International Women in Engineering Day - interview with a Development Engineer

At the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) they’re working to develop a machine that will make energy from nuclear fusion, the process that fuels stars. If they are successful at recreating this reaction on earth, it would mean a carbon-free, boundless source of energy for mankind. To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day we caught up with Katriya, a Development Engineer who started her journey with UKAEA on a technician apprenticeship. 

Hi Katriya! What do you do as a Development Engineer at the UK Atomic Energy Authority?

My current role with the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is in nuclear fusion energy research. It is a flexible role that requires you to be technical, innovative, as well as a good communicator. The team that I am in focuses on collaboration between groups, so it is expected for me to be working on multiple projects at once!

This may be strange to hear, as you expect a job role to be a specific set of skills with one project at a time. It is certainly what I thought a job would be, before I dived into the workforce.

An example of this would be performing experiments, collecting experimental data, using hands-on skills to adjust these experimental rigs, as well as the more ‘softer’ skills of effective science communication, and project management. These are all skills that the UKAEA engineering apprenticeship gave the opportunity for me to acquire. It is never a concluded journey, as there will always be more to learn.

Why are technicians like you important to your industry? What couldn’t happen without you? 

Engineering technicians have the unique opportunity to see the bigger picture of a technical project, as we are often made to adapt to unique, specialist scenarios from different perspectives within the company. This means, without me or other skilled technicians, there would be a loss of knowledge transfer, as well as specially trained staff to maintain, develop, or control company-specific (not to mention sensitive) equipment.  

What led you to choose this job?

Fusion is a great intersection of personal curiosity and public need. When I was in school, I could not get over the intrigue of atoms, nuclear energy, as well as the absurd behaviours of particles. To know that, not only could this interest be pursued further within the realm of fusion science, but I could also help benefit societies and people. Fusion is being researched with the intention to develop cleaner energy alternatives to fossil fuels, therefore I can comfortably justify indulging in this weird realm of physics. Also, as somebody that enjoys learning new skills, the role that I sought for seemed the perfect accompaniment. Never predictable, always changing.

What skills/attributes do you most need to do your job?

The most important skill is the ability to adapt. How can you apply what you already have learned onto a different scenario? What are the similarities, differences? This skill has been useful during COVID-19, as we had to find new ways to keep researching. The next important skill is the ability to know your own limits! You will never be expected to know everything, and there is plenty of respect to be given to those that have the confidence to say when they don’t know or understand something. Ask for help, change, support. 

What is your current daily routine?

My daily routine is soon to change, especially with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions underway. Currently, I work from home. This has its benefits, as I can keep things in the kitchen without it mysteriously vanishing. I can remote-desktop into computers on-site so that I can collect data. Once that is done, I spend my coffee breaks in the garden. Soon I will change to on-site working, which means that I will be back with all my colleagues.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about a technical career?

When choosing a technical career path, encourage yourself to think big. Opportunity and experience all come from what you want, so consider the things you’d really like to see in your life, the changes you can bring.

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