On National Women in Engineering Day, Amrita reflects on what made her become an engineer and why she is keen to ensure other girls opt to follow the same path
Amrita Lulla works for BP in Sunbury-on-Thames as a process and process safety engineer. She has mentored young people on work experience programmes in Surbiton and Hounslow, run by the Engineering Development Trust in partnership with BP.
Why are you an engineer?
I think my chief motivation has been the ability to make a material difference in improving people’s lives. I remember watching a documentary at the age of 15 where engineers built a device to capture water from fog in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth. The project allowed people to settle in a previously uninhabitable area. It was the opportunity to transform people’s lives for the better that drove me to engineering. I genuinely believe engineering is key to solving some of the biggest challenges we face in the twenty-first century such as climate change, clean water provision and energy security.
There were some influences pushing me in other directions, for example, my mum is a doctor and there was an unconscious bias from my family to steer me towards the medical discipline. It just wasn’t for me though and I was adamant about pursuing engineering instead!
One important factor that helped to convinced me to pursue a career in engineering was work experience as a student. As well as giving me a taster in engineering, it also provided me with a chance to truly develop what some people call ‘soft skills.’ Prior to work experience, I always spent time developing my technical knowledge. However, work experience showed me how fundamental skills such as communication, team work and time management help to put that technical knowledge into practice.
Can you understand why the proportion of girls in the UK going into engineering is so low?
I believe lack of awareness of engineering as a career path is one of the main issues. Traditional images are also hard to shift and there isn’t enough positive coverage of engineering and engineering role models in the media. Most science and engineering TV shows or media articles feature men, which reinforces the idea of engineering being a man’s world. A good example of change is a recent surge in women studying forensic science. This has been linked to strong role models on TV shows, so perhaps we need a female engineering detective show!
I also think that there is a general lack of awareness of the different engineering disciplines and career routes available and I think many people still cling to the notion that all engineers are older men in hard hats building bridges.
I also think that girls don’t appreciate that engineers are some of the highest paid graduates and the employment rates for people with engineering degrees are very high. The numerical and problem solving skills you acquire in an engineering degree are very much in demand in several different industries and an engineering degree opens doors.
You are involved in inspiring more girls into engineering, how do you try to do that?
I am very fortunate that BP is committed to STEM education and runs a number of programmes with the aim of encouraging more young people to choose the STEM subjects after the age of 16 and to pursue a STEM-related career. I have attended career fairs, given talks on engineering through BP’s School Link programme to primary and senior school children and have mentored an all-girl group from Surbiton High School as they carried out a six-month engineering project as part of the Engineering Education Scheme. I also recently mentored at Lampton School in Hounslow on a project for the Go4Set scheme. I have also been an assessor for the EES scheme.
These schemes, which are run by the Engineering Development Trust are great. They provide me with an opportunity to engage with school students for a few months on real-life engineering projects. My role involves explaining the business context and explaining the challenges we face daily in industry.
A key driver for me is to give students the information that wasn’t available to me growing up - I wish someone had told me about chemical engineering earlier! I also believe engineering skills are going to be absolutely vital to address the challenges of sustainable development for a growing worldwide population and we need to engage students to be part of the solution as early as possible.
What advice would you give to girls considering GCSE and A Level subject choices?
Don’t drop maths! Do your research and pick subjects that will allow you to apply for many different degree options. Try not to limit yourself by picking niche subjects at this stage since your interests might change over the years and you definitely want to leave your options open. Speak to people about their careers and subject options to get an idea of different routes available. Finally, always pick subjects you enjoy and are passionate about.