Sep 17, 2021
7 mins read
Last year, GGR spoke to Ying Wan Loh, a manufacturing engineer in the U.K. She is the winner of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)'s 2019 Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award and was listed on Forbes 30 under 30 Europe in 2020.
Earlier this month, Ying Wan Loh featured on Episode 8 of 'Engineering Stories', a podcast produced in collaboration with the IET and produced by Silver Fox, in which she shares her engineering journey.
You can listen to it by following one of the links below:
1. Introduce yourself, who are you, and what do you do?
Hello! My name is Ying Wan Loh and I am a manufacturing engineer. I have worked for Rolls-Royce in the civil aerospace division and am soon to be joining McKinsey Operations as a junior specialist in manufacturing. As a manufacturing engineer, I use data to streamline production methods. In 2019, I won the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award, which was a huge recognition that I am very proud of. Because of that and the STEM outreach I’ve worked on, I was listed on Forbes 30 under 30 Europe.
2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?
Interestingly, I did not know about engineering as a career path until my A-levels. In school, I was very active in theatre and good at languages. I love the creative arts side of things and nearly went into film studies. When I was choosing my university degree, I wanted to do something creative and also technically challenging. After some research, it turns out engineering is the perfect combination of both!
I studied Mechanical Design Engineering at the University of Glasgow and later gained a Masters in Industrial Systems, Manufacture and Management at the University of Cambridge. I joined Rolls-Royce as a graduate after a stint in a startup and now I am embarking on a new journey with McKinsey!
My passion for engineering grew after I started university, it is such a rewarding field and I wished I knew more about it as a student. Now, as a chartered engineer, I do my best to promote engineering to the public. People who did the same degree I did can be working in labs, racetracks, offshore platforms, modern manufacturing facilities, airports and offices in skyscrapers. There are so many choices for engineers and it’s great for students who want to be in STEM and keep their options open.
Growing up in Malaysia, I didn’t know anyone who went to Cambridge University or worked in Rolls-Royce. These names are like mysterious stories in a far-away land. I think I managed to get there through hard work and sheer willpower. If you are reading this and might not have the connections in where you want to be, do not give up! I hope my experience can make it a bit more relevant to you – the lesson of the story is: dare to dream!
3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?
A mix of good people and technically challenging work. What’s waiting for me could be an unfinished excel model that I am building, some production data waiting to be analysed, or a big presentation to senior stakeholders.
4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a story?
I have achieved some major milestones in my career, and yet I still have imposter syndrome like everyone else! My advice is to surround yourself with wise mentors and great friends. In times of doubt, I will talk to them and trust them to give constructive feedback and support when I need it. Having this support network means I can continue to say ‘Yes’ to things that scare me a little and push myself outside my comfort zone. I lost count of how many times I said ‘Yes’ to a new project or new challenge while freaking out inside! I worked hard in all these challenges I took on and it worked out great for me!
5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?
When I was younger, it’s Leonardo Da Vinci. I wanted to be a polymath like him – painter, engineer, scientist and inventor. I used to have a picture of him in my bedroom. Since then I have more role models, inspirational women who were ahead of their time and changed the world for the better; for example, Ada Lovelace, Katherine Johnson, Margaret Hamilton and Chien-Shiung Wu. Fun fact: When I used to work in Hucknall (a manufacturing site tracing its history back to World War Two hangars), my flat was only 50metres from where Ada Lovelace (and her father Lord Byron) was buried! It is a small town and I was shocked to learn that someone so famous worldwide is buried there. It was an interesting time in space where I felt the Force is strong (sorry to non-Star Wars fans)!
6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?
Trust your instincts and stay curious. There were times when I do not know what I want, but I know what I do not want. In this case, trusting my gut feelings led me to a path that gave me so much happiness and satisfaction.
I will also tell my younger self – the world turns out to be messier than I thought it was, but never underestimate the power to be the change you want to see!
7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?
Be agile. Never stop learning. The world is changing so much that what we learn in our formal education could be out of date by the time we enter the workforce. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and be confident that no matter what field, subject or industry you decide to go into, you can learn the ropes. The most important skill you can have is the ability to learn anything.
You might come across times when you are the minority in an office/lab/meeting room, but do not let that affect your confidence. It does not bother some people, but from my experience, I would have loved to see more people like me in the workplace and in leadership positions. If that is the case, the internet is the best source of inspiration. If you are reading this, then you already have access to some great resources! There are also plenty of books, talks, articles and websites inspiring girls and women in STEM.
Monitor macro trends and be strategic of your career choice. The 21st century provides some extremely challenging things to work on, and we urgently need to solve these global issues for the sake of humanity. From healthcare, sustainability to digitisation, STEM professionals are at the heart of it. These are areas with growing importance and will attract significant attention in the next few decades. That means you will be able to get a career with a purpose if you decide to work in these fields.
8. How do you measure your success?
My philosophy is to choose a field that you are passionate about, and success will come naturally as a by-product. The journey is more important than the end goal. As a result, I measure my career successes by impact, i.e. what positive impact does my work in engineering result in? How many people benefit as a result of a project? What is the environmental impact of a design? How do I inspire more people through STEM outreach? At the moment, I am very content with where I am now as an early-career engineering professional, so I will call that a great success!
9. Where can we find out more about your work?
Engineering Success Podcast, where I talked about my experience as an aerospace manufacturing engineer
Engineering Matters Podcast, where I talked about my background and how I became an engineer
Yellow Bee Pod (Episode 10), where I talked about my East Asians in the UK and also engineering
10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?