Kristin Lewis: “I have learned that it’s really important to just be myself.”

Back Story: Kristin Lewis, ‘It’s really important to just be myself’

Image credit: Siri Lewis

TV presenter Dr Shini Somara talks to Kristin Lewis, an A Level student and team leader for the Pantera Team from Latymer Upper School in the UK who is participating in F1 in Schools.

Shini Somara: When did you realise that a career in engineering could be for you?

Kristin Lewis: Maths has always been my strongest subject. I love it and have always really enjoyed physics and design engineering too. Together they are a good mix of subjects and when it came to choosing courses at university, engineering seemed like a great fit to my interests. I hope to study mechanical engineering because I enjoy knowing how things work.

It’s crazy to think that a couple of years ago I had no idea what engineering was. My only appreciation of engineering was through TV shows, such as ‘Grand Designs’ and ‘The Big Fix’. What I especially enjoyed about ‘The Big Fix’ was the challenge of building something useful that really helped people and would have a significant effect on improving the quality of people’s lives.

There are so many new and exciting technologies being developed. Materials are being built at the molecular level and other innovations have emerged in the last five years that suggest our futures will be almost unrecognisable compared to today. Engineering will allow me to be part of this progress and that really interests me.

SS: What is it like being one of the few girls in engineering?

KL: I feel there is less of a stigma around being a woman in engineering, compared to what must have existed in the past. At the same time, there are still stereotypes. I was nervous that I would feel ostracised for being the only girl in my maths and physics classes (although not the only girl across my year who does STEM subjects). The reality is that the boys treat me no differently, and my teachers and peers are very encouraging and supportive. Perhaps that will change when I am out of school and in the real world. For now, I have learned that it’s really important to just be myself.

At the beginning of my A Levels, I had a misconception that to enjoy maths or engineering, I had to drop my interests in anything ‘girly’, such as clothes or make-up. As a result, I kept this side of myself hidden. However, I started to see that no one actually cared or viewed me differently or less intelligent for being a girl. Since then, I now dress how I like and feel more confident about myself. I certainly feel my peers accept that individuals can have multi-dimensions to their character, a perspective that was certainly put to the test as the team leader for the F1 in Schools.

Leading an F1 in Schools team, where I manage the enterprise and design aspects of the project, has given me a chance to develop my skills in managing people and communication. These skills are often downgraded, favouring the more technical side of engineering, but I see a lot of value in these ‘softer skills’.

SS: Where do you see the future of engineering?

KL: I’m interested in Formula E because of the engineering and their focus on climate change. I hope engineering is more sustainable and more equal for all minorities in the future.

SS: What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in engineering?

KL: Do things you enjoy. It’s always easier for me to work hard, participate and be motivated when I am doing things I enjoy. This was the advice given to me when I was choosing my A Levels, and I’m sure this wisdom will stay with me throughout my career. So far, the things I have enjoyed, have been the things I have been most successful in.

I have also learned to look at every opportunity and see what you can take from it. Sometimes we engage in things we don’t enjoy, but there is always something to learn from every experience. I try to engage in other things outside of my STEM subjects to expand my perspectives, or if they are unfamiliar to me or require me to learn new skills. Hopefully at some point in my career, all things I engage with will interlock. This is not impossible, as some engineering I may be involved with in my future career may not even exist yet.

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