Caroline won the prestigious IOM3 2011 A T Green Award for best ceramics student. Her final year MEng project was based around the comparison of thermally sprayed coatings and those made via the sol-gel process for solid oxide fuel cells materials. She’s now undertaking a PhD at Cambridge University in collaboration with Rolls-Royce.
Where did you study and what qualifications do you have?
I did an undergraduate Master’s in Engineering (MEng) at the University of Manchester in material science and engineering with industrial experience for Volvo Aero and HotDisk, based at the University West in Trollhattan, Sweden.
Did you always want to enter engineering?
Not consciously. My father studied engineering as did my grandfather so it isn’t surprising that I ended up in a similar field. From a young age I liked science and design and technology but I didn’t start being interested in materials until my A levels. I have always liked how in engineering your work can help to further the development of technology and make a difference to the world.
What is your current role and what does it entail?
I am studying for an industrially funded PhD in metallurgy at the University of Cambridge focusing on the jet engine. I have just started a PhD at Cambridge University working on the development of nickel-based superalloys in partnership with Rolls-Royce.
Rolls-Royce has a strategic partnership with three main universities - Swansea, Birmingham and Cambridge, each focusing on a different area of research. Cambridge mainly looks at the superalloys. These materials are used in the high temperature regions (high pressure compressor and the high pressure turbine) of a jet engine (and gas turbine) as they maintain their strength at high temperature, higher than that which other materials in the engine can tolerate.
Even so nickel-based superalloys can only survive when thermal barrier coatings and cooling systems are used. By alloying with a variety of elements, the superalloys can be refined for particular components, in particular sections of the engine and their temperature capability can be maximised. The discs in the engine pose an intriguing problem as they are expected to survive many conditions, therefore the required properties are hard to achieve in a single component. Regardless, this is the purpose of my project. Wish me luck!
How did you choose your final year project?
During my third year away when I was working in industry, I worked on thermal barrier coatings produced by thermal spraying. One day my supervisor came running up to my desk telling me that they were thinking branching into solid oxide fuel cells - SOFCs - (as the technology is relatively similar) and they wanted me to carry out a review of current research into thermally sprayed SOFCs. While working on this, I started to realise that I found SOFC research very interesting.
I knew that my placement would end before they started to work on them so I contacted my supervisor at Manchester University to ask whether we could have a collaboration project. As a result my project was based around the comparison of thermally sprayed coatings and those made via the sol-gel process for SOFC materials. The project was very successful and last year I was awarded a prize for work in both my final year and my placement year.
Was it a major factor in securing your first job?
I think so, if you call a PhD a job. The research I did in my final year project showed my analytical ability, which made me a good candidate for a PhD.
What are your long-term career aspirations?
Who knows, if you asked me over a year ago I was quite sure that I did not want to do a PhD, especially after seeing my friends working on theirs. So, as you can see, my aspirations are relatively flexible. All I know is that I want to stay working in materials development as long as I can.
Right now, I don't think that I would like to stay in academia though. I don't like the idea of never leaving university, plus I know it can very easily take over your life. I think I would like to move into a research and development department in a company in the industrial sector, either remaining in aerospace or in another field. Other than that I have no further goals as yet. I hope I will know more towards the end of my PhD. Fingers-crossed.
What advice do you have for other women trying to pursue a career in engineering?
Just to go for it, you should always do what you enjoy and not worry about being in a male dominated field. However, you do have to be comfortable around men (and their humour) as many times you will be outnumbered. All the male engineers I have met have been nice and have respected all the women they work with.