Career in STEM

A career in STEM: It may surprise you

Career in STEMIf the past few years are anything to go by, I’ve been very successful in what is traditionally a male-dominated industry.

Along with gaining my chartership as an engineer, I was shortlisted for two awards for my professional review submission. I also had the privilege to lead the structural design on the quickest hospital project ever completed for the NHS, which was the largest project to date for engineering consultancy Perega.

I’ve been a structural engineer for 15 years and currently hold an Associate role. While I love my work and knowing that it makes a difference in people’s lives, I wouldn’t describe my path into engineering as an obvious or smooth one.

Expect the unexpected

As a high school student in Poland, I hadn’t even considered going into engineering. My plan was to study architecture. I did the required preparation and drawing courses, but on the date of the university entrance exam, I was in hospital. While I was offered another date, it was for a civil and structural engineering course. University is free in Poland and it was something to do in the year before I could take the exam I really wanted, so I signed up. Six months in, I realised how interesting engineering is. I never looked back.

I was fortunate to go to a high school with fantastic teachers who encouraged us and opened our eyes to many different careers, regardless of our gender. This was exceptional for the time, which I came to realise upon starting university. Around 40% of the whole year were women, but the vast majority of lecturers were men with a very traditional perspective. As a result, we had a harder time and less support than our male peers, and at times were told that we wouldn’t finish the course so there wasn’t much point in helping us. In response, we developed a thicker skin.

A lot of work has been done in recent years to increase diversity in construction. When I finished my degree, that wasn’t yet the case. My first job out of university was on site. Out of 120 people, I was the only woman. While I had to deal with workers who weren’t used to seeing women on site along with the occasional joke, I think it helped me build more resilience at a crucial time in my career.

Top tips

There are a number of factors that helped motivate me throughout my career. The first, and one of the most important, of these was having a mentor. It doesn’t matter where you are in your career, having someone who will support you and who you can learn from is crucial. When I started my first job after university, my site manager helped me get through the difficult days and build up my confidence, offering advice on how to gain my colleagues’ trust. Even more recently, having a mentor was important as I worked towards gaining chartered status. As I balanced my chartership work with my personal life and responsibilities as an associate, there were times I thought I couldn’t do it. Having someone in my corner to encourage, push and help me along the way made a world of difference.

There is so much to be learned not only from mentors, but from your colleagues as well. Once I’d settled in at my first job, I started to talk with the other people on site, whether it was a bricklayer, a foreman or a painter. Not only did I gain insight into their specialisms, once they saw my enthusiasm and willingness to learn, they started to appreciate me as well. By working on site and talking to everyone there, I had an edge once I moved into a design office because I could appreciate the importance of buildability in the design process.

I’ve met quite a few engineers who graduated without ever going to a site. They can’t see in their heads what they’re designing. So, get out of the office. Whether you’re an engineer, an architect or anyone else behind the design of a project, go see the sites where it gets built.

Whatever career you choose or path you pursue, the final goal can seem impossible and the challenges along the way insurmountable. For me, it helped to prioritise and plan. When I was becoming chartered, I drew up a plan, identifying what needs doing, breaking tasks down into manageable chunks and setting small deadlines for myself. When you’re able to cross items off a list, you can see progress, giving you the encouragement to keep going.

Above all else, don’t be scared. If a career in STEM is what really interests you, push for it. You may not know right away exactly what you want to do, and that’s alright. If you enjoy science or maths, find something you can do with it – you may end up surprising yourself.

Ewa AmbrosiusAbout the author

Ewa Ambrosius is an associate in the London office of Perega (formerly Thomasons Ltd). She holds a masters in civil and structural engineering, designing structures for education, housing and healthcare, including the Chase Farm Hospital.


encouraging girls in to tech, STEM featured

More than 75% of young women interested in a career in STEM are put off by gender barriers

encouraging girls in to tech, STEM featuredIn light of recent research conducted by RWB, QA and Stemettes have launched a series of free STEM Certification Academies to target gender barriers and give young women the skills and qualifications they need for a career in the tech sector.

The research revealed that 53% of young women wish to pursue a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), however unfortunately 78% of them are put off by the gender barriers that currently exist in the sector.

Furthermore, 37% of women believe that they would not have access to the same opportunities as male colleagues, and nearly a third admitted that they do not feel comfortable in a male dominated environment.

To tackle these statistics, QA has joined forces with Stemettes, a social enterprise which exists to encourage girls aged 5-25 to pursue a STEM career. The 'Stemettes Certification Academy'  3-day training course will offer free facilities, technology skills training and certifications to ten young women (aged 16-20) who aspire to work in the technology industry. It will be led by QA's world-class qualified trainers and the successful course completes will gain a globally recognised ICAgile qualification. The initial pilot programme will take place at QA’s flagship training centre in St Katherine’s Dock, starting on 23rdOctober 2019.

Reflecting on the findings of the research, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, CEO & Co-founder, Stemettes, said: “The research shows that there is an aspiration amongst young women to pursue technology and other STEM careers. However, there are still perceived to be real barriers that are limiting UK female potential – one of these is a lack of understanding – which must be addressed. This half-term ‘The Stemettes Certification Academy’ is a first important milestone in us achieving our organisational ambitions, which we’ll be widely publishing next year – to move the dial across the UK for young women and their communities, especially in Agile, Cyber and Coding skills.”

Paul Geddes, CEO, QA has also commented, saying:  “Given the skills gap across the STEM sector, and the dire shortfall of women in UK STEM roles, this is an important partnership with Stemettes, for us to jointly further bridge the technology skills gap. Working with our world-class trainers on ‘The Stemettes Certification Academy’, the women will be sufficiently upskilled in the latest Agile practices, with a view to supporting their technology career aspirations. Together with Stemettes, we are confident that this programme will be the first of many.”

The initial pilot course will comprise of ten aspiring STEM students, with QA and Stemettes in discussions on future technology skills initiatives across Cyber, Agile and Coding in 2020 and beyond.