Engineering: Inspiration, Obstacles & F1!

One of the other Ingenious Women, Chloe put this post on her blog – Your mission, should you choose to accept it, about doing a talk to further education lecturers.

Chloe’s brief was: “You will have 15-20 minutes to talk about your own career and the barriers you had to overcome. What were/are the good things you have experienced and what inspired you to become a scientist/engineer?

Once you’ve had a read of her answers, here are mine!


So what barriers have I had to overcome?

Motivation & money are the two main (huge) obstacles.

I loved secondary school, I’d been with the same kids since reception class right up to year 11 and my GCSEs. The school wasn’t the best but the teachers were on the whole lovely, even if they had no control over the council estate kids. Leaving my cosy little world to go to sixth form was horrible. It was far away (relatively, I could hear my school bells from my house and college was half hour across town), I barely saw my friends as we all did different subjects & I had some rubbish teachers! Plus the work seemed so much harder! I really hated my two years at sixth form and how I did my exams mid Glandular fever I have no idea!

But that was only the beginning, if I thought going across town it was nothing compared to going to uni! I moved 200 miles down south to Oxford to study Motorsport Engineering at Oxford Brookes. Another step up in the work as well as living away from all my family, friends and boyfriend definitely eroded all motivation!!

McLaren F1

It sounds quite sad but literally what got me through college & uni was a picture of my dream car – a McLaren F1.


The second obstacle was money. The cost of going to uni is all over the media at the moment and although I was lucky enough to go to uni before top up fees it still cost a lot of bloody money. My tuition fees were paid for by my LEA as I come from a low-income background and I got a full loan and grant from the Student Loans Company, so I was quite lucky really. Five years of an intensive engineering degree (coupled with no willpower at resisting shiny new gadgets) has left me £30k in debt in total. That McLaren F1 will have to wait 😉

Still even if I was paying £9000 a year for tuition fees alone (a loan was the only option so it doesn’t matter to me how much it is, within reason) I would still do it again. Paying that much I would probably have complained more to uni for any short comings and acted more like a consumer but in the end I will earn a lot more as an engineer than I could do without a degree….although if it was just about money I would have been an actuary or some other high flying finance expert!


What are the good things I’ve experienced?

Working in F1. It’s hard to describe as on a daily basis I’ve never been in contact with the cars – I could be working in any other office (apart from the name above the door and there’s something interesting on everyone’s computer screens!). But every other weekend, watching the racing on telly, it hits you – I work for one of those teams!!

The technology involved in F1 is unbelievable, and even though most of the innovations have been used in some other area of engineering before (quite often aerospace), seeing it applied to F1 is very interesting.


Abu Dhabi GP 2010



Visiting various factories is fascinating. As part of work experience at college I spent a week with a local engineering company. One day I went out with a rep around local factories – chocolate and fizzy drinks cans were the most memorable. I’ve also visited various motorsport team factories on visits from uni, as part of their fan clubs and for interviews. McLaren’s Technology Centre is just unbelievable! It’s my favourite F1 factory – but if I want to work there I need to learn to be tidy! Overall my favourite factory is BMW’s MINI plant in Oxford, that had the biggest effect on me (I went silent on my first visit – a rarity!)  & working there for a year was great fun.


And what on earth inspired me to become an engineer in the first place?

F1 & my parents.

My dad loves cars & all kinds of racing but it wasn’t until Damon Hill in the Williams in the early 90s was he allowed (by my Mum) to watch it on TV. She loved the British driver in the British car winning, and it rubbed off on me, I became obsessed. The soft spot for Williams has always remained and probably always will. I owe a lot to Frank Williams, Patrick Head & all the people working there!

At that age (10) I was totally focussed on going to uni to become a vet so I could help sick animals. Then my dog got sick and was put down – which put me off being a vet. There was no way could I put animals to sleep, even though it was the kindest thing for them.

I decided no matter what, I would go to uni so that I could get a good job as my parents hated their jobs. It wasn’t until half way through my A-Levels when I was picking what degree to study did I find out about Motorsport Engineering & so I decided to do that. The rest, as they say, is history!


Us 🙂





2 thoughts on “Engineering: Inspiration, Obstacles & F1!

  1. Hi Kayleigh,

    I think your journey to being an engineer is typical of many of us who have ended up there. Not really knowing what engineering is at school means that it isn’t until you get to university that you really get to understand what it is all about.

    Your comments about treating your time at university as more of a consumer now that there is quite a bill attached to the experience is a very valid point that I think our universities need to be mindful of. I will try and keep at the forefront of the University of Sheffield in this time of change.

    You are really lucky to be at the high end of technology in the F1 scene. I spent nearly 10 years trying to get a look round the inner workings of F1, but because we sold to competitors we were never allowed past the main offices – shame.


    • Hi Erica

      In some ways I’m glad I’m not the only one who had a similar journey, but mostly I find it sad that others have had the same rubbish careers advice. Hopefully with all the initiatives going on at the moment engineering will raise its profile and young people will see that being an engineer is a great job!

      F1 is very secretive, getting past reception is very difficult unfortunately! At least the teams are embracing new media & so fans are able to feel more included than ever 🙂

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