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A day in the life

SCIENCE CAREERS

Elizabeth Campbell, Mechanical Design Engineer

What is your role and how did you arrive at your current position?
I’m a mechanical design engineer, so my job is to design the enclosures for our lasers and the parts that go inside them. I also create the drawings that are used by external suppliers to manufacture the parts, and if the laser is a new design, then I’m responsible for building it up to the point where the optical components get fitted.

While I was at university studying Product Design Engineering, I had three summer internships at a different laser company, so the relevant work experience led to this job when I applied to M Squared after graduation.

What time do you wake up?
I don’t like to rush in the mornings, so I get up at 6 am and leave for work at 8 am.

When do you start?
My official start time is 9 am, and as long as my bus is on time then I get to the office at about 8:45 am which gives me time to get everything set up.

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It’s still quite a satisfying feeling to look at a completed product (even if the optical components haven’t been fitted yet) and think ‘I built that’!

What is the first thing you do when you arrive at work?
I turn on my computer and start up my email and SolidWorks, the CAD software that we use. This set up can take a bit of time when the computer has only just been turned on, so I go and get a drink of water while I’m waiting. Once everything’s loaded, I check for new emails and deal with anything important there; then I continue with any design or manufacturing tasks I have that day.

What attracted you to your career?
I’ve always been interested in how things work, and I’ve wanted to work in design or engineering for pretty much as long as I can remember - when I was seven years old I wanted to be a car designer. Just before I started university, I was quite interested in going into furniture design, but while I was doing my degree (which was a mixture of mechanical engineering and product design), I realised that the technical subjects interested me more.

I wasn’t familiar with the field of laser design before my first summer internship, but I enjoyed the work that I did there, and it opened up a whole new career path for me that I hadn’t considered before.

What have been your biggest challenges in this role?
We’ve had some tight deadlines to meet that have involved some long hours, but on a day-to-day basis, I’d say that my main challenge is designing everything to be as small as possible. For a laser to work, the optical components often have to be in specific locations inside the enclosure, and sometimes there isn’t much space around them to hold them in place. It is, however, beneficial to make the entire laser enclosure as compact as possible so that the end user has more space on the rest of their optical bench, so that’s an added challenge. It keeps my job interesting though!

Describe your workspace.
Most of the time I’m at my desk, which has a fast workstation (very important for CAD software), a couple of monitors and a phone. Occasionally I also work in the production area, which has a few workbenches, a tool shelf and a set of cabinets that are full of screws and the parts that go inside the lasers. We also have an ultrasonic tank that we can use to clean small parts and an oven to dry parts after cleaning and to cure glue.

What kind of tools do you work with?
Most of the time I work with SolidWorks, but I also use Microsoft Excel for creating Bills of Materials, and Adobe Illustrator for designing the labels that go on the lasers. When I’m working in the production area, I mostly use the soldering iron, the ultrasonic tank and the oven, as well as small tools like screwdrivers and wire strippers.

Who do you interact most with?
The person I speak most to is my line manager, but I also interact a lot with other departments such as purchasing, production and electronics. As well as that, I contact external suppliers to get quotes when we need to get parts manufactured, and I send them the technical drawings.

How often do you get out of the office?
Not much – travel is not part of my job. However, we have a cleaning supplier quite close to us, and if there are a lot of parts being delivered, then I’ll help out with that if I’m free, which gets me out of the office for about half an hour.

What do you most look forward to each day?
Any day where I finish something is a good day – especially if it’s something in production. It’s still quite a satisfying feeling to look at a completed product (even if the optical components haven’t been fitted yet) and think ‘I built that’!

What or who inspires you?
I’m the fifth generation engineer in my family, so I would say that it’s my family that inspired me to go into this type of job.

What do you do for lunch?
There’s no canteen here, so I bring in my lunch from home and eat at the table in the kitchen. I’m learning German at the moment, so once I’ve eaten I use the rest of my break for studying.

Describe your best day at work to date.
I don’t know if I have a single “best day” at work, but my most memorable day was when one of the senior engineers in the production team conducted an experiment by launching one of our old lasers off the top floor fire escape. Amazingly, despite having dropped three floors, it still worked!

How does the working day end?
As long as I don’t have any tight deadlines to meet, my working day ends at 5:30 pm. I make a list of things I need to do for the next day, and then I go and wait for my bus. If I’m lucky, I won’t be waiting for more than about five minutes.

What time do you get home?
That depends on whether my bus is on time and whether I need to go food shopping on my way home. If it is on time and I don’t need to go to the supermarket, I tend to get home at about 6:15 pm.

What does it mean being a female in your role? Have you encountered stereotypes, and, if so, how did you overcome them?
To be honest, the only time I encounter stereotypes due to my job is when I get questions like this one, which draws attention to my gender and makes it sound like I’m somehow special or unusual just because of the job I do. I’m not a “female engineer”, I’m just an engineer – my gender doesn’t affect how I do my job, and I don’t believe I have been treated any differently by my colleagues or by external suppliers because of it.

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