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Insights How Process Engineer Laura is Engineering For the Future

Laura is a Senior Process Engineer at Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group. Her role in the Nuclear & Power division ranges from designing new equipment and processes at the concept stage to modifying systems on existing operating plants around the UK. 

"My day-to-day work varies depending on the client and project. I could be doing calculations, modifying drawings, modelling systems in software, and meeting with clients and stakeholders. I've been fortunate to work at a few different sites and see the equipment and processes up close. This has really helped me appreciate the scale of things, rather than just seeing it on a screen or piece of paper, and given me a sense of the operations side."

image of Laura at her desk

What interests did you have as a child and young person?

Growing up, I was always keen to learn about things. 

When I was a primary school student, I was given a science kit. It allowed basic experiments like floating a magnetised needle on water to find magnetic north. I enjoyed carrying out these experiments and seeing the results even if I didn't necessarily understand the science and reasoning behind them.

As a teenager, I joined the Air Training Corps, where I learned about flying and gained a BTEC in Aviation Studies. I also achieved the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. All of these experiences helped me develop skills such as teamwork, a key attribute for an engineer. 

Which subjects inspired you most at school?

My favourite subjects at school were geography, art, maths and the sciences. It helped that I was good at them, but they also let me explore the world. I loved doing experiments during science classes, being able to see the results from my actions.

What can people do to awaken a girl's inner engineer?

I think it's important to encourage girls to be curious. Spend time learning something new, visiting museums, taking tours, watching documentaries, having new experiences, exploring the area around you. It can be a simple thing that sparks an interest, and I'd encourage you to explore it further.

What advice would you give girls who feel discouraged to pursue the STEM subjects they find exciting?

I'd say break those barriers down and prove the stereotypes wrong by doing whatever it is you want to do. You'll be surprised by the number of people who are more than happy and willing to help you overcome these barriers and encourage girls into STEM subjects. The support out there is amazing. So, don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something because you're a girl. It's just not true!

When did you know you wanted to be an engineer?

To be honest, I didn't really 'know' I wanted to be an engineer. I stumbled upon chemical engineering as a degree, and it sounded like a good match. I enjoyed maths and the sciences at school, so I focused on them when deciding on a degree. I knew I didn't want to follow a pure science route (i.e. a chemistry or physics degree). But I enjoyed problem-solving, so engineering was the logical step. My parents are both scientists (one a nuclear physicist and the other a pharmaceutical chemist). Still, I didn't know any engineers that I could turn to for advice. I was lucky that it turned out to be the perfect fit!

How are you changing the world through what you do at Atkins?

Since joining Atkins, the projects I've been involved in have mainly been energy production using nuclear technology. Recently I've been looking at how to get energy in more novel ways to support the UK's drive for net-zero emissions by 2050. It's incredibly important right now, and I'm proud to be a part of it. It really makes me feel like I am working on something that matters. 

What one amazing thing has Atkins made you realize about yourself?

That I can do more than I believe I can! It seems a bit silly, really, but it turns out I'm the person holding myself back by not being sure or confident in myself. The team at Atkins has been great at giving me a nudge and encouraging me to take opportunities that I may have otherwise turned down. 

As a female engineer, what keeps you at Atkins?

The team. Everyone is so supportive of each other, and it's such a friendly environment to work in. You're encouraged to push yourself and be innovative while being supported to make those steps!

If you could choose anything, what would your dream project be?

I'd love to be involved in a zero-emission power project and work on it from the very start right through to it being built and commissioned on site. That will be pretty satisfying, seeing years of work pay off and know that the project is bringing emission-free power to the country.

Want to work in an environment where women are valued and supported equally? Find out more about a career at Atkins.