Girls in Engineering
By Kai Hui Wu
University of Southampton Malaysia Campus
Today I am going to talk about girls studying mechanical engineering, because sadly there isn’t a whole lot of others in the position to talk about it.
I am going to specifically talk about mechanical engineering because that is the one I know best and it has one of the lowest female to male ratio compared to other engineering programmes, e.g. bioengineering and chemical engineering.
Every time someone asks me “What are you currently studying?” to which I nonchalantly reply “Oh, I’m doing mechanical engineering.” The immediate response is always a wide eyed exclamation:
At first, I just answered my real reason like, my passion in physics and math and how I yearn to create and innovate. But after a while, it starts to bother me.
What do they mean by “Why?!?” Why would my answer be any different from any other person, why don’t they ask the same question when a guy says he is studying mechanical engineering.
I believe there exist a lot of stereotypical notion about mechanical engineering that discourages a girl who would otherwise have joined and loved mechanical engineering.
I have compiled a list of frequently asked questions below for all prospective students and their parents on why, the mechanical engineering course is for everyone.
Will a girl have enough strength to carry out all the practical work?
Firstly, this isn’t even a straight cut yes or no answer.
I believe to this very day, when someone mentions mechanical engineering, the first image that pops up in your mind is a mechanic in a shop with greasy fingers and scruffy jeans, unscrewing bolts from a car tyre with a spanner.. Don’t even deny it.
But the truth is, 60% of my practical work involves me sitting in front of the computer, either doing simulation/computer-aided design (CAD) drawings/programming (No strength needed, just press the mouse and keyboard).
The other 40% would be very simple fabrication jobs such as screwing bolts and nuts/drilling, milling and 3D printing which is actually done by the machine. I have however suffered minor cuts when working in a workshop, but those were really minor and can be easily avoided if I wasn’t this clumsy.
Therefore, throughout the 3 years of studying I have never been forced to do a heavy duty task that I am incapable of. If there ever exist a situation where you need to lift heavy objects, ask for help! Ask any staff or friends nearby, not a problem.
So the answer to this question is a yes, only because you don’t really need it.
Will a girl be at disadvantage as compared to her male peers?
In every single way, the answer is NO.
Every individual has their strengths and weaknesses. As far as I am concerned, the only difference between male and female is their physical and personality traits which I do not think has any scientifically proven effect on their suitability for this course.
If anything, because a girl is able to go against gender stereotypes imposed by the society to study mechanical engineering, they have a very high determination and passion in their work. Which I think, is the only limiting factor for success in the course.
Will it not be weird to be in this male-dominated environment?
Socially, I have to admit that at the very beginning, being surrounded by an overwhelming number of guys can be a bit intimidating and lonely because of the difference in interest and hobbies (I don’t watch football and have no interest in cars).
But after a very short amount of time I got used to it and began to really enjoy this more carefree and fun atmosphere (no catfights and drama) and began to develop a broader range of interests. Sure once in a while I will miss the female presence around me, to have someone to go shopping, girls’ talks and dessert eating outings. But I always will have my old girl friends to hang out with or girls from other courses whom I have met through university’s extra-curricular activities.
Academically, I have never felt ‘weird’ or out of place for the course. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with electronics, building a robot, cutting wood, programming and etc. and have never thought these things were meant only for boys.
All in all, to prospective female students. If you have considered doing this course, ignore all the discouraging comments from parents, friends, teachers or relatives. If you like math, physics and a lot of fun and innovative hands-on projects like me, this course is highly suitable for you.
Trouble deciding? Look at the course modules, thermodynamics, mechanics, structures, materials, fluid mechanics, system design and computing and many others, are these within your area of interest? Attend university’s open days, ask the staff and students all your questions, have a feel about what you might be diving into before deciding (you can also ask me any questions in the comment section below).
Furthermore, you can choose more specific themes later on during your third year, e.g. mechatronics, aeronautics, automotive which gives a lot of flexibility in your course. Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest and most general engineering discipline that gives wide career opportunities and is guaranteed to have something up its sleeves that will interest and amaze you.