The life & times of an HVAC Engineer











{December 5, 2011}   A little of (y)our time

It's not for girls!


I’ve seen a lot of schemes & read a lot of articles about women in science, engineering & technology of late. The articles are all about how only 7% of engineers in the UK are female, why this might be and what could or should we be doing about it.

In my humble opinion, much of it is about perception. Teachers, pupils and parents perceive our industry to be dirty, dangerous, boring, unethical or just plain Not For Girls.

But this perception doesn’t just put off young women from entering the profession, but also many of the best young male minds as well. Whether or not you agree with the positive discrimination taking place to entice girls into STEM careers, the danger is that if we don’t do something to address the image of engineering then very few youngsters will have any interest in joining it; whatever their gender, race, religion or socio-economic background.

Thankfully perception is relatively inexpensive, albeit time consuming, to change. But in order to do so we need engineers to talk to the public about what they do, why it’s important and what makes it exciting.

As Sir John Parker , President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says of engineers: We are not automatic seekers of publicity, maybe we should take responsibility […] to explain our profession

There are loads of engineers and scientists who are willing to do just that, there are over 29,000 STEM Ambassadors for starters! As individuals many engineers can see the need for, and the fulfillment to be had from, school & public engagement. The problem that they, and other willing volunteers, face though, is that they can’t find the time to interact with schools.

Wherever I can I make time, I’ll do evening, weekend or online events, or I do short events during the school day & then make up the hours at another time. When I can’t make up the time my company is generally very supportive and allows me a certain amount of leeway. This is hard won and wearing though, and isn’t plausible for everyone currently. Companies need to recognise the need for the profile of engineering and engineers to be raised. The need for a career in engineering to be seen as respectable, desirable and most of all: exciting!

So I throw down the gauntlet. If companies genuinely are interested in having a diverse workforce. If they want to ensure that there will be enough young engineers to fill the places of those who will be retiring over the next 5-15 years. If they want to be able to grow their businesses with new ideas and new people…they will have to commit to not just allowing but encouraging their employees to spend company time on engaging with the public, especially with schools.

So what will you, and your company, commit to?

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Since getting chartered I’ve decided to play a more active role in my professional institute, CIBSE. After e-mailing the chairman of the local committee, and attending my first meeting, I’ve now been appointed the role of ‘Education Liaison Officer’ (or ELO) for CIBSE in the West Midlands. I’ve also got a seat on the committee itself.

I was only elected to the role a week ago, but since then I’ve endeavoured to get in touch with as many of the other engineering institute’s local committees as possible. Where they have one I’ve been getting in touch with other Education/School Liaison Officers, and where they don’t I’m getting in touch with the chairmen or secretaries. In less than a week I’ve already received an overwhelmingly positive response.

Every person I’ve spoken to is really enthusiastic either about sharing the knowledge and experience they already have regarding school events & engagement, or about getting involved with joint events with CIBSE. It’s so inspiring to be speaking to such passionate, interested and motivated individuals. It really makes me excited about what it may be possible to achieve together.

In my experience school pupils don’t have enough opportunities to see and hear about what engineering is, and what exciting engineering is taking place around them. Then we (that’s both ‘we’ the engineering industry, and ‘we’ British society) are surprised when not enough young people choose to pursue careers in engineering. The engineering population is aging, and unless more graduates and apprentices enter the industry we will be left with a serious lack of staff and knowledge in 10-15 years time. That’s not just my opinion, but something that companies such as Centrica are sufficiently concerned about to have commissioned surveys around the topic.

One of the ways to change things for the better is simply for engineers and engineering companies to go into schools and explain what they do, why it’s important and what is exciting about it. Hopefully in my new voluntary role as ELO (Education Liaison Officer, not Electric Light Orchestra) I’ll be able to take part in, and facilitate, lots of opportunities for students to meet engineers. Who knows, perhaps this is the start of a West Midlands movement to re-engage with schools and students and inspire a new generation of engineers…



I was asked recently, as part of the Ingenious Women project & being a STEM Ambassador, to give a talk to FE lecturers so that they can engage & motivate their own students studying STEM subjects and encourage them to consider STEM careers.

My briefing was: “You will have 15-20 minutes to talk about your own career and the barriers you had to overcome. What were/are the good things you have experienced and what inspired you to become a scientist/engineer?

I really want to do a good job with this seminar as it will enable others to inspire far more pupils than I can reach alone, so I’ve been putting a lot of thought into it. I’m sharing my answers here as they might be of interest to more folk than just the Birmingham FE lecturers. Though if if you’re from Matthew Boulton College you might want to stop here or you’ll be reading spoilers!

So what barriers have I had to overcome?
– Technical understanding: I found Further Maths very challenging at A-Level, but I’m so glad I took it because when I got to university and found I was studying the same things in the ‘Advanced Engineering Mathematics’ module it all just clicked into place in my head & suddenly it was (comparatively) easy…everyone else around me was really struggling though, so I was glad to be able to help! Engineering isn’t easy, but once the difficult bits start clicking into place it’s very interesting and personally I found the technical challenges very enjoyable.

