Find out more about the latest winner of the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year award and what she hopes to achieve as an engineering ambassador.
Working as a senior hardware engineer at Selex ES, Naomi Mitchison’s biggest engineering achievement to date has been her work on the Advanced Laser Warner project. This a technology demonstrator programme capable of identifying laser-based threats to aircraft.
Working as part of a multidisciplinary team, she was responsible for the electrical design, build and test of the Data Acquisition Unit (DAU), a standalone unit that carries out analogue and digital processing of incoming threat signals.
Naomi’s adoration of engineering as a career and as a way of understanding and dissecting the world continues to grow the longer she works in the sector.
“The more time I spend working in engineering the more surprised I am at the range of careers available, the breadth of interests displayed by engineers and the new approaches and solutions that are developed,” she enthuses.
“When I was at school I enjoyed maths and science but never fully understood how these could be used in practical applications to materially change people’s lives. Studying and working in engineering has shown me how these subjects, combined with some creativity and business thinking, can be used to make incredible new products,” she continues. “Now, when explaining what engineering is, I try to show how much we take for granted was painstakingly designed, tested and built by engineers.”
Breaking the stereotypes
Naomi finds that engineers are still very much stereotyped as ‘geeky’ and this is a convention she is keen to dispel. She enjoys being active, regularly playing volleyball and hill walking, and she tries to visit ski resorts several times a year. She is also a keen traveller.
“Having grown up abroad in Italy as part of a very multinational community, I have always been interested in other countries and cultures,” she says. “Travelling has always been one of my favourite activities, as it gives me a chance to explore and learn about new people and places.”
She also finds that as she works in electronics, people assume she must be introverted and only interested in taking things apart - something she gets a kick from challenging.
“I enjoy challenging these stereotypes and showing that being interested in technology is not incompatible with being interested in people,” she says. “I relish the opportunities to use my ‘non-engineering’ skills, which arise on a regular basis at work. Whether I need to present to customers, negotiate with suppliers or work out the best design solutions with colleagues, I find that social skills, versatility and creativity are just as important as technical skills.”
An active volunteer
Naomi takes all her passion and channels it into volunteering, chairing the IET’s Young Professional committee for Scotland South-East as well as working as a STEM Ambassador. In this role she’s able to use the skills she’s gained in the past when she worked with children as an au pair, a teacher and a party planner.
“I have been a keen STEM ambassador since I began working, which I find is a great way of bringing together my enthusiasm for engineering with my previous experience of working with children,” she says. “I try to get involved with a broad range of activities, including presentations and hands-on activities, like building robots and designing paper planes. [They] tend to be very fun, if chaotic. I like that they give a sense of achievement when participants see their project coming together, as well as reminding me how much fun it is to build things, which was one of the reasons I became an engineer in the first place!”
Winning the IET YWE award
Naomi was nominated for the YWE award by two colleagues and was thrilled to find out she’d won this prestigious title. She feels it is an acknowledgement of her work so far, both as an engineer and as a STEM promoter. She also considers it a platform to push forward with her volunteer work.
“I’m using this opportunity to get involved in more STEM activities and promotion,” she enthuses. “There are so many different projects going on at ground level. Research into why there aren’t enough women in engineering, for example. I’d quite like to be involved in that conversation, looking at what we can do next to change things.
“Basically we’re ‘advertising’ engineering, trying to sell it as an idea. I think we have the best toys, but we still struggle. I’d like to be involved in looking at where and why we’re not doing well enough, and how can we improve our promotion of engineering,” she concludes.