Talking engineering careers and children’s books with Kerrine Bryan

Materials World magazine
,
1 Sep 2016

Natalie Daniels hears from Kerrine Bryan about her career as an electrical engineer and what inspired her to write a series of children's books based on engineering and science. 

Tell us about your background and career to date.

Until I was 17 years old, I didn't really know what engineering was. I particularly enjoyed maths, science and design and technology at school, but didn't know what you could do with them as a career. I was advised to look into studying accounting. It wasn't until my A-Levels that my maths teacher recommended that I go on a residential course at the University of Glamorgan, UK, where I was introduced to the different areas of engineering. Having realised this was what I wanted to do as a career, I went on to do an engineering degree at the University of Birmingham, UK. I spent a year in Germany as part of my course and after that I was offered a job as an electrical engineer at a large oil and gas company. I worked for around five years on different projects including onshore gas terminals and offshore platforms for the North Sea and went on to get my chartership four and a half years later. 

I have been a lead engineer for a big project in the North Sea and have worked all over the world for witness testing of equipment. My career took a slight U-turn and I ended up going into a sales role. Even though I had a technical background, my company went on to sponsor me to do an MBA to explore all aspects of the business.

How important was gaining chartership for your professional development?

For me, it’s always important to be working towards something greater, whether that is in work or my personal life. When starting out as a graduate, working toward chartership and the competencies (UK-SPEC) provides a guided route to enhancing skills and responsibilities. Working towards the competencies allowed me to identify areas where I required more experience and I was able to approach my line manager and request positions that would provide me with the experience and skills required. After gaining chartership, I was able to move into more senior positions with additional responsibility. 

What did you most enjoy about studying engineering?

It makes you think more logically. As an engineer, I work on different projects and you can't always know everything – it is all about using that skill of problem solving and logical thinking to come up with an answer. It is like doing a new puzzle everyday – no day is the same. 

What has been your biggest career achievement?

I would have to say working as a lead engineer. It was hugely important to the company and worth millions of dollars, so it was a lot of responsibility in terms of the engineering, and I also worked with suppliers and clients from all over the world. It was great to communicate with all the different cultures and led to very interesting conversations, but it was also a challenge in itself.

You have gone on to publish books including My mummy is an engineer and My mummy is a scientist. What inspired you to do this?

I was speaking to GCSE and A-Level students in schools and found that I was meeting children and young adults who didn't even know what engineering was and never considered it as a career path. If those students had that knowledge from a younger age then it might have opened up their options. These books are career-themed and are aimed at ages three-to-seven years, so they are quite popular with primary schools and early years. They are a basic overview of what an engineer or scientist does. Encouraging those in industry to go into schools is great, as it is important for children to see that there are people in real life like those in the books.

Do you plan on expanding this range of books further?

Yes. We have a range of careers that we want to look at for both men and women. I have spoken to various organisations that look at skills and education and they have given me lists of skills gap areas that need more awareness and concentration.

What advice would you give to someone seeking a job in engineering or thinking of studying it?

Speak to people in the field. There are a lot of misconceptions about what engineering involves and that's one of the reasons why we don't have many women entering the field, because there is always this perception of people in hard hats getting their hands dirty. You can do that if you want, but it is important to note that there are a number of other areas, including office-based work that might appeal to you. It is important to speak to people who work in different fields of engineering to discover what is right for you.

How can students best prepare for work?

The thing I found most useful was making sure I allocated some time during university holidays to do a placement, paid or unpaid, to gain some experience in engineering, or even just in work in general to prepare me for after university. I think universities are trying to change things at the moment to bridge that gap between study and work – if you can get that experience before you start working then that will really help to prepare you. Experience is also something we look for when we hire graduates – it always stands out on someone's CV if they have worked in any type of engineering fields alongside studying. On the flip side, it is also about getting those people in engineering to go out and speak to students about their careers and, as a STEM ambassador, I go to schools and colleges to talk about my career as an engineer. 

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