CNIE PhD, Halan Mohamed, honoured as part of International Women in Engineering Day

23 June 2020

Started in 2014 by the Women’s Engineering Society to commemorate their 95th anniversary, International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) falls on 23rd June and sets out to recognise the fantastic achievements of women in this sector of research and industry.

As part of this year's INWED celebrations, the UCL Centre for Engineering Education are featuring a colleague from each of the Faculty of Engineering Sciences departments. We are very proud that the chosen colleague from the Department of Chemical Engineering was the CNIE’s very own PhD student, Halan Mohamed.

Nominated by a UCL panel for her contributions to the field and outreach, a transcribed version of her interview can be found below and you can watch the videoed interview here.

• How would you describe your area of study or work?

My PhD is in nature inspired engineering which is essentially solving engineering problems using lessons from nature. My research is on membranes which is a separation technology used in water treatment alongside other industries. Within water treatment they’re able to separate many contaniments from water ranging from bacteria all the way down to salt. The problem that I am trying to solve using inspiration from the kidney is the tendency for these membranes to become “dirty”, a process known as fouling, so that the longevity of this technology can increase along with their applicability in more industrial settings.

• What / Who inspired you to become an engineer / study engineering?

The first time I was exposed to Chemical Engineering was at a careers day for physics related degrees when I was 15 years old. Initially what really drew me in was the use of chocolate in the demonstration but what stuck with me was the principles of efficiency that it showed. I chose to continue with engineering because of the potential of the work that we do as to help shape a better society now and in the future.

• What is your favourite part of your job / area of study / area of research?

My favourite part of research is also arguably the most frustrating part of which is the constant learning. More often than not, research doesn’t work out how you’d expect it which means that we’re always problem solving. As frustrating as this can be, it means that you can always reflect to see how much you’ve improved as a researcher in comparison to last year, last month and even last week.

• What is the most valuable lesson you have learnt during your studies / career so far?

I would say the most valuable lesson I’ve learnt is the importance of outreach. This is something I’ve done throughout my undergraduate degree and continued now. More than anything, I believe that this helps with perception of who engineers are and what they do. Sometimes I do feel that I probably benefit more from outreach than the students that I engage with because it’s always a very good reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing. As perspective that isn’t always as easy to keep when you don’t stop to look at the bigger picture.

• Describe your day-to-day life as an engineer / engineering student

As clique as this sounds, everyday is different. Most of my time is spent in the lab but what I do in the lab varies based on where I am in a project. Some days I may be more focused on synthesis and others I’ll be working in different departments to see what I’ve been doing has worked and if so how well.

• How has the COVID-19 coronavirus affected your work / life balance during this period?

As with many people during this pandemic, finding a balance between work and life has been difficult at times. However, I’ve been lucky as I don’t have any caring responsibilities so most of my problems have been solved by trying to keep a routine and to give myself time to switch off in the evenings.

• What advice would you give young people / your younger self wanting to study or work in STEM-related fields?

My advice would be reach out to people who are in the field that you want to work or study in. I know not everyone has someone within their circle that they can ask questions to but you’d be surprised about the number of people who are willing to talk about their experiences even if they don’t know you personally. If you can find someone or even potentially organisations that promote STEM careers, reach out, most people will be happy to talk to you about their experiences as long as it’s done within an appropriate setting.

CNIE PhD, Halan Mohamed, honoured as part of International Women in Engineering Day