There’s more to STEM careers than overalls and laboratories
We had no clue what being an Aerospace Engineer was like, so for International Day of Women and Girls in Science we spoke to Meghan who told us how she learns something new every day by working at Rolls-Royce
Sometimes girls just need a confidence boost and need to be reminded that they are capable of doing subjects that are predominantly seen as ‘male’ subjects – there is a lot more to STEM careers than just overalls, tools and laboratories.
What is working in STEM really like?
Girlguiding and our partner Rolls-Royce want girls to discover how much fun it is to study and work in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM). But it can be hard when they don’t know any women who work in those industries.
International Day of Woman and Girls in Science, on 11 February, is all about celebrating role models in STEM jobs. That’s why we spoke to Meghan, an Aerospace Engineer from Rolls-Royce, to find out how she got into her career and what it’s like. Plus, she’s given us some great tips for encouraging girls’ interest in STEM.
How did you get into Aerospace Engineering?
I grew up in Dubai when Emirates and Etihad airlines had just started to really take off and I was fascinated by it all – it was my desire to understand how aeroplanes work that got me interested in science and maths at school. I knew I wanted to continue science and maths through university, and I found aviation and flight intriguing – so I chose to do a degree in Aerospace Engineering.
It didn’t all go quite to plan when I didn’t get into the university I wanted – but then in hindsight, it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me! I ended up going to the University of Bath which was great.
During my final year at university, I applied to the Engineering Graduate Scheme at Rolls-Royce and was fortunate enough to be accepted – it really felt like my hard work paid off. I’m now nearing the end of my graduate scheme and will be going onto a full time role soon – I’m really excited!
What’s the most exciting part of your day?
The best part of my day is when I get to see physical parts being manufactured and assembled into our engines.
Every part of an engine, from small to large, is there as a result of many decisions and calculations by some of the most intelligent people you will ever meet.
There’s so much to learn and I’m fortunate and privileged to be part of a team who have a vast amount of knowledge and experience that I can try to absorb.
What’s the most fun part of working for Rolls-Royce?
One of the great aspects of engineering is the opportunity to work in a variety of different businesses (aerospace, nuclear, medical and so on) and to work almost anywhere in the world. Working for a global company, I’ve been given the chance to experience different working cultures and meet a range of people from all over the world, which has been great! I have colleagues who have lived and worked in the USA, Canada, Singapore and many countries in Europe.
These opportunities are available as internships during university, and throughout your career, so I will be packing my suitcase when I see a role that is a good fit for me.
If you have the opportunity to live abroad, definitely consider it. Not only is it great for your CV, it's also an amazing experience and it’s a fantastic way to build your confidence and make friends from all over the world.
What exciting things are happening in engineering at the moment?
Most of us couldn’t imagine how quickly the aerospace industry would evolve 20 years ago. There are many new and improved technologies in engine design and manufacture, and advances in the way we fly across the world.
There’s always exciting things going on in the engineering industry – I wouldn’t be able to narrow these down to just a couple!
What are you working on right now?
Right now I'm working on the Ultrafan, a new type of engine that will be quieter, cleaner and more efficient than current aero engines. It's important to develop new technology to meet the demands of a changing world so it's very exciting to be involved in this project.
Many people leave science after studying, what made you stay?
There are changes and advances in science every single day.
The industry is constantly developing and the technology is incredible – I wanted to be a part of this. I also wanted to be part of an industry where there is a place for everyone, from the specialist who wants to become a world class expert in their field, to those who prefer managing a team of people.
It's very rare that you find an engineer who doesn't want to get involved and help solve a problem so it's generally a very positive environment to work in.
As a woman in STEM, do you feel like you have to justify why you chose a career in science to other people?
I’ve never felt I had to justify my career choices to someone else.
Having said that, I do feel that sometimes I might have had to work harder to prove myself and prove my capability because I’m female.
I occasionally meet men and women in public who are surprised or impressed by my choice of career because I am female, when they wouldn't think twice about a man choosing to become an engineer. It's a rare occurrence though and these shared experiences mean that there are usually strong women's networks in most engineering companies.
It’s not been the easiest road sometimes, but any obstacles I’ve had to face have made me more passionate about women in engineering and STEM.
Do you feel you have the same opportunities as everyone else in your career?
In what is seen to be a very male-dominated industry, I’m lucky to work for a company which is at the forefront of diversity and inclusion and really pushes for equality in the workplace.
Additionally, part of having a career is learning to make opportunities for yourself by forming professional relationships with people that can give you those opportunities, and telling them what you want to achieve. Self-promotion (in the right way) is very important and something that a lot of girls and women are not good at.
Once you believe in yourself and tell others about your achievements, then opportunities will open up for you.
What advice would you give to volunteers who have girls in their unit who are interested in STEM subjects?
Sometimes girls just need a confidence boost and need to be reminded that they are capable of doing subjects that are predominantly seen as ‘male’ subjects. There is a lot more to STEM careers than just overalls, tools and laboratories. Here are some things you can try in your unit to inspire them.
- Go on a trip - organising a trip to a manufacturing facility such as a bread or chocolate factory will be fun for the entire unit (including the volunteers!) but also enable the girls to relate engineering to the products that they are familiar with.
- Encourage girls to enter STEM competitions - there are so many STEM opportunities available outside school that volunteers can tell the girls about and perhaps support them in – competitions, awards and sponsorships, such as those provided by the British Science Association’s CREST Awards scheme and The Smallpeice Trust.
- Invite engineers to speak - they can tell girls about their careers and will give them role models in the industry.
- Do a badge - for the younger girls, achieving their Rolls-Royce sponsored Brownie Science Investigator badge is a great way to discover science.
What advice would you give to girls thinking about getting into STEM careers?
I would give the same advice as for any career - get as much experience in the career as you can and ask lots of questions. You can never have too much knowledge.
Once you have started on your career, finding a mentor who is a couple of years ahead of you is very useful.
Finally, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone – it is so important to seize great opportunities, and that will mean taking some risks but it will be worth it – you might surprise yourself!