed profession.
What advice would you give for anyone interested in pursuing an engineering career?
Go for it! You will spend a lot of time working during your professional life, make sure you love what you do and make it count. Depending on your individual background you may feel that pursuing an engineer career is not achievable or that is not for you, but most frequently those barriers are not real. I was once told that chemical engineering is only for those that want to work on offshore oil platforms! Try not to let other people’s narrow views or stereotypes get on the way of your dream profession. And if you need support, reach out to someone on the profession you want to pursue, most of us are very happy to help.
Dr. Yadira Bajon Fernandez is a Senior Lecturer in Bioresources Science and Engineering at Cranfield University.