This past month, Elaine and I delivered a keynote speech at Western Engineering’s Go ENG Girl. We were incredibly honoured for this opportunity and jumped at the chance to share our experiences with the girls in the audience. We titled our talk Engineering Your Dream Job.
Go ENG Girl is a program run by universities in Ontario in conjunction with the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering. The mission of the network is to support current female engineers and to encourage the next generation of women to explore careers in engineering. Go ENG Girl is a one-day event that provides girls in grades 7-10 the opportunity to explore engineering through hands-on activities and interact with women professionals, professors, and students.
When we started thinking about topics for our keynote, we kept coming back to what we wish we knew about engineering before entering the field. The jobs we have now are truly extensions of our personalities, and we have “engineered our dream jobs” by combining our degrees with things we love. Our goal was to communicate that engineers are a diverse group of people whose jobs go beyond building “things”. We wanted to encourage our listeners to think about what they love and to consider STEM as a real way to turn their passions into a career. In summary:
- Engineering is anything
- Engineering is anyone
- Engineering is on the internet
1. Engineering is Anything
What do you picture when you think of engineering? Is it a bridge or a municipal mega project? Is it Formula One racing or other fast vehicles more powerful than a locomotive? Maybe it’s the latest devices that we carry around or emerging technologies such as cloud computing and AI.
I once thought of engineering in terms of tangible items such as planes, trains, and automobiles. It was only after entering university that I realized that this was only just the beginning of the industries that rely on engineers. For instance, I’m not sure I would have believed you if you had told me that I could one day do the math for ice cream production and get paid for it.
I now know that engineering goes beyond the “traditional” disciplines, especially in a world where technology permeates nearly every aspect of our lives. Now more than ever before, engineering exists in almost everything around us. This includes the areas of our lives where we are already passionate.
To put it simply:
STEM + hobbies and interests you already have = a great recipe for a dream job
Elaine has always loved the outdoors and activities like hiking, swimming, and camping. She is also fascinated with cities and the systems within them. These include how people live and work together, how they get from place to place, and how the natural environment is protected. These interests led directly to her career in civil environmental consulting, where she now works with municipalities to solve these problems.
And me? I love food and have long been captivated with the show How It’s Made and the manufacturing behind our daily items. I’m living my dream job by working on the engineering teams behind these processes and, like I said, getting paid to make ice cream.
2. Engineering is Anyone
Who is an engineer?
When you think of an engineer, what do they look like? What do they do?
The girls who attended our presentation had great answers to these questions. Engineers are family members such as uncles, aunts, and parents. Engineers are also public figures, like Governor General of Canada and former astronaut Julie Payette, and others in the community such as university professors.
Since we have established that engineering is anything, it follows that we need many types of people with various interests, skill sets, and personalities. Moreover, we need these teams of people to work together because engineering is highly team-oriented and challenges require more than one mind to solve them. Misconceptions about the profession do still exist (i.e. the myth of the socially awkward engineer working alone into the night), but the answers we received to our “who is an engineer” questions gave us hope that these myths are dissipating.
In addition to creating and building the things we can see, engineers are crucial to maintaining infrastructure to ensure it continues to work as it was designed. A great example of this is the work of our personal friend and friend of the blog Lisa MacTavish. Lisa works in civil engineering and her role includes structural inspections of large hydro dams. She has shared insights into her job with us via social media, which brings us to our final and most actionable point about engineering your dream job.
3. Engineering is On The Internet
Through this blog, we have met so many women online who are sharing their experiences in STEM. These include water resource and industrial engineers from Texas, an aerospace engineer living Switzerland, and many mulheres em engenharia (that’s women in engineering for those of you that Google their Portuguese like we do).
Our final piece of advice to the girls at Go ENG Girl was to explore their passions using the resources available to them. Social media can often be thought of negatively, but in this case, it can be a great tool to connect and educate those who are interested in learning more about STEM. Some of our favourite aspects of the accounts we have discovered include the cool jobs we didn’t know existed and the responsibilities that other people have at work, which can be very similar or very different to what we both do.
Some ways to discover engineering via social media include hashtags such as #womeninengineering, #womeninSTEM, #STEMsquad, and #ILookLikeAnEngineer; as well as discipline-specific hashtags such as #processengineering and #environmentalengineering. Another good way (warning: shameless plug ahead) is to mosey on over to the enggirlproblems channels! We’d love to have you.
Olivia is a project manager at a mechanical engineering consulting firm for the food industry in Toronto, ON. Her job is like a behind-the-scenes episode of How It’s Made, and includes free samples on good days if she’s lucky. Outside of engineering, she is an avid thrift shopper, has a strong affinity to corgis, and is passionate about advocating for women in STEM and diversity in the work place.