Follow Sally's lead

A career in engineering isn’t all high-visibility jackets and steel toecap boots, says National Grid Team Leader Sally Nicholson

Sally Nicholson likes kayaking, keeping fit and nights out with friends. Like many twentysomethings she’s living life to the full... she’s just getting a new car and is set to climb Kilimanjaro.

Just as importantly, the chatty graduate is also breaking down the stereotype of Engineers as geeks in heavy-rimmed glasses and no social life. What started as a model-making hobby in the garage with her dad – who she insists didn’t push her into the job – has led to a blooming career with National Grid. “I always wanted to be a Formula 1 Engineer. I loved the idea that you can always strive to improve the way things work,” she said. “I always liked building things and finding out how they worked, but wasn’t really into dismantling and rebuilding them. That’s another stereotype.”

Main attraction

Sally took all the STEM subjects at school and, after a setback when she initially flunked her maths AS level – a subject she wasn’t naturally good at – went to university. She said: “I’ll be honest, I hated doing A levels. The constant churn and pressure really got to me, but I knew I needed to get through them to get where I wanted to be.” She believes she’s there now after completing her mechanical automotive engineering degree to start a rapid rise through the leadership ranks at National Grid. The company saw Sally’s potential and offered her a place on the Sponsored Student Scheme, paying her university fees for a year before welcoming her on to their Graduate Scheme. Since then, she’s been handed a 360-degree view of the business, working in Asset Policy and the Demand Forecasting Centre, before taking up a commercial role.

Now she’s out and about overseeingpower station upgrades and power system engineering, areas she admits are a little bit ‘boffin territory’. “I’ve always been passionate about engineering and the part people play in making it happen. Engineering isn’t always about the technical – my role is more about understanding the bigger picture,” she said. “The main attraction for me is that science and the difference it can make to people’s lives is real. You can reach out and touch science every day.”

Sally, a keen sailor and member of extreme fitness community Cross Fit, believes youngsters interested in an engineering career should stick to their guns and press careers advisors for information.