Lauren Summers Interview
29 Mar 2012
A growing number of women are challenging the stereotype of what it means to be an engineer. Brian Wall looks at the ways they are inspiring others to do the same.
School: King Alfred's School, Wantage – a specialist sports college
Employer: Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL)
Further education: Advanced Apprenticeship in Electronic Engineering leading to degree
Passions: Ice hockey (has already represented her country) and astronomy
Ambition: "My ultimate aim is to work in the space industry."
Lauren Summers is not only forging ahead in her quest to work in the space industry one day – she is also at the top of her game when it comes to sport.
Ice hockey is clearly in her blood – she made it into the final squad for the Great Britain senior women's ice hockey team at the world championships in Caen, France, last year – but so is engineering. Now employed at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) near Culham, Oxfordshire, she is in the third year of a 4-year Advanced Apprenticeship in Electronic Engineering.
Run by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), with support from Diamond Light Source – the UK's national synchrotron – the scheme at RAL has been running for 19 years and is regarded as one of the best of its kind.
"I'm really interested in astronomy and knew a career in this area would be perfect for me – the apprenticeship scheme offered a way in to this field of work, with RAL having a space department that is linked with NASA," she says. "With an apprenticeship, you gain all the skills, experience and knowledge needed for a career and, at RAL, there are opportunities to further your knowledge after completing the apprenticeship by studying for a degree. I'm starting a foundation degree in Electronic Engineering this year."
At school, however, engineering was not on the agenda as a possible career. "They told us we should be going to university when we left and I ended up doing a degree in English, but had mixed feelings, so I left after three months, not knowing what to do next." She heard of a vacancy at RAL, high up in the space department, and applied! That opened doors that led to the Advanced Apprenticeship.
"At RAL, as an apprentice you are given real work that isn't just a practice job. The PCBs I've designed in my current department were manufactured and assembled here, and are currently being used on the beam line experiments. Knowing that the work you do is employed in various areas on site is extremely rewarding and helps you to gain the confidence to further your learning."
Her commitment earned Summers a prestigious 'Apprentice Achievement' award at RAL's apprentice scheme annual awards recently for successfully managing to balance her engineering training with the demands of ice hockey.
"My ultimate aim is to work in the space industry and I'm hoping to get a permanent position here when I complete my training next year," she adds.
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