Womens Engineering Society: Inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders

Charlotte Mercer

Charlotte Mercer

I couldn’t say that I consciously chose a career in engineering; I went through school making the unbeknownst life choice of subjects to study based on which ones I enjoyed, was good at, and was advised to take - not really looking at a particular career path. I really enjoyed studying Physics, Maths, English Literature, and Psychology at A Level. Oddly I had chosen the two most and two least female populated subjects to study, though I honestly never really felt the huge gender contrast in class atmosphere that would be expected. I really enjoyed the variations and connections between the subjects, and got stuck into looking for those when a maths teacher suggested I read books that discuss the connection between art, matCharlotte Mercerhs, and music that give theories to the way we think.

It’s not until you’re well planted half way through A Levels that you realise how much impact those 3 or 4 choices have made on the educational routes available to you. For me, I’m torn between stating that Engineering was always on the cards or that I fell into it. I have always been interested in how things work, one of those children always asking why – and always struggled to put a problem I’m solving down. My childhood dream was to be a formula one race car driver, despite taking ballet classes and I’d always much rather play take down bull dog than play with dolls. However, I don’t think it has been my tom-boy tendencies that drew me to a male dominated profession; I put those down to the fact that I grew up with five brothers. My Grampy was a Systems Design Manager for concord, but I didn’t even appreciate how great that was until I was at university and couldn’t claim that it originally inspired me to enter engineering. I enjoy engineering, but I also love dance, sports, music, art, photography and more. My largest problem with deciding a profession was that I wanted to do everything and not limit the possibilities in case I changed my mind – Addicted to mechanics and problem solving, but passionately acing psychology, I thought I had to decide between the two.

I went to university to study ‘Environmental Engineering and Architecture’, and at the time, knew that engineering was definitely part of where I was heading and really liked the idea of being multidisciplinary. I’d get to combine engineering and art and be taught about the design of form and function. Doing a degree in building design allowed me to also continue my interest in environmental psychology. With both interests in mind, I wrote my dissertation on The Effects of Lighting on Health and its relation to Hospital Design and my final design project was a poetry library where I studied a range of things; from the treatment and handling of archives, to Ruskin’s Geographical Imagination. Throughout my degree I was set project briefs that allowed me to study and design for occupancy behaviour, base design on literary theory, and design services. The best part about studying building design is that I got to design for my hobbies; sports facilities, auditoriums, concert halls, libraries, restaurants, housing and more.

In my third year at university I co-founded my university branch of Engineers without Borders and went on to be its president in my fourth year. Being president of an EWB branch meant that I gained a vast variety of skills and got to work with a variety of people with different interests, cultures and specialism’s. EWB aims to empower people with international development projects, research, outreach in schools, fundraising, technical training and more. I was part of building a model of a research centre being built in the rainforest of Borneo to be used as a communication tool with people in local villages; and another of an orphanage being built in Darjeeling. Whilst at university I was also on the committee of the IMechE South West Young engineering network and organised an ‘Energy Question Time’ as a collaborate event  with the South West CIBSE YEN for both institutions, where issues surrounding both the supply and demand of energy were raised.

I now sit 6 months into a graduate scheme with AECOM, a company I decided I wanted to work for in my third year at university. My role mostly involves designing electrical building services; however in my 6 months here so far I have contributed towards many aspects of building design. I currently am placed within a team that designs technically complicated buildings such as data centres, and forensic and research laboratories where I have been involved in understanding the specialised functional requirements of a lab, particularly regarding lighting design. I am also currently running a research project under the Engineering Education Scheme for AECOM with students studying for their A-Levels. The office set up allows me to constantly be surrounded by engineers of different knowledge, level of experience, and specialised interests that is ideal for the way I want to carry on expanding on and combining my interests. I have recently become a member of the London CIBSE YEN Committee and am introducing other CIBSE Graduates in my office to the events, training and social network that is available to aid with chartership and hence continuing my efforts from university.

For anyone who is interested in heading into a career in engineering – I’d advise that there is more on offer than you expect. I once thought I had to choose between my interests but luckily went in a direction that has allowed me to combine them. There are so many different types of engineering that its worth doing your research before you limit yourself to one type. I am really enjoying the beginning of my career and look forward to progressing further.

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