Ana Groom talks about her Year in Industry placement with Rolls-Royce and her experience of being a woman looking to start a career in engineering.
Perhaps it is a hopeful sign for future diversity in engineering careers that all the 2015 winners of the Future Industry Leaders Awards run by the Engineering Development Trust (EDT) were female.
We recently spoke to Ana Groom, winner of the IET Award for Innovation at the EDT event, about her experiences on her Year in Industry placement with Rolls-Royce which led to the award, and her experience of being a woman looking to start on a career in engineering.
Before starting her engineering degree at the University of Cambridge Ana spent a year working at Rolls-Royce via the Year in Industry scheme. Her project there involved developing a new capability for programming robots that undertake shot peening: a process which is used to finish metal parts to prevent fatigue and stress corrosion failures and to prolong product life for the part.
To embed the new capability Ana built program history into the company databases and became proficient in programming and computer modelling. In this way, Ana was able to design different programming methods to test and ascertain the most suitable method for creating shot peen programs offline.
What initially interested you in working in engineering?
I have always thought engineering would be an interesting field of study, as it's always advancing and developing, and I was keen to see it happening in 'real life' and be a part of this. I wanted to prove to myself that I could apply knowledge in a work environment and use it to provide solutions to problems, so getting a placement in industry gave the perfect opportunity to do this. The field of engineering is so broad I was really keen to get a better idea of what actually goes on, and how engineers contribute to the success of a company.
Has it ever been suggested to you that it is somehow unusual for women to work in this industry?
When people ask about my work and find out I'd like to be an engineer, they often comment that there aren't many girls doing that, however it's never in a way to suggest it's wrong. Although it's often perceived as a man's job, most are encouraged when they hear about women wanting to be engineers and are interested to hear why they chose that career path.
How did the reality you experienced through Year in Industry compare with your previous perceptions?
I was looking forward to seeing how the company functions and learning about the different manufacturing techniques and business processes used. What I didn't anticipate was being given such a level of responsibility and the opportunity to work on a new project, which meant I could decide how to approach and execute the development of a new capability.
I worried that not having a degree meant I would struggle to contribute new ideas and understand the environment I was working in, but in reality it didn't hold be back and being in a supportive team meant I wasn't afraid to ask questions and as a result learned so much. Being an intern, I didn't expect to have such a full workload but being immersed in the team and daily life of the company meant I was always busy, developing and learning.
Were there any negatives you experienced which you hadn’t expected?
The difficulty of leaving the job! Having taken a project from initial idea, it was difficult handing it over to another engineer and leaving them to continue development, as I would have loved to continue working on it.
Were there any positives you experienced which you hadn’t expected?
My confidence has grown so much more than I anticipated during the year, but this was a result of having to approach others, including senior managers, to make them aware of my work and highlight the benefits. In addition, I wasn't aware of how important the contacts I made would be, but the network I have started to build will definitely be useful in the future. The extent of knowledge and skills I feel I've gained during the year is also a lot more than I originally thought, so I am extremely grateful to the team and environment I was in which allowed me to develop in this way.
Has your experience influenced how you will approach your degree (e.g. module options etc) and has it also influenced your thinking on future careers?
Having never had exposure to manufacturing before, I am now really keen to keep learning about the field, as well as the aviation industry in general. I am glad that my university course is a general engineering degree, meaning I can study a range of subjects before deciding where I want to specialise. The knowledge I have picked up on placement will definitely help at university, to understand applications of theories I may learn, and the teamwork and business understanding I have gained will aid group projects. When it comes to choosing modules, I'm sure I'll lean towards those which are associated with manufacturing, as having first-hand experience should make it much easier to understand.
Do you have any particular direction you are choosing to pursue for your career?
I have always been interested in mechanical engineering but doing a placement has really opened my eyes to the many different branches within that. It has also made me realise how useful it is to have an understanding of other disciplines in order to see how they work together and are sometimes dependent on each other in industry. Completing a Year in Industry has been a great way to confirm that engineering is the right career for me, as well as heightening my interest in new developments.