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Women in Engineering

Dr Rebecca Wade - Senior Lecturer, Environmental Science

With a PhD in erosion prediction and 20 years of research experience on both sides of the Atlantic, Dr Rebecca Wade has internationally recognised expertise in the fields of landscape processes, river restoration, urban water management and urban ecosystem services.  She has been working in the Urban Water Technology Centre at Abertay since 2002 and is active in the campaign to improve gender equality in STEM.  

What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?

Actually I came to it by accident! I am trained as a Physical Geographer. When I began lecturing environmental science at Abertay I found myself surrounded by civil and environmental engineers.  I soon realised how my background could complement the engineering expertise already at Abertay. We work closely together to develop programmes with a strong thread of environmental engineering, sustainability and environmental management.

Who do you consider to be inspirational women in engineering?

A British civil engineer called Molly Isolen Fergusson.  She studied engineering in Edinburgh and became the first female fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers.  She was also the first female senior partner in a UK civil engineering firm.  She worked largely on bridges and other infrastructure projects in Scotland and received an OBE in 1979 for her work with the Women’s Engineering Society.

What is your career highlight to date?

I worked in Brazil on a project to improve urban environments in rapidly expanding cities to deliver flood reduction, biodiversity benefits and social benefits to the communities living there.

Working across disciplines, across languages and across cultures is certainly a challenge – but that’s also what makes it so exciting and rewarding.

Are there any barriers still to be addressed for women in your field?

Girls are still not seeing engineering as a career pathway – they are not being encouraged to choose it either! This is more of a problem in the UK than in other countries so we need to figure out what we can do differently.

There are several new initiatives aimed at raising the profile of women in science, technology and engineering.  That is part of the reason we are marking National Women in Engineering Day (#NWED2016) with an event at Abertay to create a focus on the amazing career opportunities available to women in this exciting industry.

Women make great engineers and engineering as a profession is better with their involvement. 

What is your favourite feat of engineering?

There are lots of amazing examples to choose from but I’ll stick to my passion – rivers.  

Every year I take our Civil Engineering students on a hydrology field trip around the Tay catchment.  We go to the Tay road and rail bridges, Perth city Flood defences and Pitlochry hydro but for me the highlight is the Dunkeld bridge over the Tay.  It was designed by Tomas Telford and has been standing for more than 200 years.

When it was constructed in the early 1800s, an arc rather than a hump-back bridge was an innovative new design. During construction the engineers faced serious challenges.  The Tay River had to be 'moved' to allow the construction of parts of the pillars and the engineers had to construct the arch supports on rafts of spruce and larch timber. It was a unique engineering solution at the time and the cost of construction was far in excess of the original estimate.  That’s why there was a toll on the bridge for many years.