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From farm to STEM

Growing up on a farm in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Melissa Morrison had never even considered engineering as a career path, but with some guidance from a school teacher, her eyes were opened to the potential careers the field offers, particularly in the oil and gas sector.

Now working as an engineer at Sparrows, Melissa is a shining example of what can be achieved when schools promote the multiple career paths for those interested in studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

What were your interests growing-up?

I grew up in Huntly, Aberdeenshire on a farm with two siblings so it was certainly never boring. From a young age I was always intrigued by building design and I enjoyed the more technical subjects at school. I originally wanted to go into architecture as I hadn’t even considered engineering as an option; it was only at secondary school that I was opened up to the various roles and sectors taking this path could offer.

What was your introduction to STEM?

One day at school my technological studies teacher asked me if I had considered going into engineering as a career. He encouraged me to look into the sector as he knew the advantages it offered such as good career progression and opportunities to travel. It wasn’t something I had ever considered but it suited my interests and the more I learned, the more it seemed like a perfect fit.

How did you get into the oil industry?

After leaving school, I was accepted into the Robert Gordon University in 2011 and studied a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. I originally applied to study mechanical as well, but after my first semester, I knew my passion lay in the electrical side.

While I was at university, there were a lot of companies offering scholarships. I was lucky enough to get to the interview stage with two different firms and was offered a position with Sparrows Group in 2013. Through the scholarship I was able to complete three summer placements with Sparrows and gained valuable work experience in the process.

In December 2015, I graduated with a fast track MEng in Electrical and Electronic Engineering with merit, and secured a full time position at Sparrows as a graduate engineer. I started off working within one of the contract teams, primarily focused on electrical projects and maintenance work scopes.

What was your exposure to the industry before carving out a career in it?

I had very little exposure to the industry as neither of my parents worked in the energy sector or in STEM related fields, so it was a completely new environment for me. Being on the outside of the industry, I really didn’t have an understanding of just how many opportunities there were for people like me who have an interest in STEM subjects.

How would you describe yourself?

I’m definitely a creative person and I love discovering different ways of doing a task or solving a problem which is really important in my role. I’m also quite ambitious and always keen to do my best in any project. I’m not afraid to put myself outside my comfort zone - which I think is vital for personal growth - and to ensure I’m making the most of the opportunities that come my way.

I have a generally upbeat outlook and always try to be optimistic. The attitude you have does not only affect you, but the people around you so I think it’s really important to have a positive approach to things.

What has your experience as a woman in STEM been like? Any moments which stand out?

I’ve had a very positive experience as a woman in STEM and I find I’m judged on my ability as opposed to my gender. Since joining Sparrows, I’ve had fantastic opportunities to continue my career development and already had exposure in managing my own projects which has been brilliant experience.
I have always received a lot of support from the various teams I have worked with at Sparrows which has been invaluable to my progression. The variety of backgrounds and experience of those around me means I am continually learning from people with a lot of knowledge.

I had the opportunity to complete my offshore survival in 2016 and have already had my first trip offshore which was definitely a highlight for me. I’ve also started working towards gaining my chartered status as taking responsibility for my own professional development is important to me. I’m fortunate to work at a company which really values its workforce and provides me with the prospects to continue my personal growth.

How would you grade the industry in getting women involved? What could it be better at?

In my experience, there are generally less women choosing to go into STEM-based professions and I think this can be attributed to a lack of awareness and encouragement from a younger age. Young people need to be educated about which subjects they should be choosing if they want to pursue a career in a STEM role and this isn’t highlighted enough in schools.

The oil and gas industry has an aging workforce so it’s important that we ensure another skills gap is avoided as the more experienced people leave the sector. The industry could definitely improve how it develops and educates young engineers to support this.

What’s your hope for women’s role in the future of energy?

I really hope to see more women not just entering STEM positions in the future, but also develop further into leadership roles. Having more women in high-level positions would help encourage the younger generations to be part of this industry.

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