Women in Engineering with Project Start
Meet 21-year-old Sabrina Singh (22 in two more weeks), she studied Bioengineering at Cambridge University and has landed her first Engineering role as a Technology Analyst for Morgan Stanley.
Here is her engineering story: –
- What age were you when you decided engineering was the career for you?
Sabrina: I decided really late actually – up until about 2 weeks before applying for university I thought I wanted to do physics, and even during university I wasn’t convinced I was going to go into an engineering career (and technically I have gone down a more computer science route).
I sort of happened to do engineering at university because I’d ended up doing quite a few engineering extra-curriculars during sixth form, and my teachers thought I’d be more suited to a practical degree. I think I made the right choice because I have definitely enjoyed the project work I’ve done during university. I also picked a degree that started very broadly, but allowed me to specialise over the years and ended up focusing on bioengineering.
I didn’t take biology a-level, but I am so glad I got to focus on this field and would like to go back to doing some kind of biomedical research towards the end of my career.
- Why did you pick to work within the engineering industry?
Sabrina: I kind of fell into my job as well, as part of my degree I have to complete an internship before the start of third year, I ended up working for a cybersecurity company, really enjoyed it and decided to look for jobs in that industry. I then did an internship at Morgan Stanley and was lucky enough to get a job offer at the end.
I like how broad the term ‘engineering’ is, and there are so many different jobs and opportunities available to people that have engineering backgrounds. I also would quite like to travel for work during my career, and engineering skills are relevant worldwide.
- How would you inspire the next generation of women engineers?
Sabrina: I think there needs to be an increase in representation, especially from an early age. I was lucky enough to meet a female civil engineer when I was doing my GCSE’s, and just by seeing who didn’t fit the stereotype of a typical engineer really helped to reduce any thoughts I had about not fitting in, or being the odd one out if I went on to study engineering.
Especially at a school level, there needs to be an equal opportunity for girls and boys to get involved with extracurricular engineering because by the time you get to sixth form and are applying to university it’s almost too late.
That might seem quite drastic, but I don’t think I would have seriously considered an engineering degree if I hadn’t been able to take part in things like The Land Rover schools challenge, cybercenturion, rampaging chariots etc, as I wouldn’t have felt like I had the ‘experience’ to apply and be successful. I went to an all-girls school up until the end of my GCSE’s, and while we were still lucky enough to get to do engineering competitions/lunchtime clubs, it was really only due to a very passionate teacher, and only a few students each year we’re able to participate.
Comparing this to the boys’ school across the road, where there were definitely more opportunities and a much larger focus on computing and coding, there was a definite disparity between the number of people in each school going on to study some form of engineering-based degree at university.
- Do you believe that there is a stigma around women wanting to be engineers? How would you approach changing this stigma?
Sabrina: I think people don’t expect women to be engineers, as they still have the idea that engineers are all people who either stand on building sites / are constructing suspension bridges every day, and while there are many engineers who do have that day job, it definitely isn’t what a ‘typical’ engineer looks like anymore.
Engineering has become such a wide and varied industry, especially recently, and there’s a massive focus right now on computer science. Whenever I tell people what I studied at university there is always a bit of a surprising reaction – and I do think quite a few women decide that engineering isn’t for them because it is seen as so ‘male-dominated’, and they feel like they won’t have equal opportunities or don’t feel like they belong. It’s a difficult one, because while it is getting better it is still pretty men heavy – for example in my first year labs I was the only girl in my group the whole year.
Like I said before, I think representation is the way to go in terms of changing the stigma. Publicity campaigns, such as the ‘smashing stereotypes to bits’ run by the IET a few years ago, and awards like their Women Engineer of the Year, are really helping to celebrate female engineers. Work experience schemes/internships/scholarships designed specifically for girls and women are really important too, as without opportunities for women to get into the industry there is no hope in changing any stigma around female engineers.
- What are the benefits of being an engineer?
Sabrina: There are so many – but I would say one of the best ones for me is the ability to go and work almost anywhere in the world. The skills you develop as an engineer, through university or a career, are so versatile and can be applied to so many industries outside of engineering.
