Celebrating International Women in Engineering Day, a Senior Mechanical Engineer’s perspective

Marine People

International Women in Engineering Day, this year on the 23rd June 2017, is an annual celebration of the fantastic impact that women make to engineering internationally.  It aims to recognise the women already working in the industry, and showcase the opportunities to future generations.

In support of this important day, Marine People and the IMarEST will be showcasing amazing international female engineers in our weekly blog.  We want to demonstrate the diverse roles available within engineering, the career development opportunities, and provide some insight in to what it is like to be a female engineer in various parts of the world.  We are passionate about showcasing the fabulous opportunities to women in maritime engineering, because we believe it is an exciting, varied and progressive career.

So, let us introduce this weeks featured engineer:

Christine Smith, a Senior Mechanical Engineer working for BMT Fleet Technology, based in Canada.

  • How long have you been in engineering and what is your role?

I have been working as an engineer for almost 3 decades after obtaining a Bachelor of engineering in 1987, and a Master of engineering degree a few years later at Concordia University in Montreal.  My degrees are in Mechanical engineering.

Over my career, I have worked for six companies in a wide range of industries and technical areas including; satellite laser system design and testing, spacecraft composite structures design and testing, aircraft structures and fatigue testing, multi-stage automated machine design and mechatronics, control systems and measurement sensor design, mechanical and electrical system design and integration, nonlinear finite element analysis (thermal, vibration, shock), composite materials analysis, engineering team management, and project management.  For the past 2 years, I have been working as a Marine Systems Engineer supporting the Canadian submarine program.

  • Why did you become an engineer?

I was gifted with a natural curiosity to investigate and understand the way things work.  At a young age, I would take things apart to figure out how they worked.  Most often I was not successful in re-assembling them, thankfully my parents encouraged my curiosity.  Mechanical engineering is a natural fit for my curiosity.

  • What are the best parts of your role?

By far, the most interesting and rewarding parts of my time in engineering have been spent on engineering design and test projects, as part of a technical team.  Being involved in the engineering design process of a system or machine when it comes to a successful conclusion is highly rewarding.  Integrating a system into a large structure or systems, such as, an aircraft or submarine is technically challenging.  Breaking large structures, such as, aircraft wings and fuselage, is very exciting, especially if they break in the way that you predicted.

  • What challenges have you encountered?

There are challenges for all engineers when starting at a new company, in terms of meeting the team, determining who does what function, understanding the company processes used to get the work done and accepted, and understanding your role in a project.

I have met men and women who are threatened by the fact that I am an engineer, and are jealous of my technical abilities.  My best advice in difficult situations is to be stubborn about your technical decisions, and don’t lose your sense of humour.

  • Why is it important to get more women in to engineering?

Many engineering industries would benefit greatly from increased gender diversification.  Gender diversification results in a better working environment in terms of; work-life balance, improved engineering team dynamics, less employee turnover, improved productivity and increased company profitability.  The quest for gender diversification in engineering companies increases the opportunities for women, in both technical and managerial engineering roles.

  • What would you say to girls still in school who are thinking about engineering? How would you encourage them?

Many girls have natural talents and interests that will serve them well in engineering.  An affinity for math, good visual-spatial abilities, the ability to understand a problem leading to a solution, strong attention to detail, and advanced organizational skills are highly valued in engineering.

Identify where your strengths and interests overlap and choose a concentration of engineering (mechanical, electrical, software, materials, bio-medical, etc.) that covers these strengths.  The course load for engineering can be overwhelming; be organized and get it done.  The rewards upon completion of your engineering degree are worth the sacrifice.  Landing your first job can be difficult, try to get into a co-op program to get your foot in the door of an industry.

I encourage girls to enter engineering, because the work is diverse, interesting, and well paying.  If you are not satisfied at a company or in an industry, try another role or go into a different area of engineering.  There are always jobs for engineers, and you will never regret obtaining your engineering degree.

  • What advice do you have for students just starting out?

After graduation, get a broad range of engineering experience.  Something new can be learned at every job.  Early in your career, limit your length of stay at one company to 3-4 years and move to another company or industry to broaden your scope of engineering skills and experience.

Don’t be afraid to relocate to take an interesting job, employers are impressed with experience obtained in another country.

Look for companies with policies supporting work-life balance.  Engineering companies are becoming more supportive of women taking time to build and nurture a family while retaining their careers.  

One of my best professors in engineering used to say, “we must avoid arrogance in the profession”.  I have come to understand the wisdom of these words.  Don’t be afraid to make a mistake and accept responsibility, you will gain the respect of your co-workers.

Above all, stand by your convictions; you deserve the engineering degree you have worked to achieve, and you deserve the excellent opportunities that await you.

For more information on International Women in Engineering Day please visit http://www.inwed.org.uk/