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Inspiring futures

Emma Thomas speaking to students

Emma Thomas of the WISE Young Women's Board inspires students at an Engineering Insight day.

17 December 2015

On Thursday 17th December 2015, I attended an Inspiring Futures event in the Ramboll offices in London, UK. The event called, “Engineering Insight” offered career guidance for GCSE and A-Level students interested in working or studying Engineering. Inspiring Futures are a charity that offer professional advice to people aged 15-23, providing information on pathways to subjects ranging from Engineering to Psychology.

A bridge students made during the day

Photo: A bridge students made during the day

I was asked to attend a speed-networking “Meet the Professional” session, where I circulated small groups to talk about my education, career and motivation to become an engineer. There was good representation of both boys and girls at the event; which meant for more diverse questions and discussion. I found most students had the same questions, which you can find below (with my answers!).

I found the whole event incredibly interesting. There were a large proportion of students interested in studying General or Chemical Engineering, which I found quite interesting as this has changed in the short time since I applied, when Civil and Mechanical Engineering dominated statistics. I was particularly impressed to hear about how many universities are offering General Engineering. I did not settle on a specific Engineering discipline until my final year at university. After initially opting for Electronics in my second year and Systems Engineering in my third year, I eventually graduated with a Masters in General Engineering with Sustainability.

Q: What A-Levels did you do?

A: I didn’t actually do A-Levels- so I can’t offer any advice on this besides what friends have told me. I completed a BTEC National Diploma in Engineering, which was the perfect choice for me; 100% coursework with practical elements (such as learning how to use machines in a workshop). At the time, it consisted of 18 units, graded by pass, merit and distinction. I’d suggest this course for anyone who is practically minded and prefers coursework over exams. My course provided the practical skills for a career in Engineering, alongside the academic requirement for going on to University. Find more about the new BTEC syllabus for Engineering.

Q: I’m finding it difficult to find a university to accept BTEC’s, I’ve rung up a few universities but not sure what else to do?

A: Good question! This is something I noticed whilst at university, fewer and fewer universities accept BTEC’s – I’d love to understand why! Keep ringing the universities and discuss your options, for instance, there may be a prerequisite to do a foundation course or module, but it is worth a discussion to see if they’d accept a particular grade. For those that are too scared to call, there is information available online.

Q: Where do you work & what do you do?

A: I’m a Senior Engineer at Virgin Media. I work in the home of the Internet: a Virgin Data Centre. I make sure Virgin Media’s customers receive their services 24/7 and try to stop cyber disasters happening. Data centres use a lot of power and I try to estimate how much the electricity will cost. A very large data centre may consume 30GWh of power in a year, which could cost a company around £3,000,000 for electricity alone!* I’m always looking for ways to power the data centres sustainably, and am working on a project to install Solar Panels at some of our locations.

Q: Why did you become an Engineer?

A: The reasons I chose to become an Engineer when I was 16 are quite different to how I feel now now. When I was 16, I wanted to earn a lot of money (!). University has taught me about the good things Engineering can do for society. I want to use my skills to help people and the environment all over the world. My experiences to date have only strengthened my ambitions- and I love the fact this keeps evolving.

Q: You used the word mathsy in describing your degree, how mathsy is it?

A: It was mathsy, definitely, however despite being a step-up from college, everyone is in the same boat. Engineering makes maths a language to solve the problems of the modern-day and we only learn the really important parts!

Q: How difficult was your degree?

A: Again, a very good question! Anything worthwhile will be difficult. A BTEC and a gap year left me with some catching up to do, so I didn’t spend too much of my fresher’s year in the student union. Everyone was keen to learn and help each other, which really helped me when I struggled with the course. University has given me some brilliant friends, a fiancé and a determination to change the world.

Q: How flexible is where you work?

A: Virgin Media is a very flexible company. As long as you keep your line manager informed of your whereabouts and fulfil your work commitments, you are able to work flexible hours. My work requires a lot of travel, so it’s important to me to have a flexible working day to fit in things like dentist appointments and a social life!


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