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MGI Insights with Dr Alice Daniels 

February 23, 2023

New research by EngineeringUK published in March 2022 highlighted some positive trends for the number of women working in engineering. The findings reveal that 16.5% of those working in engineering are female, an increase compared to 10.5% as reported in 2010. 

At MGI, Stress Engineer Dr Alice Daniels brings a wealth of experience and invaluable expertise to our team, however, she has had to overcome a number of structural hurdles in the process, as she explains in our first piece as part of our MGI Insights series.

Why did you decide to go into engineering?

I’ve always been fascinated by my world and engineering helps unlock its physical aspects. Having the power to fix something because you can recognise the intricacies of its mechanisms is very gratifying for me. I also chose engineering because it provided me with a stable career and the world is always in demand of engineers.

How did you find studying engineering as a female?

Although I was initially rejected at A Level application for the typically ‘male’ subjects I had chosen, my mother fought for me to attend the courses best for me. I passed top of my class for engineering and I knew that it was definitely the career path for me. This was an important life lesson for me and it showed me that you set your own limits. It also showed me that authority figures might make incorrect decisions if they are not given all the facts. Thinking retrospectively, perhaps they were trying to avoid me dropping out of class because of any degrading attitudes from some of the other students. College was draining due to this, but I managed to persevere and find strength in certain places. By the time I reached university, things had become more modern and diverse. It was a nice feeling not to be the only female. There is no substitute for having representation from all sides, however, over the years I’ve found that like-mindedness is just as important as gender.   

What did you do for your Ph.D.?

During my Ph.D., I designed, built, and tested a piezoelectric energy harvesting device that could convert kinetic energy to electrical energy. To optimise the power-output, I identified the key design parameters and used ANSYS multi-physics to find the optimal combination of design parameters. It was a great opportunity to go from concept to test and a challenge to do it on a budget. Doing a Ph.D. also pushed me academically and helped improve my reasoning skills and clarity of thought.

Where have you worked previously?

I have previously worked in automotive-defence, where I was lucky enough to work on a very varied array of stress projects, all relating to ‘vehicle customisations’ in standard and non-standard operating scenarios. It was my introduction to many different types of load case either by way of a national standard or by way of a bespoke customer need. My first project had four parts and by the end, I was building complex models containing 60+ parts. The analysis covered vehicle customisations, blast protection customisations, and blast mitigating seats. I gained experience in contact modelling, occupant safety, and how to pick up and put down complex projects fast, in order to support the challenging needs of conflicting projects.  

What is it like working for MGI?  

I’m thankful to work here because I believe MGI has excellent qualities that are rare to find in such combination. I’m surrounded by truly professional and hardworking people who I respect and can learn from. There’s a good culture of humour and it works because ultimately everyone has a very good nature. The communication is excellent here. My boss, Mike, takes the time to weave through every part of the organisation obtaining feedback at all levels, so is able to make critical decisions to help keep projects moving, this makes you feel very supported. There is a strong sense of leadership here that pulls everyone together, this for me comes from having a leader with true integrity.   

What has it been like going on maternity leave and becoming a mum?  

Everyone has their own journey with becoming a parent because children are all so different. I certainly gained a level of extra maturity and crisis management ability after becoming a mum. MGI supported me directly during pregnancy by getting me a standing up desk which for me – with an old back injury – helped alleviate certain pressure on my back from sitting for too long.  During the late stages of my pregnancy, my workload was also managed and I was able to hand over my work prior to my leave commencing.

The recent culture change of increased time working from home is indispensable for any parent and for me helped during my early and later stages of pregnancies, for example, when I was feeling constantly ill. The enhanced leave package that MGI offered enabled me to have the time to recover physically and mentally to look after my baby at such a vulnerable stage of their life and learn to adjust to another child. The bond created during this time also allows me to be an effective parent. I would love to see a change in the rules for paternity leave that would allow all men across the country to have a similar opportunity. MGI has been supportive and understanding, they have allowed me to reduce my working hours so that I can meet crucial pick-up points for my children. It really helps that my colleagues have either had small children or currently have them so they fully understand what it is like to be a new parent from their own experiences. MGI helps me to strike a good balance so that I can be effective at both work and home.