Professor Adisa Azapagic FREng is a Professor of Sustainable Chemical Engineering at the University of Manchester
“I was always interested in the questions ‘how do things work?’ and ‘why not do it differently?’ ”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
I work on finding engineering solutions to various sustainability problems, such as climate change and environmental pollution. To be sustainable, these solutions must be environmentally benign, economically viable and socially beneficial. This makes it quite difficult but also exciting to work on. Examples include finding out how we could improve the sustainability of products and services we use every day, such as food, energy and transportation.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I was always interested in the questions ‘how do things work?’ and ‘why not do it differently?'
Coupled with my strong affinity for mathematics and physics, this made engineering an obvious – and still the best - choice for me.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
Having quite a practical mind, I like the applied side of engineering – you have an idea and then you put it into practice so that you can see the effects of your work. This is quite satisfying and motivates new ideas and applications.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
I’m quite proud of CCaLC - carbon footprinting software I developed with my research group at Manchester. CCaLC helps to estimate and reduce the carbon footprint of products or activities. It is free of charge and has over 6000 users worldwide, including companies, universities, government organisations and the general public. You may wish to try it too! (www.ccalc.org.uk)
How do you think gender parity in engineering can be achieved?
I think it should start from an early age, with parents and teachers encouraging girls and young women to pursue their curiosity about how things work and developing their interest in mathematics and physics. Many girls have these interests but tend to assume that engineering is for boys only. We have to work on breaking down these perceived barriers if we’re to achieve gender parity in engineering.
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the engineering sector?
When I first became an academic – more than 20 years ago – I was the only woman in my department and the youngest by age. Although most of my colleagues were quite encouraging, a few didn’t quite know what to make of me! However, that gradually changed over time and now in my (different) department around 30% are women, and a few at Professorial level. I’m delighted to see this positive change and expect the trend to continue in the future.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
For me, engineering is still the best profession and, if I had an opportunity to start over, I’d choose it again. I’ve followed my interest in engineering since I was a young girl and have not regretted it. So, for anyone considering a career in engineering, I’d say the same: follow your interests and you’ll do well!