Professor Sarah Spurgeon OBE FREng is a Professor of Control Engineering at the University of Kent
“Engineering is a fabulous career. It encompasses creativity and intellectual challenge, as well as being very people centred. ”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
I am a control engineer. A control engineer takes systems that are not performing to the specifications desired by the customer and creates new, improved systems. A control engineer works across a range of disciplines including cars and aeroplanes, robots and medical applications. As well as being a Chartered Engineer and performing my own designs, I also relish educating the next generation of engineers at undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I chose to become an engineer because I like creating solutions to challenging problems and seeing them implemented in practice. Engineers solve problems that help improve the lives of individuals and create a better world. Solutions to engineering challenges frequently require teamwork, and I also like working as part of a team to solve a problem.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
I like the diversity of the work. I am involved in problems that cover a broad area from developing technologies for the next generation of electric vehicles, to modelling the effect of drug treatment on patients. I work with an equally broad range of people, from schoolchildren and university students to industrialists and the military. Engineering is a global profession and I travel around the world with my work.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
I was incredibly proud to be made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to engineering in the New Year’s Honours list in 2015. The ceremony at Buckingham Palace was a very special occasion and I was very honoured to represent engineering amidst the splendid array of other contributions to public good that were being celebrated.
How do you think gender parity in engineering can be achieved?
The particularly small number of women working in engineering in the UK is not reflected in many other countries. We have to learn from other countries where engineering is a more popular career for women and indeed where engineering is perhaps more valued by society. We must continue to talk about the work we do and promote a better understanding of the broad range of careers that are possible for the professional engineer.
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the engineering sector?
When I started my career, it was clear that I was very much in a minority, but this was not discussed. Today, we are much more knowledgeable, and monitor diversity data and practice carefully. We also celebrate the achievements of past and present female engineers very openly and seek to do everything we can to not just promote engineering to women, but also promote what it does throughout society.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
Engineering is a fabulous career. It encompasses creativity and intellectual challenge, as well as being very people centred. The life of the professional engineer is not, in my experience, well aligned with public perceptions. There really is something for everybody. I would encourage anyone considering a career in engineering to review the possibilities available, using resources such as those developed by Tomorrow’s Engineers.