Jessica is not afraid of a challenge. To prove to herself that she could achieve anything she set her mind to, she chose a subject she had very little knowledge of to tackle for her final year project. Earlier in her course, she chose to do a placement in Switzerland which gave her opportunities to try new things and apply the theory and practice she gained at LJMU to the world of work. Having had a taste of living away from home, she's looking forward to finding a job abroad once she graduates later this year.
Why did you choose to study engineering?
"I didn’t know what to choose when I first started looking for university courses. I knew what I was good at and what I liked doing but had no real target in mind. That’s what made engineering a perfect choice. I feel like engineering is a perfect stepping stone to any kind of job as you not only learn things specific to the course but also a frame of mind on how to approach projects and problems. When you become an engineer, you learn skills that can be applied in so many different disciplines. I knew that at the end of my course, I could do pretty much anything and I loved the freedom of that."
Do you think women are underrepresented in engineering?
"There is clearly underrepresentation in the sector and the problem of reduced numbers starts early on in life. Once girls reach A levels, there are already less of them signing up to these areas of education. A good demonstration of this is that in my first year there were about 80 students, eight of which were female. This percentage does not improve when in a work environment. Knowing that you may face being a gender minority when starting your career can be a daunting prospect. The perception that gender bigotry still exists may also dissuade female engineers that feel their contributions may be underappreciated.
"I think mixed schools/bias at home also steers girls away from science and engineering. Peer pressure may dissuade young girls from starting a career in engineering as it's not traditionally seen as a job for women. Friends and family may want their girls to do jobs that are seen as more girly. My mother had this issue when her father wanted her to become a secretary rather than be a scientist when she was applying for university and although things have progressed since then, I believe there is still a lingering bias."
Did you have a female role model that made you want to get into engineering?
"I never had a female role model specifically in the engineering industry, but my mum has worked in the scientific sector her entire life. She looked after me and my sister through thick and thin, always providing for us and putting us first. She is my role model and the person I strive to be most like. I like to think her work ethic is what has helped me in engineering as having the mind-set to never give up is very important."
Does society and the workplace take women in engineering seriously?
"I think it depends on the sector and company you work in. During my year in industry, I had no issues with being taken seriously or even being given responsibility despite my young age or lack of experience. However, whilst on my course I felt the need to prove my ability to certain male counterparts who refused to believe I had more knowledge than them about engineering."
“When you become an engineer, you learn skills that can be applied in so many different disciplines. I knew that at the end of my course, I could do pretty much anything and I loved the freedom of that.”
Are attitudes towards women in engineering changing?
"I think society is changing as I feel I can walk into an interview room and have the same chances of being hired as a male peer. The public uncovering of the wide gender pay gap has helped identify the career injustice faced by many women around the world. This was highly apparent in the engineering sector but now that the issue is known, people are actively trying to support women to obtain careers in engineering. Even as a child, there was Lego for boys and dolls for girls and this has changed. Anyone can play with these toys now and this may help remove general gender bias."
How can we get more women and girls interested in engineering?
"People still have preconceived ideas about the type of people that do engineering. Talking to young girls about the possibilities of doing engineering would help as this is something that is not necessarily discussed at a school level. Appealing to young girls with workshops that showcase the positive factors of engineering possibly hosted by successful female engineers to demonstrate that it is a viable career path for women. Also showing that normal girls like and do science helps to remove the geeky image that can be associated with women in these disciplines. The versatility of an engineering education could be showcased by highlighting the opportunities available for women after their degrees including transitioning onto other courses in other industries."
Inspired by Jessica? Find out where engineering could take you – view our engineering courses.