Kerrine Bryan is an engineer working in the oil and gas industry, as well as being a STEM ambassador with a passion for educating children as to what engineering is really about. In order to help raise awareness of women in male dominated careers and to challenge gender stereotypes, Kerrine set up her own publishing company, Butterfly Books, and wrote titles including My Mummy is an Engineer, My Mummy is a Plumber and My Mummy is a Scientist. Kerrine is also a volunteer mentor for the IET and STEMNET.
“…Many existing children’s books only cover a small range of careers such as doctors, nurses, firemen or train drivers, and sadly often with gender bias. By exposing them to a wider range of options with our books, I felt that this could help with future skills gap and gender bias issues…”
Getting a taste of life as an engineer: From then on I was hooked…
At school I enjoyed maths and science, and after careers advice I was told that my perfect job would be an accountant so decided to choose A-levels in Maths (statistics), German and Economics. I didn’t know anything about engineering and didn’t consider it as an option.
Luckily, at the time, my A-level Maths teacher had contacts with the Royal Academy of Engineering and recommended that I take part in their Headstart scheme (now run by the Engineering Development Trust).
Pursuing my engineering dream
I spent a week at a university, getting a taste of life as an engineering undergraduate and learning about potential engineering careers. From then on I was hooked! I changed my path and pursued my engineering dream.
After graduating, I joined a large oil and gas contractor on their graduate scheme. My first role was as an electrical engineer within the engineering design team of a new LNG (liquid natural gas) import terminal. I was responsible for technical management of electrical packages and then went on to a site assignment, in construction, and eventually moved into commissioning.
This two-year assignment entailed managing sub-contractors, interfacing with the construction team and liaising with the client. I soon became one of the youngest lead electrical engineers. I was responsible for all aspects of electrical design as well as project planning and manpower forecasting.
I have worked on various projects including LNG plants, offshore fixed platforms and FPSOs [floating production storage and offloading vessels]. My work often involves travelling in order to witness equipment tests or to attend meetings with clients or suppliers worldwide. Most recently I have worked in a non-technical role as a contract development manager.
My work on a day to day basis
As a lead engineer a typical day will consist of two or three meetings ranging from manpower planning and work scheduling to technical meetings with clients or suppliers. Some time is spent responding to emails, letters or minutes of meetings and a few hours checking design documents produced by my team (including specification, calculations, datasheets or technical reports).
The day never goes as planned. In design engineering something always comes up that wasn’t expected, which requires coordination with the other engineering disciplines to come up with an engineering solution: mechanical; instrumentation; telecommunications; process; piping; safety and structural. Once projects reach the construction stage things change slightly, with the added bonus of being able to physically check any challenges or design queries during factory visits or on the construction site.
As a contract development manager I have gained an overview of projects as a whole, as well as gaining a better understanding of the oil and gas industry and market trends. The role involves market research, strategy and coordinating proposals for potential projects.
The idea for Butterfly Books
Over the years I have been able to see first hand the difficulty in finding qualified engineers. I fell into engineering by chance and had no idea what it was until I was 17. As a STEM ambassador, speaking to students and talking about my career as an engineer, I found that there was a negative perception, particularly by women, of what engineering involved, which often changed once I spoke to them.
I felt that if we could change the perception of certain careers from a young age then this could have an impact on study / career choices later in life. Gender bias also starts at a young age. Many existing children’s books only cover a small range of careers such as doctors, nurses, firemen or train drivers, and sadly often with gender bias. By exposing them to a wider range of options with our books, I felt that this could help with future skills gap and gender bias issues.
Gathering all the resources together to make the project happen
In terms of the team, I was lucky enough to already know an editor and illustrator who were keen to be part of the project. As my brother has a creative background and studied English at university it was great that he was interested in getting involved too. Apart from our editor, Corey Brotherson, we were all new to the publishing world. There were many challenges along the way, including:
- Correct / standard children’s book layouts
- Legal / copyright requirements
- Choosing the right printer (which is the biggest investment)
- Marketing and sales as a self-publisher
Fitting my engineering role with my role as an author and publisher
My engineering and publishing roles are very different! I have always been more technically minded.
For My Mummy is an Engineer, with my experience I knew exactly which stereotypes needed to be addressed and broken down. This was very important, which is why, for our other books I approached industry organisations and specialists to ensure the technical content, messages and biases were addressed.
Setting up as a publisher has been a steep learning curve, through events, conferences, courses and networking!
Reaction from parents, carers, schools and children
The reaction has been positive so far. We have done multiple author visits to schools and attended various book fairs / events. The books tie in well with the ‘understanding the world’ area for Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) pupils, and Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) for Key Stage 1 pupils.
The books have also been doing well in terms of book awards, considering we only published our first book last year. My Mummy is an Engineer won the 2016 Bronze Wishing Shelf Book award and was a finalist in the 2016 International Book Awards. My Mummy is a Plumber was shortlisted for the 2016 Rubery Book Award.
How organisations like the IET are helping to lead the way when it comes to challenging gender stereotypes
I am a Chartered Engineer with the IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) and there is so much going on in terms of promoting engineering and challenging gender stereotypes; from events run by the IET Women’s Network and the Education 5-19 Team to the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards.
I recently volunteered at an IET Engineering Open House Day where individuals, aged 8+, were invited to move around the different zones and have a go at the hands-on engineering activities. I was delighted to see quite a few young girls attending the event.
— IET (@TheIET) July 29, 2016
I am a STEM ambassador for STEMNET, giving talks to students, providing careers advice and helping with school engineering activities. 40% of STEMNET’s ambassadors are women, which is a great way for students to see that it’s not just men in STEM roles.
There are organisations such as the Women’s Engineering Society, who runs National Women in Engineering Day – a day dedicated to raising the profile and celebrating the achievements of women in engineering. Activities take place all over the UK, from schools to industry.
Although these organisations are leading the way in challenging gender stereotypes through their initiatives, it’s important for industry, educational establishments, and parents to support the initiatives, in order for there to be a significant change.
Coming up next for me and Butterfly Books
I have just relocated to New York, USA to take some time out before starting my maternity leave. I hope to spend the time writing some new career themed children’s books, including some ‘Daddy’ titles, as well as promote the books in the USA.
Books are available via Millgate House Publishing and also via Amazon.