I’d love to travel and work abroad at some point, and I am lucky enough to work for a multinational company where that is definitely a real possibility soon. Even though I have just started my career, I have had so many opportunities to meet with different people and build working relationships with them, and as someone that prefers to work as part of a team, engineering is such a brilliant industry to be in as almost everything relies on collaborative work. You also learn so many ‘soft’ skills as an engineer – time management, planning, how to communicate effectively – and they’re all skills that are useful outside of the industry. I like that engineering is so broad, I started university thinking I was going to become an aerospace engineer, studied bioengineering and ended up in a computer science job.
- Do you think schools should do more to encourage pupils to pick engineering as a GCSE?
Sabrina: I think it depends. I think schools should encourage pupils to seriously consider an engineering career, and give them opportunities to explore this, but I don’t necessarily think the best way of doing that is always taking the GCSE. I did take engineering GCSE, but I don’t think it was the pivotal moment in my decision to become an engineer.
Sometimes getting involved with things like the first lego league, or other engineering competitions is a way to let students develop engineering skills wi
thout so much academic pressure involved.
Obviously, engineering GCSE is designed to focus on the most common skills required, such as computer-aided design and manufacturing techniques, but there is no opportunity for teamwork, or to work on a long term project, and it’s those skills that are really important if you’re going to go on to do engineering later in life – the ability to work well with other people is so important! I actually think computer science GCSE should be encouraged more in schools – being able to programme/being knowledgeable about computers is becoming so desirable to universities and employers, no matter what your industry.
- Why do you think engineering is such a male-dominated industry?
Sabrina: It’s historically been seen as a ‘male’ job, and it takes a long time to challenge those kinds of stereotypes and to see real change. Especially when engineers were more typically the people building skyscrapers or tunnels or bridges, it wasn’t seen as the kind of workplace suitable for women. Now, I think there are a host of factors; not just preventing better gender diversity but also racial diversity as well. As a child of two immigrants, I definitely have sometimes felt quite out of place in lectures, when I’d look around the room and see hardly anyone else that looks like me. It’s why I like to get involved with mentoring and volunteering schemes, I think if I can show school-age kids that not all engineers are white men, then they might be more encouraged to consider it as a career.
I think I have been quite lucky, I went to a mixed sixth form attached to an all-boys school, and most of my classes were almost all male, so I have never really been bothered if I am the only woman in the room, but it does happen quite often. Mentoring has been a lifeline for me, the support I have received from female engineers throughout my degree, and especially during my internships and the start of my work, has really helped make me feel settled and encourage me to continue to pursue a career in this industry.
- What is a ‘day in the life’ of a female engineer?
Sabrina: I am not sure I can answer this one very well as I have only been in my job for 2 days! But in terms of an engineering student, I’d usually have either 2 or 3 lectures in the morning, depending on the day, and then either some lab time or supervisions in the afternoon.
Supervisions are where you and one or two other students meet with an academic and discuss your work/answer any questions you might have about the module you have been learning. Outside of my engineering degree, I got involved in different uni societies, including the drama society where I got to do some stage management, I was part of the rowing team and treasurer for a couple of societies, including CUES (the engineering society). In my final year of university, I got to work on an individual project for the whole year, and I really enjoyed the longer-term planning and work I got to do.
Obviously, covid meant I couldn’t get as much lab time as I wanted, but I still got to make pretty good progress on my project and develop some useful skills. I like keeping myself super busy, so before the lockdown happened a typical day at uni for me would be; getting up around 6 for rowing training (it’s not that bad!), then lectures 9-12, a lunch break, some form of lab time 2-4, then I would do some of my supervision work, I might have a committee meeting for various societies, and then from 9 I’d either be getting ready to go out or just hanging with my uni friends.
Please keep following Project Start this month and discover more about Women in Engineering!
Don’t forget to follow Sabrina on LinkedIn and keep up with her engineering antics:- https://www.linkedin.com/in/sabrinachandani0/
Check out our other ‘Women in Engineering’ blog here: https://www.projectstart.co.uk/women-in-engineering-month/