"Pupils are self-assured, purposeful and mutually supportive - they readily accept responsibility and assume a variety of leadership roles."

ISI Inspection of the Girls' Division 2016

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Shakti Patel (2004-2011)

Shakti is studying for a Masters Degree and she returned to School to inspire current pupils into Engineering

How did you progress to your current role and what does it involve?

This is the fourth year of my Masters in Engineering and I am currently completing my industrial placement year with a leading multinational defence company, MBDA.  I actually met one of their directors when I went to receive my undergraduate scholarship from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.  I then negotiated two weeks of unpaid work experience within the business, which was followed by a paid three-month internship in the second summer of my degree.  I was then offered a year-long internship working on a multinational technology advancement project. 

My role is hugely varied.  It involves a substantial amount of coordinating with our team members who are based in different countries: France, Germany and Italy.  This involves a large amount of travelling between the nations and learning about the European cross-cultural business environment.  There is a computational side where I am responsible for creating hydrocode simulations – basically modelling dynamic events on the computer; however, I would say that ‘actual’ Engineering is probably only fifty percent of my job.  Most of my time is spent co-ordinating the programme with my team, speaking to small-to-medium enterprises, industrial research partners and academia. 

Who/what influenced your career choice?

I guess my father has been the biggest influence, having been taught to weld by him at the tender age of eleven!  I have always had a little bit of a flair for Engineering, but not in the traditional sense.  As I’m sure my teachers can recall from my A-level Art, I had a particular penchant for drawing old mechanical objects reclaimed from scrapyards – clutch plates and brake discs to name but a few! 

I left deciding my career path pretty last minute if I’m completely honest.  Initially I wasn’t actually sure whether Engineering was what I wanted to do.  So I went to one of the School careers day talks where another Old Girl, Amy Durrant, was speaking on her role as an Automotive Engineer.  After chatting to Amy and explaining my interest in the field, I ended up spending a month working with her over summer at Bentley Motors Ltd.  That experience really affirmed that Engineering was the right choice for me.  She also influenced my university choice too – inspiring me to head off to study in Loughborough.

What skills are essential for your role?

I think that interpersonal skills are becoming more and more important for Engineers.  We increasingly need to work collaboratively to address complex societal needs and technological challenges.  It’s one thing being able to understand and solve a scientific problem, but it’s fundamental to be able to communicate that to a wider audience. 

Team working is an essential skill in my role and I find that people really value an honest approach in the workplace.  Being tenacious, resilient and courageous have stood me in good stead, especially on those occasions when I’m the sole female in the room! 

What are the biggest challenges? 

I was initially unsure about pursuing a career in Engineering, because I think within society there are a lot of assumptions about the industry.  Going to university from an all-girls school into my Aeronautical Engineering degree was a little bit of a shock … I had never thought about the lack of women in Engineering before, but it was pretty evident when I began to look around me.  Working in a male-dominant environment could be considered a challenge; however, I have found that it has offered nothing but opportunities for me.  I’d say Bolton School girls are pretty confident and outgoing, so I can’t imagine any of them would be fazed by it!

Why did you offer your assistance to School?

Chris and Karen in the careers office asked me to speak not long after I received an Engineering Leadership Award from the Royal Academy of Engineering.  I was initially unsure as to how much I would be able to offer given the fact that I’m still technically doing my degree!  But, once I had spoken, I felt really good about it.  I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what an Engineer does, so I felt that it was really important to come back to School and share my experiences.  As the youngest speaker on the day, who is still at university with (somewhat vivid!) memories of UCAS deadlines still fresh in my mind, I was able to offer a different perspective to the other presenters.  It was also great for me to come back into School and see some familiar faces who have helped me out over the years.

Did you enjoy talking to current pupils?

After agreeing to speak a few months before the event, the day soon came around.  Initially, I was filled with dread at the prospect of speaking in front of sixty teenagers … That said, being surrounded with people asking questions long after my talk soon made up for it.  It was very fulfilling to see that I had actually excited them and made them interested in Engineering and (fingers crossed!) inspired a few future Engineers.  All in all, an exceedingly worthwhile experience and a great opportunity to give a little back to a School that did so much for me.  

Shakti and some of the pupils she hopes to have inspired

Shakti and some of the pupils she hopes to have inspired!