Girls with Grit: Fiona Phillips , UTC Aerospace Systems

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’, on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.

Hi!  My name is Fiona Phillips and I’m a Senior Structures Engineer at the Prestwick Service Centre, part of UTC Aerospace Systems’ Aerostructures business unit.  This is a nacelle maintenance, repair and overhaul station.   A nacelle is the group of structures which encase the engine on an aeroplane.  These parts play a critical role in the operation of not only the engine, but the aircraft as a whole.

Fiona Philips

My job is to create and approve the structural analysis of repairs to these parts, to help decide if the repaired part still meets design and airworthiness requirements.   It is a really interesting job.  You have to solve problems constantly as the structures are complex and often badly damaged, and it is my job to help decide how to fix them.  Although this sounds difficult, it is very rewarding as it is great to see the components leaving fully repaired and knowing they can safely continue to help carry people all over the world.

I am very lucky that the Prestwick site has such a wide range of capabilities as it means I can work on carbon fibre composites, adhesive bonding and metallic repairs, including those to high-temperature alloys.  Every day is different!

I first started working at UTC (Goodrich at the time) on a summer placement from university.  I spent 3 months here and I loved it.  After university I was keen to return and I have stayed ever since.  Although I have worked in the same place for 11 years now, I have had so many opportunities to travel and learn new things that it hasn’t seemed like a long time at all.

I enjoyed Maths at school and this is what led to me studying Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Glasgow.  This was a tough subject to study. However, once you learn the theory, the practical application of the subject is a lot more interesting.  While working at UTC, I’ve also completed a Masters in Materials Science from the University of Surrey.  I have found engineering is a great gateway into many different subjects.  There is no end to the areas of modern life engineering influences and it offers so many possibilities.

Female engineers are certainly outnumbered currently in the aerospace industry. However, I don’t think this is due to a lack of gender equality.  I think engineering is a challenging job for most people, regardless of gender. . . but that is why it is also so rewarding.  The best way to ensure that you don’t face inequality is to make sure you gain as much knowledge as you can at every opportunity, work hard and never get complacent.

If you listen to colleagues with experience, the mechanics that take on the implementation of what an engineer proposes, and do your best to always ensure the best outcome for a project, this, in my experience, ensures you are treated equally, regardless of your gender.

I recently worked in California for a few months, where there were many more female engineers, so it seems things are definitely changing.  I would urge any girls thinking about a career in engineering not to let thoughts about gender inequality put you off.  It is the most interesting career with so many opportunities and I’m certainly glad I never let being a girl stop me.

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.

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