The route to fellowship

Materials World magazine
1 Sep 2018

With the Institute’s Women into Fellowship initiative underway, Kathryn Allen talks to four Fellows about the application process and their experiences. 

Less than one in eight of the UK’s engineering workforce is female, according to Engineering UK’s 2017 report The state of engineering. This underrepresentation is similarly seen in the number of women applying for fellowship at the Institute, resulting in the launch of the Women into Fellowship initiative earlier this year, which aims to encourage women to apply for the title. 

This grade, according to the Institute’s guide to application as a fellow, ‘is awarded to individuals who have established a reputation or track record of success in the science and engineering of materials, minerals, mining, natural resources, or some other technical discipline in which IOM3 is involved’. 

Ian Bowbrick, Director of Membership and Professional Development at IOM3, told Materials World, ‘The initiative has been an instant success within our communities, evidenced during the last quarter where almost one third of the applications for fellowship have come from both existing women members and others new to membership. Two further workshops are planned for October and November.’

Materials World spoke to four members who have recently achieved fellowship under this initiative. 

Dr Jennifer Unsworth (JU) FIMMM studied medical materials science and tissue engineering at the University of Nottingham, UK, before moving into a research job. Unsworth now works as a patent attorney at law firm Withers and Rogers, focusing on engineering inventions, and also writes for Materials World.

Dr Fiona Robinson (FR) FIMMM is Development Specialist at Cogent Power, UK. Robinson studied metallurgy and materials science at Imperial College London, UK, and then went on to work on various projects in the steel industry including research, development, and technology and electrical steels. 

Jane Woolrich (JW) CEng FIMMM studied chemistry and worked at the University of Exeter, UK, as a research assistant before moving to Rolls-Royce. After taking Open University modules in materials and mechanical engineering, and a part-time masters degree at the University of Swansea, UK, in gas turbine materials, Woolrich moved to
her current position as Staff Technologist at Rolls-Royce.

Dr Artemis Stamboulis (AS) FIMMM is a Senior Lecturer in biomaterials and nanomaterials in the School of Metallurgy and Materials at the University of Birmingham, UK. Stamboulis studied in Greece and the UK, undertaking her PhD in polymer engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, and worked as a Marie Curie Fellow in Imperial College London’s Department of Materials.

Why did you apply for a fellowship? If you were nominated, how did you find out? 

JU: I was nominated and delighted to accept. I’m really passionate about materials science and engineering, and the contribution that R&D in this area makes to all aspects of our lives. As a student and a research scientist, I’ve been involved in research for biomaterials, and I’m hoping that by raising awareness of this and other important fields of research within materials science, I can encourage investment into research and inspire researchers to get involved. 

FR: I decided to apply for fellowship after attending a workshop presented by IOM3’s Ian Bowbrick that made the process appear much simpler than I had previously thought. Around the same time as the workshop, I noticed peers whose contributions I would consider similar to mine were being awarded fellowship, therefore thought I might be considered. I think attending the workshop helped demystify the process because before that, I’d assumed you had to be nominated by someone rather than putting yourself forward.

JW: I found out when Ian Bowbrick emailed saying that his colleague Sarah Boad had nominated me and I would need to find a second referee. I had seen some of the fellowship workshops advertised and thought it was something I ought to look at in a few years, but hadn’t actually thought about it. I found someone at Rolls-Royce who is already a Fellow, and asked if they thought I was up to it and would be a referee for me.

AS: I was nominated and then contacted by the Institute to submit my CV. 

Did you consider applying yourself or was it something you weren’t aware of?

JU: I wasn’t aware of all of the requirements of fellowship. In particular, there’s a route to fellowship that exists for people who provide services or professional activities of a non-technical nature, so patent attorneys such as me can take this route. As a Fellow, one of the things that I want to do is raise awareness of the criteria that exists and encourage others to apply. 

AS: I considered applying in the past, but I don’t think I was particularly encouraged to do so. I knew I would have had to find somebody to support me and it seemed difficult. I was preoccupied with my career. 

Did you have any hesitations or think you weren’t ready to apply? 

FR: Yes, for many years I thought fellowship was difficult to achieve and only awarded to a small percentage of Institute members. I was not confident about approaching anyone in my organisation to nominate me in case they felt I was not worthy of fellowship or it came across as inflating my contributions. Early in my career, I approached two senior colleagues who had CEng FIMMM status to ask if they would mentor me towards achieving CEng MIMMM. But, rather than being supportive they made me feel CEng MIMMM was impossible for me to achieve, asked whether my degree and PhD certificates were fake, and put me off seeking professional status. 

JW: Because of the nature of the work [Rolls-Royce] does, which is very commercially sensitive, we don’t tend to produce work that is easily peer reviewed, have clearance to write papers, or present at conferences. The only peer review we get is with external institutes that have already signed a non-disclosure agreement. So if you’re trying to apply for something that relates to an external body like the Institute, it’s harder to provide evidence of your work.

Do you think the requirements needed to apply for fellowships are publicised well enough? 

JU: I wasn’t aware of all of the criteria and one of the things I can do now I am a Fellow is make sure that people are aware. It’s all on the website. 

FR: Yes, in the last few years there has been a lot of publicity in Materials World including listing new Fellows, IOM3 email alerts, and several workshops.

JW: I think the fact that the Institute is running these workshops on fellowship is really good. I think it probably is [publicised enough], if only I had had the confidence to look at the email in detail, instead of thinking I’m nowhere near applying and just deleting it. 

Would you recommend the fellowship workshops to others? 

