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 have several roles – I am the Director of the National Buried Infrastructure Facility (NBIF), Head of Enterprise, Engagement & Impact in the School of Engineering and Professor of Infrastructure Monitoring. What I enjoy most is working with diverse groups of people at all levels, seeing students and researchers develop through their learning – the ‘lightbulb moment’ is fascinating to observe. As the Director of NBIF I do also enjoy the exciting research, developing new methods, approaches or sensing technologies and learning more about the environment we live in. I am still curious about the world and excited when my research can make the invisible visible. I am also excited working with industry and seeing my research make a real difference in practice.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
I originally wanted to study maths, but after some work experience in the Institute of Fluid Mechanics at the Leibniz University in Hannover I became fascinated about combining my interest in maths with practical applications, in particular coastal engineering. Ever since then I wanted to ‘save Sylt’, which is a North Sea island suffering from coastal erosion. As it so happens, I have changed my research interest quite a lot and don’t do coastal engineering any more (although my PhD was still in understanding erosion processes), but I am still fascinated by understanding nature and using engineering judgement and monitoring to better understand how natural processes (interaction between waves (water) and the ocean floor (sand) or the ground (subsurface space with its soil-structure interaction) behave. I am fascinated by enquiry based learning and using my engineering skills for the better.
How do you balance your professional and personal lives?
This can be very difficult at times and I don’t think I have the balance right yet. I am my own worst enemy by trying to be a perfectionist and wanting to do everything perfectly. I do try though to find a balance whenever I can to play sport.
In your opinion is there more that can be done to encourage a greater diversity of people into engineering careers?
I think we do need as many diverse role models as we can and make sure that this is visible in the press, on websites and in brochures etc. At the same time it is critical to ensure that no additional pressures are put on the minority when trying to provide a balanced view.
What advice would you give for anyone interested in pursuing an engineering career?
Learn as much as you can about the wide range of engineering which is covered by the different disciplines. For example, civil engineering is not the same as structural engineering and civil engineers do more than just build buildings or roads. If possible, talk to friends or families about the different areas of engineering. I managed to attend some lectures with friends who were studying engineering before I applied to university. If possible, look out for taster sessions as well to learn more about the possible academic course and thus the career. Most importantly, as an engineer you obtain many transferrable skills which can be used in many different sectors and fields of engineering – you are not boxed into a small speciality.
Prof. Metje is the Head of Enterprise, Engagement and Impact and Head of the Power and Infrastructure Research Group within the School of Engineering, and the Director for the UKCRIC National Buried Infrastructure Facility at Birmingham.