How I decided to become a mechanical engineer

Becoming a mechanical engineer was not something I had in mind when I was younger. I was not actively interested in engineering at all until I got my A-levels. In fact, I had other careers in mind. I always enjoyed writing and thought of myself as a good listener and problem solver, so I was aiming for a career in either journalism or psychology. I am quite stubborn, and my mind was firmly set on these career choices until I broke under my mum’s relentless suggestion to consider engineering.

My mum has a degree in computer science and her wish was for me to follow a similar path. Also, where I originally come from, the demand for journalists and psychologists was not very high, so studying engineering was considered the safest career choice, even for a woman. Therefore, when I graduated with my Brevet d’Etudes du Premier Cycle – BEPC (French exam equivalent of GCSE), I decided to study mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry. I was already quite good at them, I just did not necessary enjoy studying them. But as time passed, not only did I get better I also got more and more interested and involved, especially with the support from my mum who spent time explaining what I could not quite understand. And mathematics just brought out the problem-solving side of my personality even more.  

When I got my A-levels, I considered studying medicine for a while. I wanted and needed a career where I could solve problems but also contribute to ensuring people's health and safety. After further consideration I decided that medicine was not “it”, not because of my capabilities but because it just did not feel right. I lost purpose for a while and decided to go to the College of Sciences and Technology in Bordeaux (formerly known as University of Bordeaux 1) to continue studying mathematics and physics while doing some soul searching. When I was investigating my opportunities in studying a Master's degree in mechanical engineering, I came across Non-Destructive Testing technology and then it clicked, things fell into place, and I finally knew what to do next. The NDT technology is all about ensuring structural integrity which, among other attributes, keeps people safe. 

In order to complete my Master's, I needed to complete a student placement. An opportunity became available in the UK, involving an NDT inspection company. I could not speak a word in English, but I knew that this was my cue and that I could not pass this opportunity, so I took a chance. I have to confess that the first six months were some of the most challenging moments in my life, but I am glad that I did not quit, because as soon as I got my Master’s degree I was offered a position in this same company and I have not looked back since.

This career has offered me more than I could have expected, and I have learned so much. I have over a decade of experience as a mechanical engineer, managing research and development for Innovate UK/Horizon 2020 funded projects, related to novel applications of Ultrasonic Guided Waves to structures such as wind turbine blades, overhead transmission lines and railway tracks. In 2020 I graduated with a PhD from the School of Metallurgy and Materials at the University of Birmingham.

I have now joined EEMUA where I am managing the production of engineering guidance.

I have also got to meet Princess Anne during my career, which is something I would have never thought possible.

There is no doubt that my mum is the hero of my little story. Looking back, I now realise that not even once did I ever think that I did not have what it takes to succeed in engineering. I was not interested but I did not doubt my capabilities because my mother had normalised the idea that a woman could make a career out of engineering. It just shows how important role models are and the huge positive impact they have.

Kena Jolley, EEMUA Technical Executive

INWED 2021 - Tuesday