Anne Trefethen is Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Oxford.
“My areas of responsibility include people, strategy and policies, and the cultural institutions within the university. The gardens, libraries and museums are home to internationally important collections that attract over three million visitors a year”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
Pro-vice-chancellors are responsible for taking forward the university’s strategy and policy development, and supporting the vice-chancellor in their role. My areas of responsibility include people, strategy and policies, and the cultural institutions within the university. The gardens, libraries and museums are home to internationally important collections that attract over three million visitors a year. They are the university’s 'front door' to the public and support research-related exhibitions and educational visits.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I didn’t really make a conscious decision to become an engineer. I became a software engineer through computational mathematics and the development of scientific applications. I have worked in both academia and industry in the design, development or implementation of software products and enterprise systems. As a young person, I didn’t realise that engineering was something I could study, so I studied mathematics. If I had known, I might have made the choice to study engineering at an earlier age.
Please tell us about your first job.
My first job was as a lecturer in computational mathematics at the Royal Military College in Shrivenham, where I taught army officers computing and maths.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
I like everything about being an engineer – after all, engineers invent, design, build, and analyse all kinds of neat stuff. What’s not to like? Of course, you also get to meet other engineers.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
Being elected as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering was a wonderful honour and an achievement that I do feel proud of.
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the profession?
I think there are more women going into software engineering than when I started, but oddly, before my time there was a period when there were proportionately far more women. However, I think it’s now expected that women can and will become engineers in a way that might have been slightly shocking previously.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
There’s such a broad scope of engineering and careers in engineering can go in many directions. It offers the opportunity to work in companies big and small, in academia, in electrical, chemical, civil, mechanical and many other forms of engineering. Engineering underpins most of what we do in day-to-day life – it’s fun, it can be fascinating, and it’s definitely rewarding. Go for it.
This year’s IWD theme is ‘Balance for Better’. How can engineers contribute to a gender-balanced world?
We need to increase our activities individually and collectively to tell the story of engineering as an exciting path for everyone. The work that the Academy is already doing in this regard is wonderful – such as the This is Engineering campaign - and we should build on it. The message that engineering is open for all is still, sadly, a well-kept secret in some areas. Fortunately, it is becoming accepted that diversity is a strength, so we need to make sure that we inspire the next generation of women to engage.
This profile was created for International Women’s Day in March 2019. All information was correct at time of publication