To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day (INWED), we’ve asked six of our women engineers a series of questions about how engineering affects their lives and careers, as well as their thoughts on future innovation.
Xiaolin is a Lead Innovation Engineer.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
I loved science fiction when I was a child and was fascinated about what technologies can do in the future. My Inspiration also came from my father, who is an outstanding engineer in China and my role model. He always encouraged my curiosity in sciences and engineering. He also helped me to understand the crucial role engineering played in the fast-paced evolution of modern civilisation.
This may have sown an early seed in my heart and influenced me to later on choosing engineering as the subject to study at university. The systemic study of Electrical and Electronic Engineering through my graduate and postgraduate (MSc and PhD) also inspired me to investigate how we engineers can contribute to a reliable and clean energy future for all.
What barriers (if any) have you encountered in your career?
Engineering is traditionally a male-dominated field and, as a woman engineer, I was initially quite cautious on how I was received by others. When I first joined National Grid, I felt it might take a bit more time and effort to build people’s trust in my technical ability and my belief in myself at the beginning of my career. The other barrier is my confidence in use of the English language. I always considered myself eloquent in Mandarin, but it took some efforts to think in English at the beginning.
What advice would you give to potential future women in engineering?
Be confident and believe in yourself. Hold a true belief that together we can work and make a better future.
How do you think being a woman engineer has shaped your career experience so far?
After the completion of my PhD study, I was honed to join National Grid and have worked in several departments and with various roles. Being an engineer at National Grid means exciting opportunities to directly take part in facilitating the transition to a clean energy future.
My role as a power system engineer enabled me to contribute to the integration of renewable energy; this involved closely working with our renewable customers to develop economic and efficient connection solutions. I was also involved developing strategic solutions for our network investment, this is crucial in ensuring our network is ready to satisfy our future energy needs. In addition, I had the opportunity to lead the network modelling, stability analysis and power quality assessment to ensure the security of our energy network.
My current role is a Lead innovation engineer. This gives me the opportunity to work with the best brains in the industry, research institutes and universities, both nationally and globally, and drive the innovation to deliver a safe and reliable network for a (net zero) clean energy future.
Which part(s) of working in engineering did you least expect?
I’ve been able to get involved in a wider variety of work than I expected: from conducting system analysis to developing solutions for the security of the network; from developing technical solutions with customers from generation, interconnectors and demand to delivering investment schemes, measuring power quality in the network and driving innovation. The variety of exciting jobs to do in engineering has never ceased to amaze me.
I didn’t expect that I would have opportunities to work closely with our customers (renewables, interconnectors, etc.) to develop the engineering solutions required for their connections. The direct interaction with our customers and being able to help them makes me feel more closely connected with the pulse of the energy industry and gives me a sense of pride of being an engineer.
How is your work changing the industry for the better?
Being a power system engineer means I’m able to closely work with our renewables and interconnector customers and provide them the technical support they need. Our economic and efficient design solutions are directly supporting the energy transition and decarbonisation of our energy network.
Now being a lead innovation engineer, I am excited to have the opportunities to drive innovation and develop new technologies and solutions to drive down costs for customers and consumers, decarbonise our energy network and tackle the challenges the industry faces on the path to net zero.
Has your job influenced how you approach other areas of your life?
The skills I obtained from work, like problem solving, project management and team work, are also very useful in dealing with day-to-day life challenges we all face.
What qualities do you have that make you good at what you do?
I think a good foundation of mathematics and physics helped me in developing and building my expertise in Electrical Power Engineering. My personal characteristic of persistence and the seeking of truth also helped me to advance in my career and life.
Did you have an engineering role model that inspired you?
My father can be deemed an engineering role model for me. He was instrumental in technological transfer to modernise the Chinese electricity generation industry. While I am currently working as a lead innovation engineer in National Grid, Nikola Tesla is also an inspiring role model for his engineering intellect, technological insight, creative power and passion to bring a better future for all.
What innovative technologies or advances in engineering do you find most exciting?
The development and application of artificial intelligence (AI). AI will become increasingly important in the 21st century and will change our lives in so many ways we still do not understand. I believe that there’ll be great opportunities for AI to help us with system studies, network planning, monitoring and operation, asset management, and intelligent self-healing networks that can cope with the impact of climate change and extreme weather.
What are you working on, or have worked on, that is considered innovative?
I’ve been working on number of innovation projects, including: exploring the decarbonisation pathway for a region of the country (e.g. Zero 2050 South Wales project); technologies to improve the existing network capability; innovative condition monitoring (e.g. nonintrusive line sag monitoring using 5G signals); new modelling and analysis approach for system dynamic study; and, innovative technology to increase network power transfer capability required for renewables etc.