Passionate about… engineering

One of my earliest memories is of wanting to be an engineer at the age of six or seven.

Two students about to throw paper aeroplanesI’m pretty certain I didn’t really know what it meant, but the fact my dad was an engineer probably helped.

By this time I was already interested in engineering and technology-based toys and had Lego and Meccano sets. I did always hanker after the woodwork set that came in a little folding case (from the Grattans/Littlewoods catalogue!) but for some reason I never got one.

Unfortunately, I went to an all-girls comprehensive school, where we had extensive home economics and needlework classrooms but no woodwork or metalwork until the 5th year – and even then, we had no qualified teachers. I used to stand outside the room looking longingly at the lathes and pillar drills!

When I Ieft school I started an apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce. I can’t remember what exactly I said at my interview but I think it focussed on ‘working with my hands’ so I ended up on a fabrication and welding apprenticeship.

I still bear a scar on my hand to this day when I slit open my left hand on a piece of sheet metal on my very first day in the workshop!

Blue aeroplane engine on a black background

Careers at Rolls-Royce

There was a silver lining though. As my left is my dominant hand, I had to spend the next six weeks learning to use all the workshop hand tools with my right so I am now a little bit ambidextrous.

When on day release at the local technical college studying for my BTEC, I had an ‘epiphany moment’ when I was shown the microstructure of a weld, and that was it. I knew that metallurgy was what I wanted to do next.

Fortunately Birmingham University were open minded enough to consider applicants with no A-levels but would accept my HNC as acceptable entry grades.  Also luckily Rolls-Royce sponsored me (and way back then I got a small grant), so I was able to buy beer, food and books. In that order…

A new career

After graduating I returned to Rolls-Royce, but there were no jobs in metallurgy available right then so I initially ended up doing something different. But over the years I’ve moved through a variety of roles and am now very much involved in metallurgy on a daily basis.

A few years ago I specialised in the field of nickel metallurgy, dealing with the metallurgical aspects of the manufacture of the turbine discs, and being the technical lead for supply chain strategies for those products.

Every day brings new challenges.

But this is one of the reasons why the job is never boring and no two days are alike. Perhaps this is also the reason (and because I’m a geeky engineer through and through) I’ve been with Rolls-Royce for over 25 years now.

Something I have noticed over the years is that there is an increasing number of women engineers (of many different disciplines) at work.

Logo for Wise campaignThis could be partly down to the various campaigns and organisations such as WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Manufacturing) encouraging girls and young women to choose engineering as a career.

If you have girls in your life, you’re probably well aware that there are still a lot of stereotypical toys and lessons pushed towards them.

I’d recommend:

  • Making sure they’re exposed to all kinds of toys when they’re little.
  • Checking their school has a wide variety of lessons available to both genders.
  • Giving them as much information as you can about all possible career paths.

It’s not about forcing them into a specific career – but it’s about giving them the choice to do whatever interests them.

Elaine Boswell

About Elaine Boswell

I'm a full time professional engineer specialising in nickel metallurgy. I enjoy good food, wine and beer, walks in the country and pottering in the garden with my other half. I am also an active member of my local Women's Institute as well as enjoying being involved with the Henpicked community.