FR: Yes, definitely. It’s helpful in terms of the presentation, but also as there were a number of peers attending that you could talk to and I found out that their situations were similar to mine. It is a very good initiative to encourage all members, but women in particular, to apply because a lot of members are active in materials, but lack the confidence or don’t think they deserve fellowship. I think maybe there’s a need for some early career workshops about building confidence to move your career forward for relatively young or inexperienced members. In the steel industry in particular, there are not many young women coming through, so it’s important to have high-profile role models, who have stuck it out and succeeded. 

Do you think women in particular will not pursue opportunities to become Fellows? 

FR: I think to an extent both men and women may not pursue professional status, but I think more so for women. We tend to be less confident about our abilities and contributions. Personally, there’s a feeling that if I’m broadcasting my contributions, I’m boasting. Whereas some – not all – men are more confident broadcasting their abilities. 

JW: I don’t think it is women specific. I work with some really good engineers, one of whom asked recently if, now that I’m a Fellow, I could support his CEng application, and I was gobsmacked that he hadn’t done it 20 years ago. I’m working with people that haven’t even taken that step yet. We need a drive to get more people chartered. But, I don’t think it’s women specific. I think it’s more generic. People have a perception that they’d never get through it, which is a shame because 99% of them would. 

AS: A lot of people get intimidated when they have to find somebody to support their nomination – especially women. They might feel that they are not worth a nomination. I see people being awarded titles and I question if I am worth it too. These sorts of feelings – being intimidated – are unhelpful. You should have the confidence to apply. 

Do you believe it’s important to get more women into fellowship? 

JU: I believe it’s really important to promote diversity wherever there’s an opportunity to do so. I’m hoping that by becoming a Fellow, I’ll be able to encourage other female research scientists to consider a career in materials science and engineering. Now I work in intellectual property and focus on protecting engineering inventions, I really hope my fellowship will encourage other women to do the same. 

Do you think there is a perception that titles like this are difficult to achieve? 

FR: I think that used to be the perception, but the workshop has helped to overcome that. The application form is now shorter and quite easy to understand. The previous perception was that it was only for a select few and quite difficult to achieve. It also wasn’t obvious what sort of contributions you needed to have made to become a Fellow. At the workshop, Ian Bowbrick presented the different routes and options in terms of contributions. 

Do you think it will impact your career or alter how you are perceived within your field?

JU: Being a Fellow is very prestigious and it can only have a positive impact on my career. As a patent attorney, I really enjoy engaging with the wider research community and industry, and through my involvement with the Institute I’ll be able to reach out to other organisations and keep abreast of developments within my technical specialism. 

JW: I think, for me, the most important thing is that when we work with external agencies, having that fellowship will give more credibility to what I say. It gives you a head start – if you’ve got the backup of a fellowship and you are delivering something, particularly something someone doesn’t want to hear, their ability to argue against you is reduced. I don’t think it will help me in terms of career promotion, but it will with interactions with customers or academia. 

Would you encourage others to apply for a fellowship? 

FR: Yes, I feel achieving fellowship provides the personal satisfaction of knowing your contribution is recognised by others.

AS: Yes, because I think this society works when you are recognised by your peers – you come across a little more convincing. For people who want to develop their careers further, professional recognition is a good thing to have. The other Fellows I know are pretty distinguished and are also recognised in their areas of research. I imagine that this brings authority. It’s not only the recognition and the title, it also provides new opportunities for networking. I have received some information from the Institute about how the fellowship will be useful to me. I understand there is an IOM3 working group in my area and there are opportunities of giving talks and networking. I think these are opportunities I need to take advantage of. 

How did you find the application process?

JU: It was very straightforward. I worked with one of the membership officers at the Institute, who helped me put together the required information. 

FR: I think it’s much easier and shorter in terms of what you have to fill in. I think the workshop helped. The form and instructions are fine, but I felt more confident filling them in after attending the workshop. 

JW: Compared to chartership, it was much more straightforward. Because mine was an unusual route, I had to provide a lot more documentation for chartership. I was surprised at how straightforward the fellowship process was. Again, it’s the perception that because it’s such a prestigious title, it’s going to be a pain in the neck to apply for, and it really wasn’t. It was rigorous, but it wasn’t onerous. 

AS: Once you have been nominated and have references, it’s straightforward. All I had to submit was a form and a detailed CV. The process was pleasant, and it was good news for me to receive the fellowship – it cheered me up. It wasn’t a difficult process at all. People should not be afraid to apply. 

Do you have any advice for anyone considering applying? 

JU: Go for it. Don’t be shy about your achievements. If you want to apply for a fellowship, think back on all the things you’ve done and enjoyed, and make sure you highlight those to the Institute. 

FR: I would recommend attending a fellowship workshop. It provided a systematic guide to the process and revealed the applicants’ input to be much simpler than I previously thought. It was a revelation to find out an IOM3 member could apply for fellowship when they felt ready without having to rely on identifying and persuading someone to nominate them.

JW: Just do it. It was not nearly as awkward and difficult as I had anticipated. 

AS: My only advice is to write the CV as best you can, be truthful and very accurate. If you think your CV is not rich enough, do some preparation before applying. In some ways, I felt ready to apply. When I applied, I thought, it’s not possible to refuse my CV. I felt confident. I think applicants need to be in this position to really feel confident. But to reach this place, applicants need to enrich their CV with the requirements. 

Continuing professional development

Members are reminded that reading articles in Materials World contributes to your Continuing Professional Development (CPD). You can log your CPD on mycareerpath, a system provided through the Engineering Council to our members. Log in to the IOM3 website and follow the link to “PD record on mycareerpath”.

To find out more about the Women into Fellowship initiative, contact our Membership team on or visit