– Sexism: Even in this day and age there is still something of an obstacle to women progressing in engineering, and as such we’re few & far between. On the whole I find it doesn’t matter to most people what my gender is, but occasionally I come across real corkers. I think my most painful memory along those lines occurred at my Grandfather’s funeral. I was in my early twenties, studying engineering at university. I was stood next to my Mother when one of my Grandfather’s old gentleman acquaintances said to her “I don’t know why you’re letting her study engineering, she’ll never get anywhere with it, she’s a girl”. To be honest though, comments like that tend to spur me on to prove them wrong rather than being a true barrier…though pay disparity can still be an issue.
– Work load: Engineering degrees, and engineering jobs, are not an easy ride, there’s a lot of work to be done. Sometimes that can be very tough, for example; when all of your friends at Uni are going out & having fun or spending time relaxing whilst you’re working away in the labs or in lectures. Even sometimes just getting up in the morning for lectures while everyone else is having a lie-in seems very unfair, but I do love the level of knowledge and respect that the hard graft has bestowed upon me.

image credit: LorenGul on IgoUgo

What are the good things I’ve experienced?
– Having a positive impact: I love opening the bathroom cabinet to get out a medicine & being able to say “I made the factory that made this” – it’s very rewarding
– Problem solving: There’s something deeply satisfying about coming up against a technical challenge & finding a good solution that everyone (from clients to construction workers) is happy with. Or spending weeks tweaking a building & all its services so it passes validation just in time for an audit! Phew – what a relief!
– Seeing interesting places & finding out how things are made: For example I really enjoyed spending time in Cadbury’s research & development labs/kitchens in Bourneville – mmm chocolatey! I’ve also had the pleasure of travelling to Paris for meetings, and heading back to the airport from a Swiss meeting via a boat trip on Lake Geneva – I do love a bit of travel, I love coming home again too, but you can’t beat an all expenses paid trip to Paris!

image credit: racecar engineering

And what on earth inspired me to become an engineer in the first place?
– My Grandfather (he wanted to be an engineer, and had a fantastic workshop in his back garden where he made the most incredible working scale models of trains, boats and traction engines, he also volunteered on the Welshpool & Llanfair light railway)
– Exciting engineering projects like Formula One, I used to watch races with my parents as a kid & I so wanted to know how it all worked
– I’ve always loved solving problems and getting my head round how things work…if I get to be creative & use some maths & physics on route then so much the better!

A few more things also confirmed to me that engineering was what I wanted to do:
– Going on a Headstart course (a week in a university engineering department)
– Older friends who were studying engineering or working as engineers (you may not like to admit it Mr. Farmer & Mr. Prestwich, for reasons of age or ego, but it’s true)
– A couple of my teachers who spoke to me about my aptitude in their subjects (maths and design technology) and encouraged me down the engineering path (thank-you Ms. Maginnis & Mr. Harrison)
– The respect that people I knew had for engineers

So that’s why I’m an engineer…what influenced your career choice(s)?



{September 22, 2010}   5, 4, 3, 2, 1…lift off!

Today I attended the launch of the European Construction Institute (ECI) People Taskforce. It was started after the ECI “Futures Taskforce” identified that people and collaboration are, and will continue to be, vital to the future success not only of the engineering construction industry but also to society as a whole. It was decided after that, to conclude the Futures Taskforce by starting two new ones; People & Collaboration. I’ve been one of the 6 or so core team members since the People Taskforce first began back in spring 2010.
It has been an interesting journey so far, defining the remit of the Taskforce, and doing some research into what is already taking place. It was this research in fact that lead me to getting involved with Engineers Without Borders, and the local colleges’ Engineering diplomas as well as finding out about the Ingenious Women project that lead to me starting this blog.

Our final decision on the remit of the People Taskforce was to identify best practise, create new knowledge and support its use in order to:-
attract and recruit people
train and develop people
appraise and reward people
in the European engineering construction industry to enable the effective delivery of projects.

Today though the Taskforce really spread its wings by engaging with various organisations, from employers at all stages in the supply chain, to academic institutes, training providers and of course STEMNET. It was fantastic to be in a room full of people who all care about attracting people into engineering/construction and then training and developing them. It’s very motivating to know how much interest there is in making sure companies are following best practise when it comes to getting the right person into a role and them making them the best that they can be. It’s also very inspiring to be part of a team of people who have had some very interesting experiences in their engineering careers (like being a female project manager on site in Saudi Arabia).

The day consisted of sharing the story so far, including the results of some research into project management continuing professional development, sharing some examples of best practise, and then essentially brainstorming about what the issues really are. This brainstorming was then distilled through further discussion into a few priority issues, and some ideas on how the attendees wanted the ECI People Taskforce to address these issues so we have an agenda for the year to come. I’ll share exactly what the agenda is once its been published, but I was certainly pleased to see that one of the priority issues we’ll be addressing is how to attract more young people into engineering construction. So, keep a look out for ECI member companies sending STEM Ambassadors or mentors to a school near you…or possibly even offering work experience places if you (or a teenager you know) want one!



{September 10, 2010}   I blog therefore I am

Yesterday was the launch of the Ingenious Women project at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London. 20 young female engineers gathered to learn about the project and various forms of media, and to meet 12 rather interesting “media mentors”. I am fortunate enough to be one of those 20 engineers, and this is my first foray into the world of blogging.

I hope, through this blog, twitter, and any public engagements events I can possibly get involved with, to raise the profile of engineering, to share my passion and excitement for what I do…and hopefully to inspire more young people to go into engineering. Please be patient with me though – I’m by no means an expert in communications!

I plan to blog about the engineering projects I get involved with, interesting engineering I see or hear about and the events I get involved with on the Ingenious Women project. I’m also happy to chat about my career and answer questions generally, or even to blog about a specific topic if there’s something I’m involved with that interests you – just leave me a comment or send me a message.

If you like what you read in my blog as time goes by then please share it with your friends, with anyone who you think has an interest in engineering, and especially with anyone making career/university/A-level/GCSE choices. But for now, just wish me luck…



et cetera
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