Lucy Collins is a naval architect for the Ministry of Defence, who is currently on secondment at UCL (University College London). She is helping to run an M.Sc. course alongside undertaking a Ph.D. in the field of submarine design on a part time basis. Lucy is also Chair of the WISE Young Women’s Board.
“…This year for National Women in Engineering Day I am hosting a female GCSE student for a week at UCL to learn about naval architecture, during which time I will help her design her own ship and have it 3D printed!…”
Lucy, please can you tell us about your career to date and what first got you interested in engineering?
Sure. I’m a naval architect for the Ministry of Defence. Many people haven’t heard of this job before so to explain – a naval architect is an engineer who is responsible for the design, construction, maintenance and operation of any structure that goes into a marine environment, particularly ships.
My focus is currently in submarine design. Since I was very young I’ve been interested in engineering and I think this is because I loved science, art, making things and helping people. Engineering really appealed to me as a job that combined all of these things. Challenges like building the longest bridge or the highest skyscraper also sparked my imagination and I thought it would be so exciting to be a part of a team creating something that had never existed before!
You’re currently on secondment from your role in the Ministry of Defence. Please can you tell us about that?
At the moment I’m based at UCL, helping to run the M.Sc. course in Naval Architecture and the Submarine Design Course. I also manage the towing tank located on site, which is a large body of water used to test ship models. This is a fantastic opportunity because it is allowing me to undertake a part time Ph.D. in the field of submarine design.
What does your ‘day job’ in the Ministry of Defence involve?
A ‘day job’ as a naval architect in the Ministry of Defence can be really varied, depending on your specific role. It could involve working directly with the Royal Navy, the ship’s operators, helping them to fix problems as they occur or it could involve designing their next submarine or warship or you could be based at one of the dockyards around the UK overseeing the building of these vessels.
You could also be involved in researching and developing new equipment. Engineering is such a broad career path that whatever your personality, skills or interests you will always be able to find a role that suits you.
What is the best part about your role?
What I love most about being an engineer is the variety, the challenge and the people. In particular, the satisfaction you get from working in a team, to solve a problem you’ve not faced before, and in doing so you help people, contribute to society and help to change the world (even if it’s just a little bit at a time!).
What is the gender balance like in the maritime community and what initiatives are in place to increase opportunities for women?
The gender balance in the maritime industry in general is, I think, very typical of other similar types of engineering – which is on average made up of 8% women. Within the Ministry of Defence, and the naval side in particular, I fear this percentage is much smaller.
I’m part of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, a civilian branch of the Royal Navy, and as part of our training we can spend time at sea with the Royal Navy learning about the operation of its vessels. I was one of the first female civilians to do my sea time on a submarine and it was at a time when the Royal Navy itself was just training the first female submariners, this was only three years ago.
However, there are lots of opportunities out there and companies are trying to improve their gender balance through initiatives like the WISE Industry Led Ten Steps, which is a campaign to improve women’s retention and progression.
You’re Chair of the WISE Young Women’s Board. How did this come about and why is it so important?
I’ve always been passionate about spreading the message that engineering is a fantastic career and encouraging young people to study STEM [science / technology / engineering / maths] subjects. Since my time at university I have been visiting schools to give talks and volunteering to run activities and, coming from an all-girls school where I was the only one of my year to study engineering at university, I was particularly interested in reaching out to girls.
While at UCL, I have been fortunate enough to work with amazing scientists such as Mark Miodownik, who works as a BBC Science Presenter. Through his presence in the media he’s influencing many more people than I could by visiting only one class in one school. During this time I heard about an opportunity to be part of the inaugural WISE Young Women’s Board, a role that I saw as being the next step for me in terms of my outreach.
Encouraging more women into STEM careers is something that I feel is really important for two reasons: The first, is that jobs in STEM offer fantastic career prospects and women can be happy and successful in them. The second, is that in the UK we are going to need approximately 1.86 million more workers with engineering skills in the UK economy by 2020* and we will not be able to achieve this if we don’t engage with 47% of the workforce.
What are you doing to support National Women in Engineering Day?
This year for National Women in Engineering Day I am hosting a female GCSE student for a week at UCL to learn about naval architecture, during which time I will help her design her own ship and have it 3D printed!
What is coming up next for you?
In early July I’m going to be part of the New Zealand International Science Festival, being held in Dunedin. As part of my trip I’ll be speaking to young women from around the region about my career and the lessons I’ve learnt.