Dr Dame Sue Ion DBE FREng FRS is the Chair of the Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Board (NIRAB)
“You work and interact with people across a diverse range of backgrounds and talents.”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
Although I spent the early part of my career as a hands-on materials engineer, troubleshooting problems on a nuclear fuel production plant, I now chair the NIRAB for the government and regularly meet with ministers. NIRAB is an advisory body set up to give advice on the sort of R&D programmes and projects that the government should sponsor and support in order to make sure the UK regains its position at the top table of nations with nuclear energy.
My job is more about helping policy makers understand these issues and how research can help, and to work with the very senior engineers and scientists who make up the NIRAB membership in developing the right sort of recommendations for the government to take forward.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I was always interested in how things worked and in the applied end of science at school. I was made aware of the amazing opportunities for a broad range of careers if I studied materials engineering, and since it blended what I saw as the best bits of chemistry and physics, it seemed the perfect choice.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
The diversity of topics and challenges – and that fact engineering is all about problem solving and delivering solutions to some of the grand challenges our society faces. I particularly work in the energy field where it is important that we have low carbon reliable sources of electricity and where my role as a nuclear engineer with a materials background is helping to ensure we make the right choices of power systems for the future. Engineering is also about teamwork, so you work and interact with people across a diverse range of backgrounds and talents.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
I think the achievement I am most proud of is leading a team which persuaded the prime minister of the day that, from an engineering standpoint, you couldn’t do without nuclear energy and that it was important for policy makers to find a way to enable it for the future.
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the engineering sector?
There are many more women now in the nuclear sector and right across engineering, particularly chemical engineering and engineering associated with medicine. I think people are becoming more aware of the fantastic career options and that engineers are vital to everyday life.
How do you think gender parity in engineering can be achieved?
By starting early in schools at the primary level to make sure girls and boys have the chance to do and take part in things associated with applied science and problem solving. At secondary school level by revamping the way particularly physics is taught to ensure it is as appealing to girls as to boys
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
Go for it. You will have fantastic fun throughout your career, and many opportunities to have a wide ranging experience, travel widely if you wish to and interact with some of the best talent the UK has to offer. You will also feel at many stages that you have made a real difference.