5 November 2020
Rachel Battilana MIStructE, who works from Perth on SSE’s hydro power plant throughout Scotland, visited the school as part of its Women in Business lecture series.
“Engineering has given me the scope to travel, constantly learn and work with a huge range of materials and people,” Rachel told senior pupils at the school, many who were listening-in via Zoom.
Asked by one 16-year-old if she wanted to pursue Civil Engineering from a young age, Rachel told the pupil that it was around the same age as she was, but surprised the audience by telling them that, exploring the career route, the book’s reference stated that for ‘Civil engineering, see boring.’
Of course, the ‘boring’ reference wasn’t casting aspersions at the nature of the task, but a nod to the enormous drill-bits used to drive through sheer rock: “I was hooked,” Rachel told pupils.
Reading engineering at Cambridge University, Rachel described how her Masters project saw her designing and building low maintenance cold-climate shelters for Afghan refugees, including “thoroughly testing them in Ford’s vehicle wind tunnel assessment centre.”
After graduation, global design consultancy Buro Happold offered Rachel the opportunity to work on huge civil projects including the impressive Evelina London Children’s Hospital and state-of-the-art Museum of Liverpool: “This was a huge challenge,” she said, “the area included ancient dock gates which had to be preserved and remain undamaged.”
The solution was a great deal of discussion between various organisations, resulting in a formidable, cantilevered, structure suspended over the dock: “Historically, the wall has crumbled around every eighty years, but thankfully” pupils were told, “after all our efforts to avoid placing any more weight on them, they are holding firm.”
Pupils heard how the young engineer completed her professional training to become a Chartered Structural Engineer, before volunteering for an NGO in Malawi, working on an orphan housing project: “It felt good to really make a difference.”
Returning to the UK, she moved into the renewables sector, being offered a job with Sgurr Energy where more travel was possible, working on, among many projects, Mongolia’s first wind farm and a number of offshore wind farms where unexpected slippage of the turbine tower had occurred.
Family life brought Rachel to Perthshire where the opportunity to combine her engineering experience with environmental awareness arose: “I’ve always wanted to try and make a difference from the inside, rather than just sit on the side-lines,” explains Rachel, “so when the chance to join SSE’s hydro department came up and, in particular, the re-watering of the River Garry project, it was really exciting.”
Girls learnt about the extent of Scotland’s hydro scheme, most of which was constructed during the 1950s. “So much more has been learnt about environmental impact in 70 years so a lot of the equipment has to be rethought and updated,” she said, “I’ve been involved with designing a system of gates and sophisticated pivot-valves to release and control the Garry’s water levels.”
Keen to learn more about the engineer’s experience, enthusiastic pupils grilled the speaker, wanting to find out more about being a woman in a traditionally male industry: “Honestly it has never been an issue,” Rachel assured the young audience, “if you know your stuff and get on with your job, it’s a level playing-field with lots of opportunities. The world definitely needs more engineers. Prospects really are limitless.”