Why did you decide to pursue a career in engineering?

I enjoyed maths and physics at school. While studying for 'A' Levels, I took a 'Women in Science and Engineering' (WISE) course at Sheffield Hallam University. I clearly remember taking apart a vacuum cleaner and putting it back together, which grabbed my interest. My careers teacher and my mother both advised me against a degree in engineering, which probably made me want to do it even more!

What did you study? Is it relevant to what you do now?

Sarah Long - WW

I gained a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Southampton University. Some elements of the course were the same as aeronautical engineering but my interest in aircraft developed later.

The basics I learnt at university were an important grounding for my day-to-day work as a principal engineer; whether it is discussions with clients about load paths, manufacturing constraints or control programming. I have increased specialist knowledge when it was needed along the way.

What is your role and what would a typical week be?

Atkins allows me the flexibility to work three days a week so that I can spend more time with my beautiful four year-old daughter. I've made part-time working effective for me and the business.

My work is varied and that's why I love it. One day you'll see me supporting trans-national teams to deliver aero-structures and systems projects on time and budget and the next day, I'll be managing a client's design and stress programme.

I also enjoy promoting diversity and inclusive working practices through my place on the company's Gender Balance Focus Group.

What is the most interesting project that you've worked on to date?

It has to be the Airbus A400M. I worked on the wing from an early stage, so standing inside it in the final stages and then watching the first flight earlier this year were fantastic [experiences]. An A400M flew overhead during a recent holiday which put a huge smile on my face.

What do you find most challenging on a day-to-day basis?

Balancing individuals' development needs with our workload. While people generally like to work on new and exciting projects (and we have many of them), a need still exists to see a project through to completion which involves unpopular paperwork and certification processes.

What is your favorite part of the job?

As well as my role itself, I help a group of Atkins' engineers with a programme called 'Engineering Awareness' (EA) run by Atkins to encourage young people to go into engineering. EA organises regular events to bring out the fun side of engineering through practical design and build exercises and provides a range of services to schools and students. These include work experience programmes, careers events, mock interviews and talks to help inform career choices. It's something that I'm passionate about and really enjoy being involved with.

What do you think the aerospace engineering industry should focus on?

We need to offer young people a wide range of career routes if we are going to encourage them into the industry. Our aerospace business has recently launched a Higher Apprenticeship Scheme which I developed from our need for more junior designers with practical experience. Many bright youngsters are unable to afford to go to university so we should be tapping that talent pool.

Where will you be in five years' time?

That's an interesting one. I don't feel that I've yet hit the glass ceiling which we hear so much about. Maybe in aerospace I can fly above it?

Source: Flight International