10th May 2017

I Can Be... An Engineer 

I can be meets Ariadne couri - an engineer living and working in London. 

Have you always wanted to be an engineer?

Vaguely yes. My parents are both scientists and I went to the university school in Greece so all of my friends’ parents were scientists too. I really liked sciences myself so I was always going to go that way. Engineering seemed like the right fit because it combined everything that I liked into one discipline so I just went for it.

Do you feel that being a woman has made any difference to your career and if it has, what kind of a difference has it made?

Obviously engineering is a very male dominated profession and it definitely made a difference while I was at university because I was on a course with three hundred and fifty people and about sixty of them were women. That includes twenty women from the two female-only colleges at Cambridge, so there were only forty women amongst the other twenty eight colleges. That was really strange. I got used to it, partly because I have a lot of male friends anyway so I didn’t find it that daunting. I was always thinking, “hmm, is there even a ladies room in this building? Would there be any point?”

Within my current job I’m not doing any field work, but I think it would have made a big difference there. There are a few more women going into this profession now, but they are mostly in the biosciences rather than engineering and physics and I don’t think I have a single female associate within my office. A lot of the time people think I’m a secretary! I guess it just makes everything a bit more daunting if you are a girl somewhere where everyone else is male. It’s kind of a matter of deciding, OK, this is how it is and I’m going to see it through and I’ve always been really lucky in working with really amazing people. The group that I work with now are all male but it’s not an issue which is really encouraging for women in engineering in the future.

What do you have for lunch at work?

I usually go for lunch with all of my colleagues, so depending on the day we will go and get burritos, sushi, sandwiches, whatever works. Sometimes we cook and bring in different foods in for people to try.

What advice would you give to a girl who was interested in engineering and wanted to be an engineer?

Don’t be discouraged in any way by the fact that it is probably going to be all of the boys who like that subject. Don’t ever feel like you’re a girl so you should only play with Barbie dolls. If you like Lego then play with Lego. In my school for instance, most people did sciences. Of the 90 people in my year, only 12 people went in to humanities and they were all girls. I think it was largely because they thought that that was the ‘girl thing to do’. They thought they were not going to become mathematicians for example and wanted to study history or literature. I think you should see what you actually enjoy and do that. Don’t do what your best friend does at school and don’t go to the class where you know most people, just do what you like.

How do you get to work?

Being in central London, I usually get the tube. I try to cycle every now and again but I usually fail!

Who or what has really helped you to get to where you are now?

Obviously my family have helped me a lot because they are scientists. They have always made it really clear that I should see what I liked and stick to that. It doesn’t matter what people expect you to be doing. My grandmother was devastated that I didn’t decide to be a primary school teacher or something more ‘feminine’. My parents always said just do what you want. My tutors at university were really supportive as well. I was really lucky in having a female tutor who was an amazing lady. She was always really encouraging any time when I felt like I couldn’t do something or I didn’t know what I should be doing next, so I guess my tutor and my parents have helped me the most.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I spent a summer working for Phillips in the Netherlands, which I really enjoyed. I was working on a really interesting project and we got a couple of scientific publications out of that, just from a summer’s work. That would definitely be one of my highlights because it is the last time I worked in research. With my current job, I think that every time I have worked with small companies and start-ups you can really see the difference that you make to them and it is so rewarding. You realise that thanks to things that you have done they can keep going. I like working with grass roots companies, where every problem matters. Any job that I have ever done with small start-up companies has been really rewarding.

What is the best thing about being an engineer?

I think the versatility of it. The days are never the same. One day you might be doing desk jobs, the next you might be visiting a client or seeing what the problems are on site. That’s the best thing, you never get bored!

What are your aspirations for the future?

That’s a good question. Having done an engineering degree, it provides a very broad background. You can get experience in something and go into any field because you have a very broad skill set. At the moment, I am working towards becoming a qualified patent attorney. I think in five or ten years, because I quite like to travel, I would look for in-house roles with companies maybe within another country or focussing on the technologies that I prefer as opposed to working with all technologies as I do now.

If you weren’t an engineer, what would your plan B have been? 

I guess I would be torn between physics and philosophy or languages. Maybe I would have studied languages but I really, really love physics and am interested in philosophy. Maybe I would have tried to find a degree that combined the two and god knows what I might have done afterwards!