What it’s like to be one of the 9 per cent of girls studying Engineering at Glasgow Uni

It’s not just for boys

If you close your eyes and imagine just for a moment what a mechanical engineer is, I bet you picture Bob the Builder, or some middle age man with a hard hat.

I won’t lie, even now my first thought still jumps to a man. Even throughout secondary school I still thought that engineering was a “for boys only” degree: somewhere, me and my false nails did not fit in.

When I first tell people that I study Mechanical Engineering at Glasgow, a puzzled look flashes across their faces. Even if they try to hide it fast, they are always too late. I’ve seen it. Somehow, that Bob the Builder picture doesn’t quite match up to the petite brunette in front of them who clearly loves fake tan and clothes. Just because we don’t match up to everyone’s idea of an engineer doesn’t mean that females are any less capable.

Over and over again I find that I get asked far more than my other male classmates why I chose engineering. It’s as if I must give a valid justification for choosing a degree that I don’t automatically fit into. Is it really that hard to believe that being girly and being an engineering student can’t go hand in hand?

Here at Glasgow, out of 110 people registered for Mechanical Design, seven on the list were females. That means that females make up less than 10% of all first year Mechanical Engineering students at our Uni. When you walk into a lecture, it’s like a picture from Where’s Wally, however, instead of Wally it’s “find the female”.

An advertisement from the FemEng Society

What really gets me is the stereotype. Female engineers are expected to have no social life, be extremely geeky, never be girly and basically just be one of the boys. Isn’t it about time that society stops assuming that just because of the way someone dresses or acts that they can’t be capable of doing a science-based degree that is typically associated with males. Maybe we don’t want to be one of the boys, yet girls should be taken just as seriously as any of them.

The main thing that I get told almost daily by classmates, friends and, once, a lecturer is: “Oh well, at least you will get a job because you’re female.” This comment alone highlights just how much society doesn’t believe girls measure up to their male counterparts. Yes, female engineers will get a good job, but that’s because we have worked just as hard as anyone else, achieved our degree with the best possible result we could and were the best applicant for the job. Not because we are just female. Us girls worked equally as hard as any boy to get to the position we are in. We all sat the same exams and all passed.

Now, despite all things engineering obviously being one of my favourite things in life (not – does anyone actually live and breathe their degree?) I’m shoe, makeup and clothes obsessed; something that doesn’t quite aline with the generic engineering type. I admit that sometimes having claw-like nails doesn’t help when trying to wire a circuit but, hey, we’ve all got to make sacrifices sometimes in life. At the end of the day, regardless of how we look, dress or act we have earned our place and it’s something to be proud of. Engineering needs more females to end the stereotype once and for all.

I spoke to some of my female peers to see what they think about the matter.

Catriona Holland, third year, Mechanical Engineering

“People are always surprised, especially older generations and usually the following question is ‘are there many girls on your course?'”

Ellen Simmons, Biomedical Engineering and founder of the FemEng Society

“Higher Physics, for example, is predominantly male and that will stop a lot of girls from studying the subject.”

Emma Nordell, second year, Civil Engineering with Architecture 

“I really enjoy studying Civil Engineering and being a girl hasn’t stopped me from working hard and working with the guys on the course. Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t compete with the guys and I wouldn’t be on this course if I couldn’t.”

Rachel Reid, first year, Product Design Engineering 

“My godfather originally was shocked to hear about me doing engineering as he felt I would be more suited to home economics, as in his day that’s what women did while men did the engineering.”

Jaime Robb, third year, Biomedical Engineering

“With great societies here like Women in STEM and FemEng there are great opportunities to support other women in engineering and find role models. The population of women studying engineering at UofG highlights that your abilities aren’t defined by what kind of a woman you are.”