Having started my PhD less than two months ago, when I heard about the student Women Engineering Society conference, I immediately signed up for it for the sheer curiosity. Little did I know, it would have the kind of impact it did on my thought process.
The conference began on a very positive note from Kay Plumley (Proctor and Gamble), who spoke about her role in managing factory operations, which in itself is an achievement as such positions are always thought to be the forte of men. She also instilled in me the confidence that women engineers can successfully balance their professional and personal life without compromising on either. The panel discussions which followed were very well structured. The session on electronics and materials had speakers from Instron, Altera and UTC Aerospace. For someone who was always told that PhD holders were over-qualified for jobs in industry, this couldn’t have been a better session as two out of three speakers had a doctorate and were in notable positions in their respective companies. The career path of each of the speakers was varied, sometimes confounding, but always driven by passion and faith which has today put them in a position equal to and even above their male counterparts. The ice-breaker session was a good start to the evening when engineers were allowed to dabble with finance and stocks. We were put in groups of different countries, provided with some resources and asked to trade off with other countries for a week and finally liquidate the assets. Though the aim was to lead the cash table, the session actually threw light on how soft skills get overlooked in an engineering curriculum and is as imperative as sound technical knowledge.
The highlight of the evening was the conference dinner which was intellectually appetizing. I was seated at the Karen Burt table (sponsored by BAE) and hosted by Anne Madsen whose presence was infectious. The food was sumptuous and conversation extremely stimulating. Conversations with women engineers from different walks of life was a start to some new friendships and interesting insights about their journey thus far as engineers. The first woman president of Institute of Engineering and Technology, Naomi Climer, beat dessert (Chocolate mousse!) and stole the spot light with her journey as an engineer and her role as the president. Her very presence was inspiring. I am looking forward to hear from her more at the WES Bath IET event (March is not that far!).
The following day kick started with great sessions and talks. I was particularly impressed by Anne Madsen (BAE systems) who spoke at length about the wrong turns she took in life but about how satisfied she is today about being a woman engineer and a mother (She has been on the Antarctic mission, walked with the penguins and now designs ships and also tests (breaks!) their endurance. How cool is that?!). Professional membership and marketing yourself as an engineer go hand in hand and Victoria Batchelor, from IChemE gave useful insights about getting chartered, increasing employability and how the society has a range of opportunities for support and development of engineers. This session was a boon for me as I had missed out on professional body memberships back home. As they say, “Better late than never!”
The session which followed was pillars of success, which focused on some soft skills like communication, leadership and confidence building and created a support system for women engineers. The last session was focussed on Energy and Risk and we heard exciting talks from engineers from BP, Scottish and Southern Energy and FM Global. The latter deals with engineering risk management and it was quite interesting to know about the amalgamation of engineering and insurance sector.
No sooner than it began, the conference had to end. Though the conference was spanned over only two days, it was exhilarating when I come to terms with the experience, motivation and a mutual bonding amongst women engineers. In the words of Naomi Mitchison, “Engineers are made, not born”, it is the need of the hour that the existing community of women engineers be nurtured and supported whilst a new group of women engineers are inducted to the community, which in my view has the power to change the face of the world. Thank you WES Bath for giving me a chance to be a part of the one of a kind conference. It has been the best conference experience ever!
Post Grad Chem Eng Student