The 2011 WISE Excellence Award Winner 'Claire Jones' shares her success story
15 February 2012
I’m 27 and currently work as a project engineer within the nuclear sector. At 13 this isn’t where I thought I’d be, although I did want to be an engineer. Since starting my GCSEs, life has thrown a lot of surprises and challenges my way, and it’s those opportunities that have gotten me to where I am now, in a rewarding career, contributing to government research papers and attending meetings in Westminster.
At school I joined an engineering club and took part in the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Education Scheme. After GCSEs I did work experience at Lotus Cars, which I’d arranged through personal contacts- networking really is important from a young age! This made me aware of the variety of careers in engineering and what the world of work was really like. I encourage everyone to find appropriate work experience – You might decide the job isn’t for you after all!
I’d wanted to study Automotive Engineering at Loughborough University, but I didn’t get the required grades, and was offered a place on the Mechanical Engineering course instead. I decided that I wanted to study at Loughborough and that Mechanical Engineering presented more opportunities than pure Automotive so I went for it. In hindsight it was the right decision as none of the jobs I’ve had or wanted since have needed an automotive degree.
I was able to take a year out studying or working as part of my course. Originally I’d wanted to study earthquake engineering at Sydney University, and had been accepted! Disappointingly personal finances meant I couldn’t afford to go, so instead I looked for an industrial job. I applied for a number of placements and surprisingly was offered a job working in Germany. This seemed the best of both worlds, travelling whilst earning a wage! Despite not speaking any German, and not knowing anyone living there I took the job, and it was honestly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. However, it did give me a great opportunity to travel around Europe, and meet amazing people.
After graduation I took up a job in a company based in the south of England. At this point I was racing bikes and climbing most weekends, and after a year I decided to move to the Lake District. The main engineering industry in the area is around Sellafield, and whilst nuclear isn’t an area I’d thought of going into, energy interested me. I’ve now been working around Sellafield for over three years, in a variety of jobs, and really enjoy my current job. I currently work as a contractor, which means I need to organise and pay for my own training and development which requires determination, but on the plus side it allows me the freedom to attend IMechE activities and educational events when they arise.
In autumn 2010 I received an email from Tony Gill, my local STEM organiser, who asked if he could nominate me for one of the UKRC WISE Awards. I was aware of the awards but did not think I worthy of such as award, so after a couple of weeks of Tony badgering me, I gave him the information he needed and put it to the back of mind. On the day of the awards, I remember sitting in the audience, talking to the other invitees and being impressed by everyone’s achievements. When the presenter starting reading out the attributes of the winner it took at least three sentences before I realised it was me! I was definitely in shock, and was truly honoured to go and collect my award from the Princess Royal.
Since winning the award I have started organising another “Girls in Engineering Day” – this time we’re hoping to get a Rocket Ship as our main attraction, and the award has helped me secure funding for the event.
On a personal note, in December, I collected my Queens Guide Award from the Baroness Royal at the Houses of Lords, and winning the Excellence award gave me a great starter for conversations!
The most important piece of advice I can give is to take every opportunity you can, even if it scares you. If there isn’t a suitable opportunity - make one, it’s amazing where asking and smiling can get you.