Hello and welcome to my blog.
Someone once described me as “the ultimate interdisciplinary creature” and I think I’m going to go along with that for a while. In fact, interdisciplinarity is one of the things I hope to talk about in this blog.
But first, a little about me.
I think of my working life in thirds: first engineering, then management (in science and engineering), and the future I hope will be in academia.
So to begin, I started on an engineering apprenticeship when I left school, working in manufacturing SMEs in the UK Midlands and being educated at my local technical college then finishing up at Loughborough University. I specialised in polymer technology and engineering and worked in companies that made all sorts of widgets and components: packaging, electrical accessories, pipework for water, telecomms, gas and drainage. I set up labs, QA functions and materials re-engineering processes and had a great time being the technical rep on vendor assessment and appraisal projects and working on product failure investigations (a few of which were dissertations for various courses).
I then moved to the National Physical Laboratory as a research scientist on a collaborative European Framework 4(!) project developing an automatically optimised injection moulding system (OPTIM). Here, I designed and installed an instrumented nozzle, developed three online product measurement stations and got them talking to one another and the AI software with Labview. Before the final testing, I became pregnant and by the time I returned someone else was on ‘my’ project, although I did manage to get Chartered through the Institute of Materials Metals and Mining so I didn’t feel too sad!
After a very unconvincing dabble with ultrasonic cure monitoring I asked my Head of Centre if he needed any help with anything, and found myself leading the formulation of a £5M research programme on the performance and processing of materials. When I say ‘leading’, it will be clear to anyone involved in scientific research that I looked after the process and the smart scientists did all the heavy lifting. It was a multi-stakeholder exercise though, with expectant scientists both at NPL and in the wider community, industrial companies and trade bodies, and the policy lead who was at that time the Department for Trade and Industry, going through a phase of deep New Public Management. 15 years later I would identify that I developed a great deal of what Collins & Evans would call interactional expertise…at the time I knew I had to learn to ask the right questions.
This started the second phase, in management and leadership. I led more programme formulations and eventually managed the full bidding programme and P&L delivery for the materials portfolio, around £27M and 130 projects. I learned alot and had a thoroughly nice time with some very intelligent colleagues. Around this time I was approached by an agency and after a little tussling and a lot of soul-searching I went to work for UK Coal as a Strategic Analyst. I basically stuck by the side of the Managing Director of Deep Mining as decision support. Alot of that work was quantitative analysis and his impressive mental arithmetic would usually beat my calculations….I guess I came into my own in meetings where I could be running anticipatory numbers as he was talking, and in building models where multiple decisions could be connected and flexed. I was also quite pleased to hard-link the budgeting process with a quantified risk assessment, two things that continually challenged the company. I learned alot about the psychology of targets and risk in that process! After UK Coal, I worked freelance. I started my first teaching, did come contract work for NPL and gave commercial support to a local engineering consultancy that was looking for high growth and 5-year acquisition. We achieved that.
I was missing being in an intellectual environment, and had got interested in the interface between engineering and society (pit villages can have that effect on you). And so came career phase 3: academia. I was lucky enough to get an ESRC/Scottish Government collaborative studentship at Nottingham, and I began by getting to grips with social science. This was more painful than pulling teeth, I was basically untaught everything I had been taught about how the world worked. A pragmatist navigating constructivism is a worried soul indeed! But I passed, and in 2014 submitted a PhD looking at what the idea of ‘Scientific Citizenship’ might mean in the context of Scotland’s transition to a low-carbon society. From 2013-2015 I was a Provost Fellow at UCL-STEAPP, exploring an evolving passion for teaching and a research interest in rare earth minerals and governance in the Arctic. This builds on my PhD interests by looking at the role of citizens and corporations in engineering policy, the limits of policy as a governance tool and how national-level technological transitions emerge in practice. You can/will find out more about those interests in other pages of this site.
I am now employed at the University of Sheffield in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, focussing on teaching and learning in Engineering Management. Early days, so more on this later!
That pretty much brings us up to date, and if you’ve read this far….thankyou!
Oh, I did get some qualifications en route. I have a B.Eng from Loughborough, an MBA from Cranfield, and an MA and PhD from Nottingham.