Engineer of today – shaping a successful career
At first, Sophie hadn't considered engineering as an option. Once she began her research, she discovered how diverse and varied engineering can be. After a challenging five years at university, Sophie was awarded The Salters' Award. Now Sophie is working for Procter and Gamble (P&G) as a Process Engineer. Outside of her role, she continues to network and expand her connections. Sophie is an engineer of today – shaping and building a successful career and her future.
What attracted you to studying engineering?
At the beginning of sixth form, I hadn’t considered engineering and had a few different degree options shortlisted. Once I began to research what was out there, I discovered engineering. Engineering appealed to me mainly because I wanted to study a degree with practical applications which had good career prospects. I remember reading through the whynotchemeng page on IChemE and realised how diverse and varied engineering really is – even now I’m still shocked at the scope of job opportunities, it can take you anywhere!
Why did you choose to study at the University of Nottingham?
Nottingham wasn’t initially my first choice – I tried to look a little further from home, as you do at 16-17 years old with your first glimpse of freedom. I then came to a offer-holder day and was really impressed by the enthusiasm shown by the staff in the department here. I remember it having a really different feel to the other engineering departments I’d visited. The staff were really keen on driving a community feel. I knew I wouldget the right level of support from lecturers that were willing to help and share their passion for various specialist fields of chemical engineering. I knew I made the right choice soon after starting.
The highlight of my time was getting to know other people at the university that have now become lifelong friends. University is so much more than just getting a degree and while stressful at times, I’d do it all over again. I think the chemical engineering course manages to bring such a strong sense of community. Everyone has to work so closely on various group work and it makes such a difference.
My year in industry
As part of my course I completed a year-long industrial placement at Cargill. Cargill operates in a number of food, agricultural, financial and industrial markets and I worked within their oilseeds business unit at a soybean crush and refinery plant in Liverpool. I actively sought a plant-based role as I was keen to gain experience in a manufacturing setting rather than consultancy, design or R&D.
Completing a year in industry was a completely different lifestyle to university. I’m really glad I took that year out to learn more about the practical applications of engineering and to identify the scope of roles I could get involved in.
I was able to utilise the teamwork and problem-solving skills I had gained throughout the degree and learn new skills such as project management and adaptive communication with a range of team members.
I think work experience is really instrumental in helping to secure a graduate job. It exposes you to so much that you might have only touched upon at university. It bridges the gap between the theoretical aspects of the course and where that translates into an industrial setting. In addition, after three years at university, it’s a good time to take a break from studying.
During my time studying, I played on the ChemEnv Netball Team within the IMS league which I really enjoyed – it was the best way to get to know course friends in both my year and those above.
On a course like chemical engineering, it is so rewarding to have a close-knit group for support and to be able enjoy playing a few social games of netball together every Wednesday against other course teams.
I also completed roles on the ChemEnv Society which I was proud of balancing alongside studies, including the organisation of Nottingham’s trip to the annual Frank Morton chemical engineering sports day. Frank Morton is a UK wide sports day and night out for all chemical engineering departments across the UK – another perk of the course!
My current role is a Making and Utilities Process Engineer at P&G’s Reading Plant, where we produce Gillette and Old Spice products.
A typical working day starts with getting to site and carrying out a morning meeting to monitor the department key performance indicators like safety incidents, downtime, process deviations or maintenance completion. This is where any departmental losses are communicated and followed up with various team members; a priority action list is discussed and we would typically spend the morning following up on our actions.
Alongside the more reactive short term loss elimination, I work on longer term process simplifications/improvements and project work to drive cost and material savings towards a goal of improving sustainability/profit. It is a great balance and I really get involved in a range of different work, collaborating with different support functions to achieve results.
The favourite part of my job
I think one of my favourite parts is having the freedom to work collaboratively with colleagues with multiple skillsets to drive improvements, be that to a physical or digital process, with the aim of reducing consumption or introducing a time saving.
It is a rewarding feeling to know you have driven a simplification or solved a loss. One thing I love about fast moving consumer goods is the reward of seeing the end finished product on site. I love my current role in the Making department knowing that’s where it all started.
The next five years...
Over the next five years, I hope to continue expanding my knowledge of the different pillars required to uphold a successful manufacturing plant. I have already learnt so much in my time at P&G and look forward to continuing my career in manufacturing, hopefully taking steps to achieve my ambition of becoming a technical-based operations leader.
I am always inspired by women who have excelled in an industrial setting despite the challenges/gender stereotypes faced previously. it is admirable and we have them to thank for challenging this and setting the example for a more diverse future. Engineering is becoming more diverse due to the STEM efforts and changing attitudes, but there is still a way to go. I am inspired by those that dedicate their time to promoting a fairer industry for all and this is something I will continue to participate in.
If you enjoy exploring the way things work and have a passion for solving problems, you should consider studying and working in engineering. The wide range of opportunities at the end of an engineering degree means it is a great path for anyone looking to study a subject with both practical and theoretical applications. Equally, you could decide to take advantage of the graduate employment prospects and enter a different field. The skills developed on an engineering course are highly sought-after.
Sophie was nominated for the Salters' Award by Professor Chris Dodds, Head of Department for Chemical and Environmental Engineering.
Sophie is an exceptionally talented individual, both academically and through the positive impact she has on those around her. She is a natural leader with a real passion to succeed and forge her own path. As a Vice President of the Chemical and Environmental Society, she had been instrumental in leading a number of major initiatives from the co-ordination of technical and sporting trips for over 100 students, to inspiring the next generation of engineers as a University STEM ambassador to local primary & secondary schools.
Having experienced the value of having a good mentor herself, she has successfully led the development of a peer mentor scheme for over 130 students, receiving impressive feedback from all those involved.
Sophie's reaction to receiving the Salters' Award
The Salters’ Award was a huge honour and something I really never thought my department would nominate me for. Given a challenging five years, it felt such a nice way to end my time at university and I am incredibly grateful to the chemical engineering department at Nottingham for nominating me for this. I am proud to have been shortlisted for the award and selected as an award winner. It was great to take part in the virtual awards ceremony held and to see all the well deserving award winners. I’ve already gone to one alumni event and look forward to expanding my network and engaging with the Salters’ institute in the future.