Professor Raffaella Ocone FREng FRSE is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at Heriot Watt University
“I have met amazing people and seen amazing places through my job.”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
One of my academic roles involves teaching engineering students how to develop their technical competency. As a chemical engineer, I deal with the optimal design and operation of industrial processes, such as oil refining. Teaching is often informed by research, which is another component of my job: I work with research students to find solutions to optimise processes and develop new technologies. One of my current projects looks at developing technologies to utilise plastic waste in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I have always been interested in understanding how things work. I enjoy finding practical solutions that can change the way we live – the production of medicines, as an example. I greatly enjoyed chemistry, maths and physics at school, and I was interested in seeing them in ‘action’ and using them in a creative way. Finally, I did not want to please my mum, who wanted me to become a school teacher… just joking!
What do you like most about being an engineer?
How you can make a difference in everyone’s life, and to have the opportunity to travel the world and to meet different people with different backgrounds and cultures. I have met amazing people and seen amazing places through my job. I hope that all this inspires the younger generation to study engineering.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
Seventeen years ago I became the first female professor of chemical engineering in Scotland and the second in the UK; that is an achievement to be proud of. More recently, becoming a Fellow of the RAEng and being recognised by my peers makes me very proud.
How do you think gender parity in engineering can be achieved?
I do not believe in gender inequality. I think the issue is that some people like to think that women are different and unable to carry out the same tasks as men. Founding our conclusions on evidence and facts is an attribute of engineers; we should show how wrong those individuals are through our work and by example.
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the engineering sector?
I would like to say that it changed a lot, but unfortunately I realise that it has not changed much and certainly not enough. There are definitely more women in engineering now than since I started, and this is a very positive change; however, the number of people who still believe that engineering is a male profession is still too high.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
If you like to make a tangible difference that will make people happier and improve the quality of life, if you want to feel rewarded for your achievements, and if you like to travel and meet amazing people then this is the career for you!