Dear teenage me…
In honour of International Women’s Day, the women of Engenuiti have been reflecting on how we got to be the women we are. Many of us realised that if it hadn’t been for a teacher, parent or relative, we wouldn’t have known what engineering was and might have ended up in very different places. Thankfully, we had someone to point us towards STEM, but that got us thinking, what advice would we give our teenage selves? Inspired by the STEMettes ‘letter to my teenage self’ 'zine, we wrote letters to our younger selves with advice we wished we had heard. From worrying about being the only girl in a room of boys, stereotypes of engineering being gross and dirty and inspiring architecture, have a read of what we wanted to say.
Dear teenage Izzy,
This summer you’ll take a detour on the family road trip to cross the Millau viaduct and think how amazing it is that a structure like that can exist (and stand up!). In a few years, after studying engineering at university you’ll actually understand how it works. At least, mostly.
It probably hasn’t crossed your mind yet that engineering could be for you. In your mind when you think engineer, you think of a man in a hard hat – but you will in fact have your very own hard hat in the future.
Stay curious, ask lots of questions and don’t put too much pressure on yourself – it will all work out!
From one inspiring structure to another…
Dear teenage Kath,
You’ve always enjoyed doodling plans of buildings and taking things apart to see how they work and fit together. Ms Di Stefano is right that it suits you, when she suggests you do engineering for your school work experience. You’ll walk over a bridge that curves out from an unstable cliff face and think how clever and exciting engineering looks. The sewerage plant isn’t for you, but the impressive buildings you visit in Sydney make you think how cool it must be to design one. The great news is, that in 10 years’ time you will be living in London designing tonnes of interesting buildings. You’re going to love it. And yes, it is very cool.
From adult Kath.
Apparently, more that one of us was concerned about what we thought engineering was...
Chloe and Jenny
Dear teenage Chloe,
Lots to say, but sticking to career for now.
Engineering isn’t necessarily what you think it is. It doesn’t have to mean working in a factory. Engineering can mean working in an office designing things, it can mean working in a lab learning things, it can mean working on site building things, and yes it can also mean working in a factory making things. Don’t discount engineering because you didn’t like your summer job.
You never build your own bike, you can’t write code, and you still don’t know how the dishwasher really works, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do engineering.
From adult (!) Chloe.
As Chloe points out, there are many kinds of engineering. Jenny would argue that there is one kind that is better than the rest.
Dear teenage Jenny,
I know you’ve always wanted to be an architect when you grow up, but if you keep reading, you’ll find out why being a structural engineer is a much better job for you. You think that architecture is the only job that mixes your two favourite subjects, maths and art, but engineering combines them too. There’s more maths in engineering than in architecture, but there’s also a creative element involved in looking for the most efficient way to solve a problem. You’ll get to do some sketching and 3D modelling too. There are so many different types of engineering, not just structural engineering, so you can try out all of them before you decide which is the most fun (structural, of course).
Both Melissa and Manisha were concerned with how few women there are in STEM.
Dear teenage Melissa,
You’ll find this hard to imagine but one day you’ll be choosing Maths and Physics for A levels (who’d have thought!) and starting on your journey to become a Civil Engineer. During the first week of university, you’ll be sat in a lecture of 100 people where only 4 of you are female. For a brief moment, this will make you question whether you made the right choice and if you’re good enough. But don’t ever give up. Over the next few years, you’ll realise how lucky you are to be in such a great industry and how proud it makes you feel when you tell people you’re a Civil Engineer. You’ll love your job because you get to work with so many great people from all different backgrounds and cultures, and you’ll never look back.
Dear teenage Manisha,
You’ll realise pretty soon that even though you love maths and physics, your friends do not. You will feel like you don’t fit in, or maybe that you are picking a subject for boys and you will be the odd one out. You will even try to get into history and English to make yourself more ‘girly’ and then quickly realise that doesn’t interest you in the same way STEM does. Don’t let the worry that you will lose them or that you will be the only girl in a class full of boys stop you from pursuing what you love. Your friends will still be there, cheering you along, and even better, you will meet a whole bunch of awesome new women at university and in the workplace.
Johanna demonstrates that being in the STEM field doesn’t mean that you can’t be passionate about the arts.
Dear teenage Johanna,
Do listen to your careers advisor when it comes to making the right choices that will prepare you for university. But don't question your choice when it doesn't fit with their stereotypical view. You've never paid much attention to gender stereotypes and the world will slowly catch on. You will end up at university, but it will be your creative side and dancing that will bring you to London - your future home.
Despite the fact that we are a group of women with vastly different backgrounds, it seems as though we all had similar fears about engineering in our teenage years. Of course, the industry is changing and there are more women than ever in the field, inspiring the generations to come. But, if you know a young woman who could be a great engineer, reach out and let her know that there is a place for her!