Career prospects in engineering are excellent

Professor Helen Atkinson is Head of the Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester and former Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader in Engineering Materials at the University of Sheffield.


Watch: Our interview with Helen

I came from a family with no university background at all so both my parents left school at sixteen. At school I found myself incredibly interested in physics so I went to university to do physics (I thought I was a physicist). Whilst I was at university I discovered metallurgical engineering as part of the course - I find metallurgy and materials science absolutely fascinating.

I became an academic at the University of Sheffield almost by accident - I didn't really set out to be an academic - and whilst I was at the University within the materials department I was incredibly fortunate to have two inspirational male heads of departments both of whom were incredibly supportive. I then moved to Leicester and I joined the department here.

I think the highlight of my career is being head of department because you are very central in the education of a big body of young engineers and enabling them to develop not only technical skill but also the powers of judgment that are required to become a really successful engineer in industry. This is something that I'm very proud of and for me the people focus of engineering is something that is very important to get across because some people think of engineering as being very purely technical and it is much much more than that - you have to be able to interact and make good judgments in teams to be really successful.

The prediction is that between now and about 2022 UK industry needs about a million more engineers so the job prospects for people who do engineering at University, men and women, are very very positive. The starting salaries are excellent and much higher than if you do most art subjects. Career prospects are excellent so looking at the future you can really make a difference to how your career develops by going into engineering.

We interviewed Helen in 2017.