Abbie features in the 'We are engineers' video above. Having completed her MEng Civil Engineering degree at LJMU in 2017 she is now working on a PhD in building physics within the Department of the Built Environment.
Why did you choose to study engineering?
"I chose engineering after deciding against a career in the medical field because I couldn't stand chemistry. I’d studied maths, physics and product design at sixth form and decided that civil engineering would be a good fit. I consider myself a very practical person and I learn best by physically carrying out a task which prompted my decision to study civil engineering."
"Due to my academic performance in my final year at LJMU, I was offered an incredible opportunity to enrol on a PhD scholarship at the University, looking at utilising bio-based materials for relative humidity regulation. This opportunity has given me an unreal experience, so far. I’ve been lucky enough to move to Lisbon as part of an Erasmus programme, speak at conferences and take part in European technical committees that shape European policy. At the heart of this, I do genuinely believe that as a direct result of my research I could help make a difference to issues surrounding fuel poverty in Liverpool. It’s not very often you can say you are the only person in the world working on something and I consider myself extremely lucky to say so."
Do you think women are underrepresented in engineering?
"Out of approximately 100 students on my undergraduate course, less than 10 of them identified/presented as women. While this is still lower than the industry average of 19%, it surprised me when I first enrolled at LJMU. Aside from the facilities and opportunities at LJMU, one of my key drivers for attending this University was the female staff presence within the Department of Civil Engineering. There are a lot of stereotypes around women in engineering (something I have experienced as both a female engineer and female rugby player) but I honestly think this stems from a miscommunication of what engineers actually do and the scope of careers that are available in the jobs market."
Does society and the workplace take women in engineering seriously?
"Completely. During my undergraduate degree I decided it was time for me to take a break from university and apply the textbook knowledge I had to the ‘real world’. I took a job as an assistant engineer at Jackson Civil Engineering. I honestly had the best year and couldn't have asked for a better experience – my time on site helped me grow as an engineer and build on my inner confidence. Every site I moved to, the foreman would take me to one side and ensure me that if I ever had any issues (especially those that question my competence due to my gender) he would ensure the company would deal with it. This really boosted my confidence and I genuinely never had an issue on site – I personally think that while there may be some stereotypical views held by some, if you turn up and do a good job no one can question your integrity. If anyone was to discriminate me against my gender then I would feel sorry for them because diversity in terms of gender, disability, race, sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic brings a better quality and richer team dynamic. But, in the face of discrimination I hope to inform and advise for a more accepting and open-minded workplace environment."
“There is such a range of careers available within engineering and it's no longer just about hard hats and working on site – there is so much more than that.”
Are attitudes towards women in engineering changing?
"Attitudes are definitely changing and generally the construction industry does take a while to uptake new ideas but as new generations of open-minded and forward-thinking engineers come along, I feel this will only change for the better and it will become a more positive place to work."
How can we get more women and girls interested in the subject?
"Getting girls more interested in STEM careers is no quick fix but I think it starts with a more societal method of improving the opportunity of all careers for everyone. In addition to this, I think especially within British culture there is an innate ‘uncoolness’ about being good at maths. I think breaking down this barrier will help contribute to the promotion of women in STEM. For mechanical and electrical engineering for example, it ‘does what it says on the tin’ and key aspects of the degree are clear but for civil engineering it really doesn’t take into account how much we utilise engineering on a daily basis, such as, the roads we drive on, the reason clean water comes out of our taps, the buildings we live and work in, etc. In my opinion, it's impossible to engage women and girls to consider a career in something that they never knew existed. Furthermore, there is such a range of careers available within civil engineering and it's no longer just about hard hats and working on site – there is so much more than that. Opening up these options and giving a greater choice will ensure a considered and comprehensive decision about entering a STEM career."
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