Women in Engineering | Alison Stresses STEM Appeal
Alison Charles has worked for engineering design consultancy Morson Projects for many years. The daughter of a French teacher and an art teacher, stress engineer Alison Charles is breaking the family mould with her career at Morson. She’s also proving that you don’t have to work in a traditionally ‘creative’ sector to have a job that involves creative thinking.
“I never enjoyed subjects that involved essay writing at school. I always preferred things like maths where the answers were black or white. As a result I studied maths and physics at ‘A’ Level and went to the University of Leeds to do a Mechanical Engineering degree. My friends and family were quite surprised about my choice of degree because I think there’s still a perception that engineering involves getting your hands dirty onsite. In fact, I work in a comfortable office and one of the things I love about my job is that it combines my maths skills with design requirements and a creative approach to finding engineering solutions.”
After starting her career with Morson on the aviation engineering team, Alison moved onto an Energy from Waste (EfW) project in Derby as a stress engineer. She is currently working on the decommissioning of Dounreay Nuclear Power Station, calculating the effects of different forces and loads on pipe work to assess how the pipes will respond in a real world installation, specifically considering dynamic effects due to a seismic event.
“I’ve been with Morson for six years now and in that time I have worked on three different aircraft and two different pipe stress projects. With lots of nuclear projects on the horizon, there’s plenty of scope for career development as a pipe stress engineer and I’m really enjoying the problem solving, analysis and creative thinking required for the job.”
Indeed, Alison enjoys her job in engineering so much that she is keen to encourage other young people to pursue similar career paths, particularly girls.
“When I was at university, male students massively outnumbered female students on my course. There were just four female students out of a total of 100! There was a feeling that we had to prove ourselves and, though old-fashioned attitudes to women in engineering are changing gradually, there’s still a lot to be done to alter perceptions and break down stereotypes so that girls feel confident about aiming for a career in engineering and no-one’s surprised about the jobs female engineers do.”
Alison is taking an active role in bringing about that culture change. She has been appointed as a STEM ambassador as part of a programme designed to encourage young people to enjoy STEM subjects, supporting teachers in the classroom by explaining current applications in industry or research.
“Around 40 per cent of STEM ambassadors are women because so many women in STEM-based sectors are evangelical about the variety of careers available and the opportunities for young women. I recently attended an International Day of the Girl event at the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester in my capacity as a STEM Ambassador, explaining simple aviation engineering concepts to visitors. Young girls are really engaged and excited about opportunities in engineering and, hopefully, within the next few decades we’ll see much more gender parity in the sector.”