Professor Anne Neville OBE FREng FRSE is the Academy's Chair in Emerging Technologies and a Professor of Tribology and Surface Engineering, University of Leeds
“Problem solving is at the heart of engineering.”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
My role is as a university teacher. Teaching can involve standing up in front of lots of students and delivering a lecture, but more often, teaching involves working with research students and transferring knowledge and experience to them. My research involves corrosion and tribology; both of these are related to how materials degrade through interaction with their environments.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
By accident – the Glasgow University prospectus fell open at the page with a Rolls-Royce gas turbine picture and I thought it looked interesting. Luckily my Maths teacher was a mechanical engineer and could tell me a bit about what was involved. After visiting the university open day I was completely sold on this. I was very close to either studying Maths or Physics.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
My areas of expertise are tribology and corrosion. Both of these are relevant across a wide range of industries; both can often limit how well a hip joint functions in a patient or whether a wind turbine generates electricity efficiently. The fundamental engineering science remains the same and the application area is different, thus giving great variety to day-to-day activities. Problem solving is at the heart of engineering and much of the time a researcher spends is on finding the answers to unanswered questions.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
My research group was the first to measure corrosion rates in-situ in hip joint simulators. This was very important in the most recent controversies around metal-on-metal implants. We have used advanced microscopy x-ray spectroscopy to understand how surfaces are lubricated in industrial and medical components.
How do you think gender parity in engineering can be achieved?
It should be achieved by ensuring that at primary school level we have the same number of girls and boys engaging with technology. We must ensure we don't 'lose' talented girls to science and medicine as they progress through secondary school.
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the engineering sector?
On a positive note, I have never found any problems with discrimination either in my dealings with industry (which are extensive) nor in the academic sector. Sadly though, the proportions of girls entering engineering, especially mechanical engineering, does not seem to be rising as quickly as it could.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
Male or female… go for it! You will have the time of your life. I can honestly say I love my job. As an academic in engineering I can do what I want in terms of research as long as I can raise the funds to pay for it. This is a real privilege. I have travelled the world, met some brilliant people and have had great fun. What else could you ask for in a job?