In a fast moving and growing world, engineering plays a vital role. Particularly for a challenging future ahead with the effect of climate change. Speaking to Ciara Doyle, a Plant Engineer at Siemens, Rullion finds out how a trip to Antarctica has inspired her to do as much as possible to engage young people into the amazing opportunities that engineering holds.
What inspired you to get into engineering?
Having been to a traditional Irish Catholic girls school, there wasn’t much exposure to technology so engineering wasn’t something I had always thought of. I loved numbers though and I was always taking things apart to find out how they worked - not that I could always put them back together again!
At 17, deciding what to do at uni, I thought my only options were to go into accounting or teaching maths. It wasn’t untill a teacher suggested going to an engineering open day at University College Dublin (UCD) that I really considered engineering. I went and immediately fell in love with it. I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Where was your starting point to making it a lifetime career?
After doing a Mechanical Engineering Degree at UCD, my first role was at Hewlett Packard at a facility making inkjet cartridges. It was an incredibly hands-on experience, working in a clean room environment manufacturing the intelligent chip in the cartridges. Being close to the action and getting to see something actually being produced was exciting and I quickly learned this was the part of engineering I loved.
After four years there, I wanted a new challenge. I saw a photo of the world lit up at night and it just clicked. I had a lightbulb moment (no pun intended!) and I realised the energy, electricity and power side of the industry was where I wanted to be.
I went to Gothenburg, Sweden to do a technical Masters which gave me huge opportunities. I met people from all over - Uruguay, India, China, Bulgaria. Through my dissertation on rural electrification, I went to Cape Town for nine months where I researched power usage in rural villages. A fascinating experience.
What roles have you had since and what have you loved?
As is the case with engineering, I’ve been able to work on lots of different projects. I’ve worked in Ireland on a coal station modification, updating an old plant to reduce its emissions. In Southampton, I worked on a new power station being built by Siemens. My role included commissioning the plant and overseeing what was being built. Site work allows you to be right in the action - exactly what I love.
I then moved to a new power station Siemens were building in Wales. Despite having no experience, I worked as a shift engineer and had the chance of getting into an operating station. Being in the thick of it opens you up to so many challenges, which gives you a huge sense of satisfaction when you overcome them. No matter what problems we face, there has to be a solution. The fact that an answer is always found and implemented is just fascinating and incredibly rewarding.
And your current role now...?
I’m working as a Plant Engineer at the same power station in Wales, owned by Calon Energy, which is both varied and challenging. I can be looking at plant performance or investigating incidents, and I’ve also planned and managed major shut downs, co-ordinating 200 people in one unit.
I also had an extraordinary opportunity to go to Antarctica last year with 2041, a group set up by Robert Swan, the first person in history to walk both the North and South poles. The CEO of Calon Energy started it as a competition and I was chosen to go. Seeing the incredible environment there, what a magical place it is and the visible effect of global warming was life-changing. Especially as someone who works in a power plant!
It struck me so much I went again for a second time, as a representative from Siemens and Calon Energy, in support of an expedition Robert Swan is doing in November 2017 promoting renewable energy. We had to bring some sort of renewable technology with us so we found a small company in Hereford, Leading Edge Power, who make small wind turbines. They provided me with a test turbine, which I managed to pack in my suitcase and bring to our base camp in Antarctica to power and charge everything. It’s changed my perspective completely and made me think about how I can raise awareness locally.
It’s more important than ever that we’re inspiring young engineers to understand the impact they could have in the industry. Why wouldn’t you want to save the penguins?!
How does your company help to support engineering for both men and women?
Siemens openly promotes and invites both men and women to question processes in the industry and like people to take ownership. I do a lot of talks in schools to raise awareness for engineering and they’re very supportive of that. Through the company’s online social network, there are groups that bring together people from different areas of the business, which allows them to share ideas without the boundaries of normal work. It makes it easier to work together to bring about change.
Siemens is a supporter of the Diamond Jubilee Scholarships ran by the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) which help and fund young people wanting to study engineering. They’re very much about community and promoting engineering on a large scale. I’ve never come across any
boundaries. Definitely hurdles, but no boundaries!
And what about support for women in the industry?
Through the company’s online social network, I learned about a female speed assessment event at the IET. It involved female engineers going to talk about their own experiences to inspire young females and encourage careers in engineering. I was proud Siemens was organising an event like that and it’s something I’ve since tried to bring to my own area of the business.
Outside the company, there are so many passionate people promoting the industry. Soroptimist, who work to improve the lives of women globally, are focused on getting more girls into science. Through their networks with schools, I’ve given talks to engage young girls in engineering. In fact, my idea of a school trip to a power station was met with a lot of enthusiasm!
How do you think engineers are helping to improve the world we live in?
Engineers are passionate and dedicated to what they do, they’re incredibly talented people, unsung heroes. In a world that’s changing and growing at the rate it is, we need these people to keep bringing their fantastic ideas and visions about how we can improve the world. And even just about how we can keep our lives as they are now.
If young people aren’t joining engineering now, we won’t have anyone to face the challenges that lie ahead.
What advice would you give to your younger self when you were starting your career?
Be more confident and believe in yourself. If someone is asking you to take on responsibility or giving you an opportunity that seems daunting, it’s because they believe in you. So believe in that, be confident and take on challenges because you can and will succeed.