Profile: Afiya Chohollo
Simon Frost speaks to a project manager at Morgan Advanced Materials about outreach, career advice and engaging with institutes.
Tell me about your background.
I grew up and went to school in North London, where my favourite subjects were the sciences, English and textiles, with a particular interest in technology and technical textiles. While the link wasn’t immediately obvious, after discovering materials science and engineering courses, I knew that it was an ideal area for me to go into. I attended the University of Manchester to study a MEng in Materials Science and Engineering, which included industrial experience. I spent my third year working as a material chemist researcher for the Atomic Weapons Establishment and graduated in the summer of 2012 with first class honours. I joined Morgan Advanced Materials that September as one of 25 graduates on its global graduate leadership programme. I have embarked on operational improvement roles, strategic business analysis and, now, the coordination and project management of the Global Centre of Excellence for technical ceramics.
What does your work involve?
I collaborate with stakeholders across the global business in areas such as production, technical teams and management. My current role involves organising activities to ensure the delivery and setup of the Centre of Excellence, including coordinating contractors for the build, development and design of workspaces and laboratories, working with procurement to source scientific equipment and recruiting technical staff. I have also been working with our team in the USA to further understand some of our material processing capabilities.
How do you engage with the various institutes?
I have been familiar and involved with the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) since I was a student and made use of the resources available and the talks and presentations in Manchester. IOM3 has been supportive and collaborated on our Morgan Ambassadors scheme, by providing resources and support on understanding how we can incorporate what we do as a company in the national curriculum and other curriculum schemes. We held our launch for Morgan Ambassadors just over a year ago at the Institute in London. Winning the AT Green Award for Excellence in Ceramics in 2012 helped me to me develop a great network of contacts. I also find the Institute’s newsletters, LinkedIn pages and websites particularly useful in finding out what else is going on in the greater materials world.
Tell me about your schools outreach scheme.
Myself and another 2012 graduate, Luca Leone, came up with the idea of the Morgan Ambassadors scheme, as we felt that more could be done to inform students about STEM careers and inspire them to pursue engineering. I have spoken at Aston University, Birmingham, and have been asked back for this year, to lecture on ceramics, detailing Morgan’s manufacturing capabilities and also discuss my own career path. I have provided lecture material to be incorporated into BTech materials modules at Aston Engineering Academy and hosted school visits to our manufacturing plant in Stourport, Worcestershire. I also enjoy hosting workshops with students, and in collaboration with the British Ceramic Confederation, I ran a workshop for schools in Greater Manchester.
How important is professional development to you, and what do you do to ensure your own career progression?
Professional development is very important, and there is always more to learn and improve on. Being on a graduate programme, I have achieved a leadership and management qualification, and gained technical experience through working in industry. I have recently been in contact with IOM3 to discuss my route to Chartered Engineer status.
How do you think young engineering professionals should plan their career?
You should start planning your career as early as possible. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do or where your career will lead, but it is important to understand what options are available. If more careers advice was given in the final years of school, students could make more informed decisions regarding to what to do when they leave. That could be reviewing university courses and seeing what A Levels or BTechs are required, or looking into apprenticeships.
The great thing about materials engineering is it can be applied in a wide range of industries, functions and applications. Find your fit in terms of what you’re good at and enjoy, and then you can make plans accordingly. I am a big fan of setting goals, and believe that short-term goals, learning outcomes and opportunities can provide you with the right steps towards your long-term target.
What advice would you give to an engineer in the early stages of their career?
Always remain curious and eager to learn from those around you who have experience and knowledge, but be confident that you have great ideas to contribute too.