She's an Engineer- Nicola Grahamslaw

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Route into engineering

Typical full-time university degree.

I started out with fluid dynamics, working for a consultancy analysing the aerodynamics of aircraft wing shapes and the cooling on nuclear power stations. I also worked on co-ordinating more complex projects, managing a team running simulations and helping clients to interpret the results. This combined with a short career break working as a teacher meant when the job at the ship came up, I had the variety of experience needed to lead what is quite a multi-disciplinary project!

Job description

I am a Ship's Conservation Engineer at SS Great Britain. Brunel's SS Great Britain was the world's first iron ship, and is now a museum in Bristol. The iron hull is conserved by keeping the air wrapped around it as dry as the Arizona desert, and my job is to look after the systems that do that. I work with data from sensors around the ship and computer code to make sure the conditions are just right both around the ship and in our museums, and I research new ways both to reduce our carbon footprint now and to look after the ship in the future.

I would usually spend some time looking at live data from the system to see how everything's performing, sometimes I collect data and produce graphs to show to our trustees and other museums we borrow objects from to show that we're looking after things properly. Depending on what projects we've got going on I might spend some time with the technical services team going over any maintenance work I need them to do, the fundraising team to help them understand my "wishlist" of things to raise money for, or the communications team helping to explain to the outside world what we're up to! Sometimes I will chat to visitors or give a talk to a tour group if we have a particularly technical group visiting, or help a member of the education team with an engineering question. I spend some of my time researching possible future techniques we can use to look after the ship or reduce our energy usage, there are a couple of universities we work with on this, or I will read an article or go to a conference to share new information.

I would tell her to relax and worry less about the future! It's scary making career decisions at such a young age but I've found that it's less difficult than I expected to change your career direction.

I'm the cluster co-ordinator for Bristol, Bath and the South West. I put together a newsletter with events I find online that our members might be interested in going along to and meeting up after for a drink. I also help to organise an annual event for International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) and help others in the region to find speakers, venues etc for their own events.

I'm a member of the IMechE as well as WES which has helped me to keep up with the rest of the profession, since I'm the only engineer at my own organisation that network is really important to me. So many of the opportunities I've had to attend cool events have come from getting to know people in the institutions and other similar organisations.

Part of my role is to help the SS Great Britain Trust reach "net zero" by 2030. We're doing this by reviewing every part of our carbon footprint, taking whatever steps we can to minimise it (engineering tech will form part of this strategy of course!) and then offsetting the rest. I'm working with Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Bristol University and the Arts Council on projects to help do this as efficiently as possible and then share what we learn with other museums to help the rest of the sector to decarbonise too.

I love being outdoors up a hill in a forest or by the sea, experiencing the natural world and am very lucky to have visited six of the seven continents. I like to stay fit and healthy by going to the gym or trying new sports like climbing, surfing, and even paragliding. I've recently become interested in growing plants and flowers, although I might change my mind if the slugs keep eating all of my vegetables!