"I’ve always liked learning new stuff and finding better ways of doing things"
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Q. What type of engineer are you?
A. I’m an electrical and mechanical engineer, and work at our Hunterston B power station.
Q. What does your current role involve?
A. I’m currently on secondment as a Project Manager for the defueling process. We stopped generating recently and entered the defueling stage at Hunterston. I’m managing projects to improve and enhance the process of how we take fuel out of the reactor and get it offsite. It’s really exciting, as we’re the first station in EDF’s UK fleet to do this. So it’s an entirely new area and I am genuinely learning something new every day.
Q. What was your career path?
A. My career path was actually a little bit different to most young people’s! This is because I spent most of my secondary school years in Yorkhill Children’s Hospital, in Glasgow, as I had a serious heart condition. So I taught myself my Highers and advanced Highers from home/hospital. I had open heart surgery four months after doing my final exams and I started at Strathclyde University less than a year later, studying for a Masters in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering.
After university, I worked in intelligence for a bit, which was incredibly interesting. Then from there, I went to Aecom and worked as an Electrical Engineer for a few years.
I saw a job come up at Hunterston and came to work here as a Systems Engineer. I thought the whole world of nuclear energy was really interesting and different to anything else I’d ever encountered before.
As a Systems Engineer, I was a systems owner looking after an element of our station. In my case, the heating and ventilation systems, fire safety systems and also a few of the water treatment systems. So part of my job was looking after them on a day-to-day basis: checking their condition for any faults, deterioration or wear and tear. But it also involved looking at how we work and whether there were any engineering changes we could do to improve how our systems operate.
Q. What attracted you to working in the energy industry?
A. My favourite thing about being an engineer here is going to the plant every day. I’m not one to sit in an office; I get bored! I like to see what I’m working on and the difference I’m making.
As we’re a nuclear site too, there’s definitely a lot more rigour around the stuff we do. Our tagline is ‘nuclear safety is our overriding priority’ so there’s a lot of safety you need to understand to work here – over and above what you’d normally find in another industry.
Q. What motivates you at work?
A. I always like learning new stuff and finding better ways of doing things. There are always improvements that can be made. And this really motivates me at work.
Q. Are women equally represented in engineering?
A. When I started in engineering, there were 42 people in the department and only three of us were women. But, I have noticed a big difference in the apprentices coming through. There are definitely more women and that’s really encouraging.
Q. What do you think we can do to increase the diversity of the sector?
A. I think reaching the younger generation while they’re in education can make a big difference to increasing the diversity of the sector. When I was at school, if you were good at science and female, the careers officer told you to be a lawyer or doctor!
The silver lining when I studied at home and hospital during my teens was that my family were like my teachers; they didn’t put any assumptions on me. My brother, especially, has always encouraged me to be whatever I want and to be the best at it. He’s followed an engineering career too, and is now a computer scientist at Apple.
At school there was no mention of pursuing an apprenticeship either – girls didn’t ‘do’ apprenticeships. But if an apprenticeship had been available to me back then, I’d have gone down this route, as I enjoy the practical aspect of my work so much.
Q. What would you say to any girl who enjoys the subjects you enjoyed at school and is thinking about their career options?
A. I do spend time going into schools. So if I was talking to a girl interested in the subjects I’d enjoyed, I’d tell them to find out as much as they can about engineering careers.
It’s so wide ranging that being creative and thinking differently is a massive strength. A lot of younger folk assume everybody knows more than them… but that’s not always the case! Plus it’s fine to ask questions. You don’t need to know everything straightaway either – that’s the whole point of studying a subject. To learn more; but you also don’t want to lose that curiosity for exploring and thinking about how to do things better.
Q. Is there anything about engineering that you don’t think people outside the industry know about it?
A. One of the things people often don’t realise about engineering is how creative an industry it is. I spoke recently at a STEM event for schools in Glasgow and asked the students to describe what an engineer looks like. They basically said a ‘man’. So I showed them pictures of me at work and doing the things I like to do in my spare time. Basically musical theatre, with pictures of me when I was one of the cast from Hairspray. I wanted them to see that you can do art and music, you can be creative as an engineer… And you don’t have to look like the stereotype.
Q. If you weren’t an engineer, what would you like to do for a career?
A. I always wanted to be a joiner when I was younger. Me and my dad always worked on wee projects together – carpentry, building go karts, that type of thing. So that’s what I would have done if I hadn’t become an engineer. I also love helping people and I considered being a doctor at one stage. But, actually engineering can do so much to help as well, like generating power for the whole country!
Inspired to begin your engineering career at EDF? Learn more in our Careers section or read more about some of our female engineers and the women working in renewables.