Professor Amanda Petford-Long FREng is a Senior Scientist at Argonne National Lab
“Each day is different and there are always new challenges. ”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
I am a researcher at one of the US Department of Energy’s national laboratories. My own research is aimed at understanding the behaviour of nanoscale magnetic structures that have potential applications in information storage technology.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I have always been fascinated by the fact that electron microscopes could be used to see how atoms are arranged in a material, how experiments known as ‘in situ’ can be done to see how the material behaves at the nanoscale, and how this information could be used to design and control the properties of new materials with practical applications in new technologies. I also enjoy the international aspect of research and engineering – I work with colleagues from all over the world, combining our efforts to address important engineering questions.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
Each day is different and there are always new challenges. It is very satisfying when my research is going well and I find a solution to a problem that has not been addressed before. I enjoy the opportunity to travel and to interact with other engineers from different cultures. I also really appreciate the opportunity to get involved in outreach and mentoring activities where I can share my enthusiasm and excitement with young women who are interested in getting involved in engineering careers.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
I was very proud to be elected as an Argonne Distinguished Fellow, as I am one of only two women among the Fellows. In addition to my research, this role has enabled me to contribute to many mentoring and outreach activities at the lab, and to increase my involvement in national and international activities aiming to boost the number of women in science and engineering. I am also very proud of the fact that both my son and my daughter chose to pursue degrees in materials science and engineering!
How do you think gender parity in engineering can be achieved?
We need to start as early as possible by educating girls about the breadth of possibilities available to them across all fields of engineering, as well as by acting as role models and sharing the excitement that we, as women, feel about being engineers. There is still also a lot to be done in educating parents and teachers to encourage girls to pursue engineering; I am very fortunate that my mother is a physicist and has always been very supportive of my career choices. We also need to work towards a more female-friendly work environment in which a diverse workforce is truly valued.
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the engineering sector?
There are still challenges that need to be addressed. However, there is much more awareness of the fact that having a diverse and inclusive engineering workforce at all levels leads to a wider range of contributions and to new and exciting concepts and ideas. There is also more awareness of the need for a work–life balance for ALL engineers – men and women.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
Go for it. Stand up for yourself and for what you want to achieve. No matter which field of engineering you end up choosing, you have the potential to make a real difference to the world around you and to the lives of people across the globe.