“There is a whole world out there I knew nothing about”
4 August 2016
I grew up in a small town on the West Coast of Scotland. I went to the local school and, thanks to a handful of energetic teachers, ended up unfashionably good at maths and science. As I thought about university and careers though I wasn't sure what to do. I didn't know any scientists or engineers. I wondered about medicine but worried I was a bit of a wimp in the face of lots of blood.
I did my school work experience at the local alginate factory and through that heard about an organisation called WISE. At that time WISE ran a short residential course for school girls thinking about science and engineering at Imperial College in London. As a teenager living in a small town who'd only been to London twice before, I didn't need to be asked twice if I fancied going along! A few weeks later, three friends and I excitedly took the train to London for our adventure.
The days I spent at Imperial were a complete eye opener. We explored labs, met people who already studied science and engineering and heard about the kinds of jobs you can do in the field. We learned about the way you could gain practical work experience at the same time as completing academic studies and discussed the benefits of sandwich courses vs other models. I was introduced to the Royal Academy of Engineering and how they support aspiring young members of the field. There was a whole world out there that I never knew existed.
After my introduction from WISE I applied for Engineering at a number of good UK schools including Imperial. I also applied for a bunch of company sponsorships that would give me pre-university work experience and work experience in the holidays. Eventually I studied for an MEng at Cambridge University and was sponsored throughout by the chemical company ICI, which those of you with a long memory will remember.
I really enjoyed ICI and my studies. I did Manufacturing Engineering which was very practical and involved doing lots of projects working directly with engineering and manufacturing companies in the UK. At ICI I learned vocational skills like welding and building electronic circuit boards, as well as gaining valuable experience in the strategic role that engineers play in their businesses.
After university I took my engineering skills into management consultancy. All that I had done had taught me valuable problem solving skills and I was excited about taking them into a range of companies - manufacturing and beyond. I'm now a Partner at the management consultancy McKinsey & Company where my work focuses on public and private sector organisations principally in energy, materials and defence; work that has taken me around the world and into topics as diverse as the assessment of policies to stimulate economic development and understanding the strategic impact of technical improvements to battery technology. I work with engineers every day and I constantly draw on the credibility, sensibility and skills I learned from my own engineering background, both studying and putting my skills to the test in real life settings. I also quite enjoy being able to tell sceptical colleagues and clients that yes, I can weld! Even if not very well....
There are many turning points in a career but the most important one for me by far was choosing to start my path as an engineer, 20 years ago at a course run by WISE.
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