Women engineers: Parker graduate programme

Having embarked on the Parker graduate programme, Polly Kalogeropoulou shares her experiences so far and provides some advice for upcoming women engineers.

I joined Parker’s Graduate Scheme as a trainee engineer in September 2014. I’m currently on my third placement based in Italy, pursuing a Project Engineering role, and my last placement is going to commence next June.

I took the decision to go to Mechanical Engineering School after an unsuccessful attempt to study medicine. It seemed a diverse industry and I thought, at the time, that I would buy some time to find out what I really would like to do.

Polly Kalogeropoulou, graduate project engineer, Parker.
Polly Kalogeropoulou, graduate project engineer, Parker.

However, during the first semester I developed a real passion for engineering after understanding better what the profession is all about.

The Introduction to Mechanical Engineering module helped me to understand what mechanical engineers actually do, ranging from what a mechanical engineer could do for the production of a cartoon film like Toy Story, to the development of new generation coronary stents for angioplasty.

Choosing an engineering specialty

The first three years of my studies were focused on the supporting courses, such as mathematics and physics, along with core mechanical engineering like turbomachines and internal combustion engines.

In my fourth year, I had to choose a specialisation from the four available: Energy Engineering; Mechanical Design; Industrial Engineering; or Air & Ground Transport Vehicles. Although I felt each had elements that I liked, I decided to choose Mechanical Design, as it seemed more challenging and a better fit to my personality.

In addition, this specialty has been traditionally the most male dominated and not fashionable at that time. Then during the Hydraulics and Pneumatics course in the final year, I was fascinated by the technology and completed a thesis related to hydraulic systems.

While studying, I was chasing work experience opportunities and different internships in the construction, supply chain and hydraulics field. My interest in hydraulics, and the fact that I wanted to work abroad, led me to apply for a postgraduate degree in the UK, the Master of Science (MSc) in Fluid Power Engineering at the University of Bath.

Women in Manufacturing PQ 1 - April 2016During my time there, I was the only woman in the class, but when classmates had questions they were about how and why I came to follow this career path, more genuine curiosity than trying to discourage me.

The transition after university

After graduation, I was looking for a graduate role in the UK and the rest of Europe and came across Parker’s Graduate Engineering Leadership Scheme on LinkedIn.

Parker’s graduate scheme is an IMechE accredited scheme offering full support to every trainee towards the chartership, along with full mentor support throughout. This was very appealing to me and it was also important that I could get the opportunity to work outside the UK for multicultural exposure.

I attended the assessment centre and it cemented my final decision and, although the programme has been hard work, I feel that Parker has invested in me and given me the opportunity to excel within my field. I found it to be very well structured and I’ve had the chance to meet people that were keen to learn about me and listen to my ideas.

My first placement commenced in September 2014 at the Hydraulics Cartridge division in Crewkerne as a design engineer. I worked for seven months on a new product development project that gave me the opportunity to use and enhance my theoretical knowledge from the university and also get significant hands on experience.

V&A Hydraulics wants to expand the company to the automotive, manufacturing and industrial sectors.
Hydraulics have been used for many years and still maintain their place in today’s world in many applications, such as cranes, heavy duty vehicles and vessels.

I then moved on to the marketing department in Warwick, where I undertook several projects relating to market analysis and improving brand awareness. The most significant one was as a Stand Co-ordinator for the SPE Offshore 2015 in Aberdeen, which gave me the opportunity to appreciate customer service.

For my third placement, I chose Italy because I will be working as a project manager for an improvement project.

After that placement, I hope I will have a clearer picture of what would be the ideal role for me and hopefully will be completely different from what I have done so far as to get as much experience as I can.

Training and support

I look back on my journey with Parker so far, and feel very happy with the opportunities that I’ve been given and the experience that I have acquired. The diversity of the roles I have been exposed to has allowed me to build a stronger professional acumen and realise more ways of being a better professional.

Women in Manufacturing PQ 3 - April 2016The project that I enjoyed most was being a stand co-ordinator at the SPE Offshore Europe 2015. This experience was an unexpected opportunity that I got when I was working for the marketing department. Being on Parker’s stand for four days during the exhibition was a fascinating experience.

I had never thought of a more commercial role, however, I spent four amazing days in Aberdeen meeting people and discussing the oil and gas industry and how our Parker solutions can benefit them. I also had the chance to meet students and share my experience as a graduate engineer.

I’ve met people within Parker that have given me invaluable advice and coached me on how to improve my way of working to be more efficient. I have also completed many useful training courses on a diverse range of topics, including effective presentations, IOSH managing safely course and LEAN Boot camp.

At the same time, I was given full guidance for my IMechE chartership and I am working closely with my mentor to build my relevant competencies. So far, it has been a very positively challenging period that has helped me to enhance my skillset.

My biggest challenge so far

My experience as a design engineer has been by far the most challenging experience. For the first month, I was working with theoretical models and various modelling tools, which are very similar to projects that I had completed at university. However, it’s different when you have strict deadlines and are obligated to fulfil customer needs in the real world of engineering.

CROP-A-montage-of-manufacturing-images-image-courtesy-of-DFC
What keeps Kalogeropoulou motivated is the fact that there is always something new to learn in engineering (image courtesy of DFC).

Moving into the next phase of the project, building a new test rig from scratch was very interesting but also challenging. I spent a lot of time in the development laboratory and I was heavily involved in assembling the system.

What keeps me motivated in engineering is the fact that I always find new things to learn and the tasks I undertake are so diverse. However, I am particularly interested in all the modern approaches that can be integrated in this very old technology.

Hydraulics have been used for many years and still maintain their place in today’s world in many applications, such as cranes, heavy duty vehicles and vessels. There is a great area of improvement in the current solutions and the redesigning of existing systems to deliver environmentally friendlier products.

My Inspiration

My current engineering idol is Kazutoshi Mizuno, a Japanese engineer from the automotive industry. Although I was never fascinated with the automotive industry, I adore the way he approaches projects and dedicates himself to delivering an optimum solution.

Nissan 370Z GT (image courtesy of Nissan Europe)Nissan 370Z GT (image courtesy of Nissan Europe)
Mizuno was the chief engineer and programme director behind the iconic Nissan GT-R.

Mizuno was the chief engineer and programme director behind the iconic Nissan GT-R, and his new design contributed to the regeneration of Nissan brand. I have been inspired by the way he implements his innovative ideas into production and turns them into tangible solutions.

He has been an engineer with a thoroughly technical background and does not hesitate to take the risk to question the established way of production and traditional way of thinking to overcome modern challenges. I admire this talented approach of thinking and listening to the modern pulse that leads to delivering innovative engineering solutions.

Women in Engineering

I strongly believe that now is the right time for women to get into engineering as the first obstacle has been passed. Major stereotypes are being demolished and companies welcome hard-working and talented people irrespective of their gender.

Therefore, I would advise women who love engineering not to be afraid to enter a male dominated sector. As in any profession, there are difficulties, but it is up to each individual to make the next step and move forward, just prove with your work that there is a reason you’re an engineer.