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Celebrating women in engineering - Hannah Newey's story

#thislittlegirlisme sat at the driving wheel of a bus.

I’m an Engineering Geologist now and we’re a rare breed. And of course even fewer women. When I was doing my bus driver impression, I had no idea what career I’d follow.

My parents were very supportive of me. They taught me to work hard and as it became clear I have an analytical brain, they encouraged me to pursue the maths and science topics I loved.

To be honest, my story was pretty straightforward.

I had a comfortable upbringing and all the support I needed to get a great education. I picked a STEM topic, so I found myself in male dominated spaces, but I found I managed well with very few obstacles there.

But then, just weeks after graduating with a degree in Geology, I was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

I had no idea. I’d missed all the symptoms. It had gone unnoticed for so long that it had spread all over my body.

I was just about to start my Masters in Engineering Geology at Imperial College London. I was 20 years old.

Everything had changed.

It took two years, four different types of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, open chest surgery, two recurrences and then finally, a stem cell transplant to finally be in remission. My family was devastated. At times throughout treatment I had feelings that this treatment may not work, and I wouldn’t make it through.

I was treated on a young person's unit, surrounded by people much younger than I. One boy with bone cancer had his leg amputated. He was just eight years old, yet he was joking with the nurses. I remember thinking, I can't moan about my life, when I'm 20, and my prognosis was better than his. I had to keep it together because there was nothing else I could do.

So I focused on getting my education back on track.

Imperial was fantastic and deferred my masters twice, but I was determined to get it done. So, three months after my stem cell transfer and in the midst of recovery and long-lasting side effects, I took up my place and moved to London on my own.

I knew if I did well, if I studied hard, that I'd be able to get a graduate position with a fantastic engineering consultancy. Now, eight years later, I’m an Engineering Geologist at OTB Engineering.

I’m definitely in the minority in my role. I can be on site for long periods of time supervising works or ground investigations. It will often be 90% men. Sometimes I find myself having to be more assertive than I would like to be to ensure I get the respect required in my supervisor's role to ensure the job gets done correctly and most importantly, safely.

However, on site the ratios of women to men, and men’s attitudes to women are getting better. I don't think it's completely where it could be, but it's definitely moving in the right direction.

So why put myself into these challenging situations?

I just really enjoy what I do. Every day is different, and no two projects are the same. They'll have different ground conditions and hazards which mean I’m continually faced with new information and challenges. It keeps me captivated. At OTB we often take on jobs that are technically challenging, the sort of interesting projects that help you progress as an engineer.

And whilst it’s still a male dominated sector, there are inspirational women around me at OTB – for example our MD Dr Susan Greene is an expert geologist by trade and a knowledgeable and successful business woman. Role models like my colleagues are one of the reasons I want to come to work each day.

Bringing it back to inspiring the next generation.

Some girls get put off STEM subjects because they think it's too hard, they think they can't do it.

I’m here to say that they can.

STEM comes naturally to some girls and others have to work hard at it. I definitely had to work harder, but I knew it's what I wanted to do, and it was going to be good for my career. So I put the effort in.

If I could talk to young girls considering STEM careers now, I’d say just believe in yourself and your abilities. If you work hard and if it is what you want, then don't let anyone or anything try and stop you!

I’m telling you this today because I want to use my story to do some good.

Ada Lovelace Day is about encouraging women into STEM. It coincides with the International Day of the Girl promoted this year with #thislittlegirlisme.

Both campaigns are about inspiring through representation. The more we represent women in positions of leadership, in STEM careers, overcoming adversity in order to succeed, the more we empower the next generation.

I wouldn’t be here if it were not for the amazing support I received from The Christie Hospital and the charity Anthony Nolan.

I always encourage people to check out their work. And to see if you are eligible to become a stem cell donor. You could help people young and old that rely on Stem Cell Transplants - like myself - to overcome cancer.


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