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Christina McSweeney: International Women in Engineering Day 2020

Christina McSweeney INWED 2020

Christina McSweeney: International Women in Engineering Day 2020



How did you become interested in engineering?

I always enjoyed science at school and knew I would study a physics or chemistry based degree at University. When it came time to apply for further education, the country had slipped into recession which made me think about career prospects beyond university. Chemical Engineering had one of the highest career prospects at the time, however, I still wasn’t convinced I wanted to study this so I enrolled in the Foundation Engineering course at Newcastle University. This provided exposure to a few branches of engineering before committing to an Undergraduate and Masters in Chemical Engineering. Through this I was able to study chemical, mechanical, electrical, marine and civil engineering at a fundamental level which has aided me in my career.

Unfortunately, I did not have much exposure to engineering as a subject in secondary school so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when studying it as a degree. I’m glad to see that has changed now and many schools offer it as an option or as a branch of mathematics.

What excites you about engineering?

Definitely variation in the job. I graduated 6 years ago and since then I have worked in several different countries in different industries and in different roles. During my time in operations no two days would be the same and, since I have moved into design, no two projects have been the same. 

What have you seen change for women in engineering throughout your career?

My career thus far has been relatively short so I can honestly say not much. Having said that, I have also never felt that being a woman has held me back in any way. I have noticed more and more that women do well in the first few years of their careers but, when the time comes to start a family these women seem to be forgotten. This may be through personal choice and women take a step back from their careers at this point to focus on home life, however I think more effort could be made to encourage and empower these women.

What is the most fascinating part of your job or daily routine?

My most recent projects have been in cell and gene therapy which is a very new and emerging industry. It has been fascinating learning about this industry, the technology involved and the challenges to be overcome in making Therapeutics a commercial reality.

Did you have any mentors as you were going through your career? How did they influence your decisions?

In nearly every role I have undertaken I have had a mentor of sorts, whether that was assigned by the company or a more informal relationship. I have had both male and female colleagues take an interest in my career and support me through the early days. One of the more difficult decisions I have made in my career was the choice to leave operations and a company with great prospects to move into design. A mentor at the time guided me through this decision and was a very supportive colleague through this process. 

What advice would you like to share with future women engineers?

Take as many opportunities as you can to work on different projects, in different industries and in different countries. It can be daunting, but it can also be boring to stay put.  Always try to develop as an engineer and add to what you know. You may not completely enjoy a role or project, but there is always something to be learnt which will benefit you in the future.

Try never to think you were only employed by a company to improve equality statistics, or you were only selected for a project because a woman was needed on the team. You’ll never really know and negative thinking won’t help you to succeed. Even if it is the case, take the opportunity to prove you can do more than just improve diversity statistics.


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