Alumni profile - Adaeze Siwoniku
There needs to be obvious visibility of women in STEM roles in all different hierarchical positions so that women aspiring to pursue STEM based careers have role models that they can see themselves reflected in. There also needs to be more of an effort to engage young women at secondary school level (and earlier) and once women do break into STEM based careers, there needs to be more of an effort to reduce barriers in the early stages of their careers.
Why did you study Materials Science and Engineering at Queen Mary? Did you have a particular career path in mind?
I chose Materials Science and Engineering as I originally wanted to work in the Aerospace Industry before coming to Queen Mary, however, I switched to energy in the third year of my degree as I became aware of how huge the industry is for energy materials and processing and of the wide range of jobs available in this sector. Energy Materials encompasses carbon capture, fuel cells and batteries, all of which interest me.
What modules did you like learning about and were there any academics in SEMS that had a strong influence on shaping your time and studies here?
I really enjoyed the renewables modules with Professor Titirici in my third year and the project work run by Professor Busfield. The renewables module concentrated on renewable technologies, current research, potential applications and capabilities, as well as setbacks and opportunities for improvements. However, for me, the most interesting module was fuel cell technology. This module taught us about emerging and existing technologies in the renewable energies field and it prompted me to start thinking about how I could contribute to this field.
Professor Magda Titirici inspired me to pursue a career in the energy industry and work towards a more sustainable and renewable future in energy. Professor Magda’s research was ground-breaking to me as I believe the work that she is doing can unlock a lot of the current problems with renewables, helping us to transition away from fossil fuels in western countries and allowing renewables to get a greater strong hold in the industry. As a teacher she set high standards and stretch targets for her students, as well as demonstrating various parts of her research first-hand, which I really enjoyed!
How did you find the facilities in SEMS and how did this impact your studies?
The facilities were excellent in that they helped us gain experience needed for our future careers. As material scientists we need to know how to analyse the physical and chemical structure of materials. We were trained to use state of the art SEM (Scanning electron Microscope) and TEM (Transmission electron microscope) analytic machines which are used to examine the topographic, internal structure and elemental make up of materials. An example of when these machines are used is if an engine breaks down, these machines help determine why the engine failed, whether it was due to corrosion for example, or whether there was a weakness in a specific part of the materials used to build the engine. A lot of training is required to be proficient with these tools which is why it is a great skill to pick up very early on in your career as a Material Scientist. I am so grateful that Queen Mary and SEMS gave me the opportunity to develop these skills whilst I was still studying.
The facilities in SEMS also allowed us to learn how to use different software for mechanical analysis and we had full access to the mechanical workshop to build designs. I really enjoyed this hands-on way of learning and the teaching staff on the course were incredibly supportive and encouraging.
Were you a member of any societies or volunteering groups during your time at Queen Mary?
I volunteered for future frontiers which is a community outreach group that focuses on inner city school students’ career development. Volunteering made me a better teacher, a more patient, more understanding and empathetic person, especially to other people’s situations that are different from my own. I learned how adopting new perspectives can change your reality and how it is important to always have someone to support you as this can drastically change the direction of your life.
My current role allows me to pursue my interest in the energy industry and the future of energy. I work at the early inception of large-scale energy and production projects, in the make or break stages, assessing the viability and economies. I have the opportunity to work on a global scale with people from all over the world, which is definitely a perk of working at an international company! Each project is a new challenge and the environment is fast paced and exciting.
Can you describe your career path up to date and touch on your current role as Regional Projects Costs and Schedule Engineer at ExxonMobil?
I did two internships at Rolls Royce in the materials department where I did typical Material Engineering roles such as SEM and TEM analysis, fracture studies, and surface treatments. I really enjoyed my time at Rolls Royce as I got to work in the exact role that I initially went to university for. The team I worked with was also very inclusive of me as I was the only black woman there and they ensured that I never felt out of place. I got to see engine components being made, the same engines you see when you go on airplanes, and I developed testing regimes for component parts, used high tech equipment and regularly presented my work to my team. It was a lot fun!
My current role allows me to pursue my interest in the energy industry and the future of energy. I work at the early inception of large-scale energy and production projects, in the make or break stages, assessing the viability and economies. I have the opportunity to work on a global scale with people from all over the world, which is definitely a perk of working at an international company! Each project is a new challenge and the environment is fast paced and exciting. For instance, I can be doing a project on upgrading the quality and capacity of a butyl rubber production plant or working on a CO2 compression and transportation facility for carbon capture. These two projects will be different in expertise, one is quite focused on mechanics, the other is process design orientated. The opportunities are really varied which means that I never get bored with my work. I really love the work that I do.
What does a typical working day look like for you? What are some of the challenges and rewards of your role?
In my role I assess the design and economics in projects. It is a role that requires a lot of engineering expertise but more importantly, project management skills. The great thing about the materials degree is the many projects you have to complete as part of your degree as this teaches you the basis of project management. As a leader, you have to be able to direct your team, manage workload and resources, meet deadlines and keep people motivated and on task. This can be quite a challenge for students! As a contributor to the team, you have to meet expectations and deadlines, contribute effectively to the team, be constructive and learn to influence without authority. I have been able to build on this experience and these skills in my current role.
