Rachael on her career in Engineering and Energy & Utilities

Graduate-women.com interviews Rachael, Citigen Site Manager at E.ON.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Apart from managing such a busy job which can be really challenging; being able to manage any problem or issue is the biggest challenge. I might be solving an engineering problem one day, looking at financial spreadsheets another, helping a member of staff with a personal issue or dealing with a high profile stakeholder or client. I can be dealing with the public, the government or an internal department. I have to be ‘a jack of all trades’ so to speak which is challenging but exciting too.

What are the rewarding aspects of a career in your industry?

In the power industry as an engineer and manager the work is just so varied, with such a range of technologies from old to state of the art, with long term engineering problems to solve, ensuring that the plant is reliable and efficient and repairing plant when it breaks down. You never know what your day will look like from one day to the next. There are some big issues to solve in the power industry to produce low carbon energy, reduce emissions, develop new technology for clean energy that meets the demands of the UK population which is hugely satisfying to be a part of a company delivering that.

What do you do to ensure you get a break at the weekends?

I always get away at the weekends either by cycling, climbing, walking and camping in the countryside. As I work in London at the moment, this is essential for my sanity as I love the outdoors. It gives me the chance to relax, unwind and prepare for the next week in the peace and quiet. It also ensures that I get a real break and prevents me from taking my work home with me!!

What's the best career advice you've ever received?

To keep my mind open to all possible ideas and solutions as it is always easy to narrow ones thinking or dismiss ideas too quickly that just may be the answer to the problem.

What have you had to sacrifice/risk to get to the position you have?

I have moved around the country quite a bit around our power stations in the UK, from the Welsh hills to London to make the best of career opportunities available. I do believe if you want to get on you have to have some flexibility. This has definitely paid off for me. However these days as I move around, I don’t really have any roots anywhere or somewhere permanent that I actually call home which has been a real sacrifice for me!

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be an RAF pilot when I was growing up but unfortunately was too small to be a pilot when I applied. So that is when I turned my mind to engineering as I had always been interested in aircraft, bikes and cars. I was sponsored through my A levels by the RAF, but it wasn’t until I did a year in industry during my degree that I identified just how exciting engineering could be outside of the RAF.

What differences do you believe being a woman has made to your career?

There are so few women in engineering in the power industry however it is great to see more women coming through so being one of a few female engineers in the company, people know who I am. I have always been treated with respect and as one of the team so have felt no real difference with my colleagues, however people that I deal with externally are always amazed that as a female I am an engineer and a power plant manager.

Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring graduate women who are pursuing a successful career?

Talk to people in the job or industry you are interested in, they can tell you what it is really like and answer questions that you may have. Also, everything is possible and there are not the barriers that you may perceive to be there. Don’t think just because you are a woman perhaps considering a male dominated industry that it will be difficult or awkward. Embrace the fact that you are different and that you bring with you many different perspectives and life experiences that enhance your skills and the way you do your job. Just think, you could be the next role model for an aspiring young female. Success doesn’t necessarily come easily, so you have to be focussed and work hard and set yourself challenging goals. You may have to take a risk or make a sacrifice but this may be a small price for a hugely rewarding and successful career.

What has been the most exciting element of your career so far?

I started my career as a mechanical engineer working on all types of plant, and now I manage power stations. When I stand back and think of the responsibility for the power plant and people that I have, that excites me- knowing that we have to keep generating to provide the energy for people in the UK.

What is your greatest achievement?

Achieving my PhD and MBA were great achievements but also was becoming a chartered engineer with the IMechE in 2005. However I believe the biggest achievement was when at 29 I got my first power plant manager role. As I had aspired to manage a power station from joining the industry in 2000 as a graduate I was really amazed just how quickly I was able to achieve my goal. I was also E.ON’s youngest power plant manager.

Who is, or has been, your role model and who is a strong role model for young women starting their career?

I looked towards the Wright brothers and Frank Whittle who through their engineering expertise and courage make flight what it is today. Since entering into the power industry I now have many role models; senior engineers and managers that have been in the industry for many years. There are some fantastic role models in engineering although for many young women their role model could be a relative or friend as famous women engineers are few and far between!

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