Heather Bruce, 3rd Year Mechanical Engineering student, had the opportunity to speak at a recent national conference on future skills with Equate Scotland’s Director. Read her full speech about her summer placement with CareerWise and why opportunities like these matter:
Growing up in Aberdeenshire, I was exposed to engineering of many disciplines: the oil industry was of course a major player, but agricultural and renewable projects were very much in evidence too. Our local Primary school took us on field trips. We were taken to see a newly constructed wind-farm with its towering turbines, and also to see Pea Viners working – massive machines harvesting peas for Birdseye.
At my senior school, industry representatives, many from oil sector companies, came in to give talks about their fields of specialisation. This helped to demonstrate what a progressive, varied and exciting career was open to us in Engineering. While still at school, I did a work experience week at a Costain an Oil Services company which also confirmed to me that I should pursue engineering as a career. I chose mechanical as maths and physics were my best subjects and in my 6th year I studied Advanced Higher maths with mechanics which I found very interesting.
When I began university there were 5 girls in first year of mechanical engineering out of a total of 150, but by the end of that year there were only 2 left, with me being the last MEng girl. This is where Equate Scotland have a large part to play. I decided to go along to their workshops and it was one of the best decisions I have made. I met so many other STEM student girls who worried about similar issues, had the same queries and had the same interests as me. It was nice to know I was not alone. I already have many friends due to my participation in sports such as hockey, netball and snowsports but in first year, actually to this day whenever someone finds out I study mechanical engineering what always follows is ‘wow, you don’t look like you would do mechanical engineering!’ It really can make me feel like the odd one out, so Careerwise was important for me. It let me see that there are other girls out there – not so different from me – experiencing these situations too.
Not only did Equate help me make friends within Engineering, I also learned a lot from their workshops such as how to enhance my CV and many other useful pieces of advice and guidance. They also gave us a chance to apply for summer internships or placements. I applied, knowing I was only in second year and I thought the application process itself would be good for some practice for the years to come. However, using my grades, experiences and the workshops guidance I produced a CV and cover letter that got me an interview for a summer placement. This resulted in me spending 14 weeks practicing my skills in a real working environment. The summer internship itself was an amazing experience. I worked for Mercury engineering aiding with the construction of the sick children’s hospital Edinburgh. I experienced so much from chairing my own meetings twice a week, to having my own package to manage, to shadowing some very talented engineers who helped me grow in confidence. I was also very lucky that the project manager was one of the less than 1% of women that are in the construction industry. This was very inspiring for me as I have never seen a woman in charge like this before. I felt it proved to me that it can be done – and working alongside her I could speak to her about her troubles that seemed quite similar to mine and it gave me even more confidence.
There can be many issues being a woman in a very male dominated environment ranging all the way from the confidence to assert authority, through dealing with the odd inappropriate comment all the way to the mundane everyday practical issues: At the hospital site I had to walk up and down four floors just to use a bathroom, passing many men-only conveniences on the way. – while this was excellent training for my various sporting activities – it wasn’t very helpful as a work environment. This experience actually proved to me why so few girls are willing to be engineers or STEM subject students. There are not enough women out there to be inspired by and due to the fact they can’t see many women in these subjects they are constantly reminded about the stereotype that only boys do engineering.
What Equate Scotland has done is inspire students like me to make a difference and show girls that there is so much room for them to come into the industry. I don’t fit the stereotype of an engineer which is why I am asked so frequently why I do it. One day hopefully there will be no stereotype. Due to the support from Equate Scotland I am a confident individual and I feel comfortable to speak up in a male dominated environment, but a year or two ago I would have been too nervous. For some women it is confidence that is lacking and Equate Scotland are playing an important role in addressing that. Supporting students through the system so they can stand in a senior position one day and show girls that there is no reason it can’t be them too.