Rhianne did a Masters in Mechanical Engineering and a postgraduate certificate in Nuclear Science and Engineering before landing her job at Nuclear Transport Solutions
Why did you decide on this career?
I've always been fascinated with how things work, and how things can be improved. My dad is an engineer while my mum was a bank clerk. I gained a love of mathematics and physics from my parents. They always fully supported my decision. Engineering is such a broad area that there is something out there for everyone.
How did you get your job in the nuclear industry?
I grew up relatively close to Torness Nuclear Power Station in the South-East of Scotland. I started off applying for a summer placement there between my first and second years at university, then loved the hands-on problem-solving activities. I went back the following year and started to learn more about the nuclear side of the station rather than just the electricity generation. This kicked off a spiral of new questions I wanted to learn about, so for my third year I applied to do a summer placement at Sellafield Ltd in Cumbria.
I guess it took off from there, seeing how many different roles and opportunities the nuclear industry had to offer. After graduating, I was part of a graduate programme called Nucleargraduates (ran by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) where I spent two years on various secondments to organisations in the industry, before obtaining my full-time role.
What more can be done to increase female representation in engineering?
I think it needs to start early in schools. The term 'engineer' is used for everyone who fixes washing machines to those working on the most complex challenges and everything in between. There isn't enough awareness at school level what roles are available. In 2019 The Engineering Report found only 23.5% of 11-19 year olds had heard about engineering careers from school advisers. It also doesn't help that the perception remains that subjects like maths and science are more difficult than non-STEM subjects.
By having visible role models, or even positive advocates for females considering a career in engineering always makes a huge difference. The language used is also important; I've always approached the title as I am an engineer, who happens to be female. These are not two terms that must be linked.
What's a typical day like as an engineering analyst?
Sometimes I'll be working on long-term projects, assessing nuclear transport packages in a range of accident scenarios. Other days can involve small sensitivity studies looking at the effect of changing one or two parameters in a model or researching new and advancing techniques.
I'll also spend time reporting to my project team, or various stakeholder meetings. Sometimes this involves me presenting my work, other times is just a general catch up to assess project development.
What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?
Knowing that I'm part of a bigger picture - I'm literally helping make the world a safer place. During my time as an analyst I've helped build safety cases for a variety of nuclear transports to prove the packages are safe to use, not only for the contents, but for the public in the highly unlikely event an accident would occur. Some of these have been recognised as critical government objectives, so to receive thanks from government ministers is always a sign of a job well done. We once even received recognition from Barack Obama when he was president for a major international project.
As a woman in engineering what challenges have you faced?
In some early meetings in my career I would be the only women in the room. I have had to correct people in the past that I am not there to be the secretary, I am the technical lead for the project. This has been met with some surprise and then embarrassment on their part for the assumption, but I've never taken it to heart. I've always been fortunate to have never been treated any differently from my male counterparts.
Imposter syndrome sometimes creeps in, but I know I have the capability to deliver my job. I am used to being in the minority as a female engineer but being part of groups such as Women in Nuclear and the Women's Engineering Society (WES) have shown me I am incredibly lucky to be employed by a company who prioritise being good at my job, not whether I am female.
How is your degree relevant?
I deliberately kept with the mainstream mechanical engineering degree as I was unsure what direction to head in after university. This gave me a range of options, not specifically related to FEA or nuclear. The degree gave me the fundamentals of many engineering subjects, but more appropriately taught me about project delivery, problem solving, stakeholder relationships and constantly challenging the status quo to improve the world through engineering.
How did you get involved with the Women's Engineering Society (WES) and how have they supported you?
I only became involved with WES after I'd graduated and had been in a staff position for a couple of years. I had attended a few events as a student, but never as a member. One of the major attractions to WES was the MentorSet scheme they offer which offers cross-sector independent mentors from around the UK and is open to both men and women. This sounded beneficial since I had only ever experienced a technical mentor of the same engineering discipline to help me towards gaining my Chartered Engineer status.
What are your career ambitions?
I want to continue learning and being able to apply my engineering knowledge to a variety of scenarios. They may not always be in FEA, or in nuclear but right now I really enjoy my job and the company I work for are doing some incredible projects that could have significant benefits to the UK and wider.
I'd love to push further into technical leadership roles and maybe onto Fellowship one day. I've just signed up to be a mentor to a teenage girl to help promote the positive influence and rewarding career that engineering has so far offered me. Being able to actively promote STEM as part of my job is something I'm really proud of.
What advice can you give to other aspiring females engineers?
Don't ever let anyone tell you that you are not capable, or you are not good enough. Engineers come in all guises, in all walks of life. If you have good ideas, passion and a drive to see the world differently then there is an engineer inside you. Engineering has provided me so many wonderful opportunities and although its clichéd, the world really is your oyster. It won't be plain sailing, but it certainly will be worth the effort.
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Find out more
- Read about the role of a nuclear engineer.
- Gain an insight into the engineering and manufacturing sector.
- Learn more about women in engineering.