The biggest reward of my role is watching a project succeed and go into construction; in other words, to watch an idea or design evolve from paper and planning into something physical and real. The challenging part, however, is managing the expectations of lots of different people in a diverse project team. I have found that in order to effectively manage expectations, you have to first understand what is required and how you can add value. Then you have to be honest about what your time commitments are, what resources you need and what the deliverables will look like. Then you have to make good on your commitments!
How did your degree prepare you for your current job role? Which aspects of your degree are relevant to your current job?
With my degree I can perform the role of a Material Scientist and an Engineer; it has given me the technical skills I need for design and analysis in my current role. What was even more valuable in this degree was the project-based assignments where you get to work on a number of projects with students from your course and across other engineering courses. This closely resembles what working as a project engineer or project manager in real life is like. Materials Science and Engineering alumni will find that their standout value is not just applying their academic and technical skills, but managing people, time, resourcing and decision making – all of which I developed through project-based assignments and teamwork at Queen Mary.
What would you say to a prospective student considering studying Materials Science and Engineering at Queen Mary?
If you enjoy chemistry, design, and engineering then you will definitely enjoy this course and the end degree will open up a range of job opportunities as there will always be a materials department in any engineering or science-based company that you apply for. Materials spans automotive, aerospace, energy and biomedical applications to name a few. You can work in research of new exciting materials, analysis and investigation, product design...the list goes on. This degree will also help you build your collaboration and public speaking skills, both of which are valuable assets at assessment centres and in any future job role.
At Queen Mary in particular, there are innovative and inspiring professors who work on the future of polymer and rubber technology, biomedical devices and medical materials and renewables such as solar power. It is fair to say that you will never be short of inspiration or people to learn and get advice from.
In your opinion and based on your work experience to date, what do you think needs to be done to increase the number of women in STEM based subjects and career roles?
There needs to be obvious visibility of women in STEM roles in all different hierarchical positions so that women aspiring to pursue STEM based careers have role models that they can see themselves reflected in. There also needs to be early engagement before women get disillusioned with the industry. For example, there needs to be more of an effort to engage young women at secondary school level (and even earlier) and once women do break into STEM based careers, there needs to be more of an effort to reduce barriers in the early stages of their careers. Barriers include a lack of role models for women, especially BAME women in this field, lack of advertisement of the successes achievable in STEM compared to other fields. An increase in funding in the education of young BAME women, who are usually in communities with decreased academic achievement in their schools, and an increase in inclusion and diversity initiatives within industries these young women will be applying to, is also needed.
To achieve increased diversity and inclusion in the workplace in general, industries have to become more vocal about the problem, more honest about their current state of inequalities and proactively try and change the culture and mindset within their companies if it is in fact negative. This means having visible and proud allies of inclusion and diversity within the company, campaigning for inclusion and diversity internally and externally, being involved in external outreach to schools and universities, training hiring managers to recognise their unconscious bias and continually celebrating diversity in the workforce as a strength. It must be more than performative. It must be a concerted effort.
What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Do you have any particular stand out moments?
I was continually encouraged to pursue my passions by my professors who were excellent mentors; they believed in my potential and pushed me to work very hard and achieve great grades. This helped me to become more confident as a person. One memorable moment that stands out was winning a boat race at the canal during my first year - we designed and built a boat and engine with a soup tin and measuring tape! Another stand out memory is being the first Queen Mary student to win the Royal Charters award from the IOM3 which is given to the best Materials student in the country. I was competing against students from other great universities with strong Material Engineering courses such as Cambridge, Swansea and Imperial. I was given a plaque, prize money and I am also featured on the IOM3 website as a winner.
Finally, what are your future career plans? Are you looking to expand your skill set in anything?
I want to continue my path in the energy sector, developing technically and working towards a greener future. Achieving a greener future is a complex problem which requires a variety of solutions. How do we achieve an energy transition with minimal damage to our own economy, or how do developing countries achieve this transition with their growing economies? We should be entering a transition stage from fossil fuels, this is a must, but we must be conscious that the conversation around fossil fuels is Eurocentric and it does not take into account the fact that we cannot simply remove fossil fuels from the energy mix without jeopardising the stability of many economies in the developing world.
There must be a stop gap where we remove CO2 from the environment whether through absorption or direct air capture and allow developing countries to fully make use of their natural resources to reach the same economic success as first world countries. In parallel to this, companies need to intensify their investment into decarbonisation of various industries such as aeronautics and buildings. Finally, the use of renewable energies as an alternative should be championed by countries and should be deployed more widely into the existing energy mix in European countries to reduce reliance on oil and coal for energy. These are some ideas from my point of view, but the real solution requires industry backing, policy and novel research. In my specific role I hope to bring a new vision to my company and support the increased construction of environmentally friendly projects in the industry.
This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Adaeze or engage her in your work, please contact Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org.