Alumna -Loughborough University
RA Construction Training and Innovation/ Academic Advocate Construction & Engineering
The Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds & University Centre, North Lindsey College
At what age did you first become interested in science/engineering and what was your career path to arrive at this point?
I first became interested in science and engineering through studying construction. As a child, I always enjoyed helping my parents refurbish the house. I also loved woodwork at school. I remember once disappearing into the shed to try to produce a table, after seeing my dad create spectacular things with seemingly no effort! Therefore, one idea I had was to become a joiner. When I visited North Lindsey College construction team, I found out about getting into the ‘professional’ side of construction and took that path instead. I learned about construction technology, material and environmental science on my AVCE and began to think of how the built environment ‘fitted’ into the natural environment.
I was fortunate to study Building Surveying at Leeds Beckett University where there is a lot of research and teaching on building energy performance. That led to my first research project on issues relating to energy-efficiency in traditional buildings during my BSc dissertation. Despite previously working for a short time as a trainee building surveyor and assisting in diagnosing damp causes, I still didn’t really feel like I was doing science or engineering until I began to measure and test the performance of houses during my LoLo MRes and PhD, which really helped me understand energy demand in the built environment.
How has your experience as a woman in LoLo differed from that in previous workplaces?
Despite being the only female on my first construction course, my network has grown and I now see many inspirational women. I think the community will continue to expand and create a more positive industry. Over the years I have experienced discriminatory comments, such as “that is a typical female view”, “I prefer women to wear heels in the workplace” (even though we regularly went on site!), or general ‘banter’ which demotes women or other minority groups.
In academia, we are encouraged to question norms and it is a good place to create ideas that lead to changes, which benefit society. Therefore, I am pleased to see that the Athena SWAN Charter, created in 2005, which aims to address inequalities in academia, has been taken seriously. Equality is key in creating any positive shared space, practice or strategy and is particularly important in the construction industry. The built environment is used by all and should therefore be shaped by all.
Does balancing work life with family life and/or social life work for you at this stage?
I am constantly trying to create a better balance and took inspiration from the New Economic Foundation’s ‘21 Hours’ report, which argues that we could all live healthier and more sustainable lives if everybody worked 21 hours. This could allow each individual the time to spend on caring responsibilities, growing food, cooking healthy meals, travelling in low carbon ways, contributing to community projects and pay attention to wider local and international issues. If minimum wage increased, it could potentially become an option for everybody, and lead to less unemployment.
At present, most construction companies do not offer 21-hour posts. I teach two days per week on a HNC in Construction and the Built Environment at North Lindsey College University Centre. Alongside, I have started working on a short project on ‘innovation in construction skills’ with the University of Leeds. I am learning a lot about how we deliver construction training in the UK. I also do some occasional engagement on energy demand at school science fairs or otherwise, when I can.
Life can be a bit of a juggle, but this approach has allowed me space to try things out, think about what is important and develop my own ideas, which will – hopefully – make future research and other activities more successful. I always try to make time for family and friends, my allotment and myself, but some weeks do work better than others do!
What do you hope to achieve in your career?
My overall motivation is to contribute to a more sustainable built environment, which provides positive, healthy and safe places to live, both indoors, and out. I am keen to continue to develop my knowledge and experience of building refurbishment to better achieve this.
I would like to further develop my practical construction skills having embarrassed myself on a DIY retrofit course/ project where I spent an hour applying the air-tightness tape to one window frame! The College construction team were amused when I tried out bricklaying and managed ten bricks in two hours, compared to 750 – 1,000 a day on commercial construction sites! My brief insight on the practical side has taught me a lot.
I am keen to promote equality and feel quite passionate about modernising the construction industry. I feel higher level courses could work much closer with construction crafts teams and break down hierarchies, this might lead to increased motivation, better team work and better buildings.
Do you have any insights or wisdom to pass on to younger women about to embark on a similar journey?
Same to all, in that you do not have to be what others expect you to be. Follow your interests and values, be self-motivated, set goals and reflect on progress towards them. If you do happen to face discrimination, try to recognise it for what it is and find a good trusted colleague or friend who can help you deal with it in a constructive way.