“It’s about valuing diversity”, an interview with Dame Judith Hackitt for #InternationalWomensDay #IWD2016

Today is International Women’s Day, and to celebrate we decided to put a chemical engineering leading lady in the spotlight – Dame Judith Hackitt.

Judith Hackitt, who was IChemE’s second female president (2013-2014), has had an eventful 2016 so far. The Chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), was made Dame in the New Year Honours, and has recently announced her new appointment as Chair at the EEF, the manufacturers organisation.

We sat down with her to look back on her career so far, and get her perspective on the gender debate, and the future of chemical engineering.

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Thanks for joining me today Judith. You have had quite an impressive career. I’m sure you’re a bit sick of this question but what was it like to be made a Dame in the New Year’s Honours List?

Well on a day-to-day basis it doesn’t make any difference, I’m not using the title anywhere and everywhere and insisting people call me Dame Judith! I was at home on the day the letter arrived, it was first of all a big surprise but also a massive honour. It’s hard to describe but you feel like it’s something special. I really am genuinely honoured to be offered this, and it was a delight to write back and say yes, of course I’d accept.

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Why join IChemE?

We hope you have been keeping up with our ChemEngProfiles video blogs. Over the last few weeks, we have shared the stories of twenty chemical engineers – at various stages in their careers, and working for some of the biggest companies in the world.

Last week we gave you ‘Five powerful reasons to be a chemical engineer at Shell’, following the success of our previous posts – ‘Five sweet reasons to be a chemical engineer at Mondelez’, ‘Five great reasons to be a chemical engineer at BP’, and ‘Five great reasons to be a chemical engineer at Syngenta’. So what’s next?

The thing that our interviewees had in common was that they are all IChemE members, and they view membership as an important addition to their CV.

IChemE_10mm_RGBIn today’s post we’ve turned the spotlight on ourselves – IChemE, the global professional membership organisation for chemical, biochemical and process engineers.

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Work hard, play hard (Day 269)

IChemE foam finger bus55 years ago, a chemical engineering professor with a passion for sport and a strong sense of fun initiated an annual football game between the chemical engineering departments at Birmingham and Manchester Universities in the UK.

That professor’s name was Frank Morton, and he had strong connections with both departments having taught in Birmingham where he rose to professor, before moving to Manchester as the first head of chemical engineering at the new Manchester College of Technology in 1956.

And his passion for fun lives on in the annual Frank Morton Sports Day

Frank was a firm believer in the principle that chemical engineering students should work hard and play hard. This year’s participants certainly didn’t let him down.

The 2015 Frank Morton Sports Day took place at Frank’s old stamping ground in Birmingham earlier this week, and had he been there to witness the event, I’m sure that he would have had a huge smile on his face.

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How can we encourage more students to study chemical engineering? (Day 257)

I recently came across an article featured in the Guardian online, eight ways to encourage more students to study engineering, which proved to be a rather interesting read.

The article outlines potential solutions to the engineering skills shortage faced in the UK and the rest of the world. And I have to say that I agree with their suggestions – put together by academic and policy experts.

Classroom scienceHowever, I have to commend the chemical engineering community for already having taken action to increase student numbers. For example, in the UK student numbers have been increasing year on year. In fact, over the last five years there has been a 97 per cent increase in the numbers of students starting a chemical engineering degree course – that’s nearly double!

But we still need to do more to bridge this skills gap.

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Best blogs of 2014: Ten job titles of chemical engineers… and what they actually mean (Day 213)

Great jobHappy ‘Boxing Day’ to you all! 

During the seasonal holidays, I am re-posting some of the most popular blogs from the past six months.

In October, I highlighted how invisible our profession can be. 

I guesstimate that there might be at least half a million chemical engineers dotted around the planet, yet we are hardly household names. Hopefully, today’s blog explains some of the reasons why.

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Chemical engineers can be hard to identify, not just because most people aren’t clear about what chemical engineering actually is, but because chemical engineers rarely can be identified by the job title – chemical engineer!

To help dispel this confusion I have compiled a list of ten job titles that chemical engineers typically fill:

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Foundations for the future – the STEM pipeline (Day 159)

Classroom science

The Australian Government will invest $12 million to improve the focus (STEM) subjects in primary and secondary schools.

Routinely there are calls and initiatives to boost the number of school pupils who pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in school and beyond.

In the UK there are different campaigns from Government, industry, charitable organisations and professional bodies. Many of you will have heard about IChemE’s whynotchemeng initiative.

It’s useful to remind ourselves that there are challenges and strategies in place in other areas of the world too.

This month, the Australian government announced an AUS$12 million investment in school STEM subjects. There is a realisation that the STEM skillset is essential to national and international economic growth and competitiveness.

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Ten job titles of chemical engineers… and what they actually mean (Day 129)

Great JobChemical engineers can be hard to identify, not just because most people aren’t clear about what chemical engineering actually is, but because chemical engineers rarely can be identified by the job title – chemical engineer!

To help dispel this confusion I have compiled a list of ten job titles that chemical engineers typically fill:

 

1. Process engineer

When I met up with chemical engineering colleagues they often describe themselves as process engineers. Process engineering occurs across the wide range of chemical engineering sectors, but a process engineer will typically work to design engineering packages, develop new ideas and processes, and monitor and maintain plant systems.

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A new Golden Age for chemical engineering (Day 82)

Gas RigA Golden Age is a concept that implies a period of great advancement and outstanding achievement for a civilisation or topic. This concept can be applied to chemical engineering.

Although chemical engineering is a relatively new profession, it could be said that it has already gone through two such periods of change and has now entered a third Golden Age of practice, thought and impact. With many great opportunities and challenges that accompany it.

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Ten differences between chemistry and chemical engineering (Day 66)

Element cubesWhen I talk about my work I find the common problem that people do not understand the difference between chemists and chemical engineers.

Both fields are becoming increasingly important and deserve greater public recognition, but they are distinct.

Although I now work as a chemical engineer I originally studied chemistry, and so feel I should be well placed to highlight the key differences and dispel common misconceptions.

However, this list is in no way definitive and there are huge overlaps in the work of chemists and chemical engineers.

Here are ten differences between chemists and chemical engineers:

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It’s all about talent management (Day 4)

As a professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London you would expect me to have a passion for education and a desire for learning. Hopefully, they are virtues we pass on to our students, which they hold throughout their careers.

But once students leave and enter the world of work their employers become pivotal to their continuing professional development.

And that’s why IChemE set-up its Corporate Partner initiative. The scheme publicly recognises organisations that invest significantly in their chemical engineering talent.

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