Back in 2018, a research project called Draw the Future asked around 20,000 7–11-year-olds to draw what they wanted to be when they were older. Among the boys, ‘engineer’ ranked at 6, just under ‘scientist’ and above ‘doctor’. For the girls, it was number 22. The same study pointed to a similar piece of research that found girls, “in all cultures, prioritise working with, and helping other people.” In which case, why isn’t being an engineer higher up the list? Rebecca Fox, a CT Technical Support Engineer for Canon Medical Systems UK, thinks the answer lies in semantics.
“An ‘engineer’ is the vaguest profession,” she says. “A car mechanic is classed as an engineer. Or the person who fixes your gas boiler. An engineer can be someone who designs calculations for the military.” However, engineering as a career direction just made sense to Rebecca. She loved maths and physics at school, so going on to study Mechanical Engineering at University was a natural next step. “For A Levels I studied Maths, Further Maths and Physics. So, there weren’t many things you could go and do with that,” she laughs. Her degree, she admits, took a broad-brush approach, covering everything from maths to mechanics, materials to management. Even so, she was among only a handful of women out of three hundred engineering students at her university. From the third year of a four-year degree, Rebecca was allowed to supplement the core subjects with modules of her own choosing and discovered that she absolutely loved those covering Biological Engineering – finding engineering solutions to medical problems – “I took as many of these modules as I could.” She had fascinating lecturers and recalls with fondness her Biomechanics lecturer, who would describe how he was involved in a bike accident and used the experience to share in great detail how the design of his helmet saved his life.