Q&A Jan 10, 2023

Finding Your Passion: A Q&A with Steph Elwood

Lead Vessel Engineer Steph Elwood discusses her career in STEAM and interesting hobbies.

Steph Elwood headshot in Q&A banner

Growing up with four brothers, Steph Elwood always wanted to be involved in everything they did and was always given the same opportunities. Cut to today, she’s forged a STEAM career working in the nuclear industry and has some pretty unusual hobbies to boot. For this article we connected with Steph to learn how she got to where she is today, why she was attracted to a career in STEAM and what she thinks is the best part of working at Jacobs.

Let’s get started:

Hi, Steph! Tell us what you’re working on these days.

I work in the nuclear industry in the U.K. on the Site Ion Exchange Effluent Plant (SIXEP) Continuity Project (SCP). The current SIXEP removes 99% of the radioactivity in water discharged from Sellafield, the UK’s most complex nuclear site, into the Irish Sea. At SCP, we are designing and building a second plant to ensure that effluent can still be treated if the original plant was unavailable for any reason.

I began working on the project in 2019 as a vessel engineer/designer, managing the 3D models and producing vessel design packages and calculation reports. Over the years I expanded my knowledge and skills further with the aid of my colleagues in the vessels team and progressed to the lead vessel engineer in 2021, to close out the final stages of design for manufacture.

There are 58 tanks and vessels with ranging complexity of designs, which are all now in various stages of manufacturing. My main role is to provide support to the fabricators, ensuring issues are resolved quickly, which can mean engaging with subject matter experts to avoid delays to the project. Due to the age of SIXEP, it’s fundamental to get SCP operational ensuring the continuous progress of treating effluent at Sellafield site. Any delays or holds to the manufacturing phase could impact installation of the tanks and vessels.

What led you to this point on your career path?

After graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2013, I began my career in the nuclear industry on a graduate scheme and was assigned to the piping and vessels department. I was fortunate to find my passion straight away and was supported by the whole team throughout my graduate program. My line manager was my biggest inspiration — I would not be where I am today without his guidance and direction at the start of my career. I went on to win the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ (IMechE) Young Mechanical Engineer of the Year award in 2015 and became an Incorporated Engineer with the IMechE in 2018.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEAM?

Growing up in a family with four brothers, I often wanted to be involved in anything they were doing. I was never treated any differently and had the same opportunities. This also included any times my dad was working on the family car; I would always go to assist him and learn as much as I could.

Tell us about a memorable project you’ve worked on that has helped build a brighter future.

During the first year of my graduate scheme, I began working on the close out of a safety case improvement plan for a reprocessing plant. I had to investigate the ongoing capability of the systems, structures or components which could potentially lead to failure due to degradation, which would ultimately impact on the future safety of the plant and to provide engineering substantiation that the shortfalls originally identified can be closed out. When I completed the tasks, this provided the evidence required by the client for restarting the plant.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

If you are being asked to carry out a task which you think is wrong, don’t be afraid to challenge it.

Proudest career moment?

The proudest moment of my career so far is seeing the first of the SCP tanks and vessels fully fabricated, meaning the first project-wide milestone was achieved.

What does the future of engineering look like to you?

I’m hoping there will be more women in all roles across every industry in engineering, with more encouragement in schools that it’s a great career path for women to choose.

If you could tell your 18-year-old-self one thing, what would it be?

It will all be worth it in the end — even during all the times of self-doubt, keep working hard and successes will follow.

People would be surprised to know that I…

…have spent most of my weekends since 2008 volunteering at Llangollen Railway, either helping with the restoration of steam locomotives, trackside vegetation clearance, training future candidates for the steam department or undertaking operational duties like steam locomotive fireman or a guard. The job of a fireman is to ensure boiler water and fire management is controlled efficiently to meet the requirements for the operations of that day.

To challenge myself further, I started volunteering at the East Lancashire Railway (ELR) in October 2021, where I’m solely volunteering today. The ELR is a longer railway with tougher gradients, meaning the locomotives are working harder and firing is more testing. There’s also a greater variety of steam locomotives to fire, meaning that no two days are the same! In order to be a steam locomotive fireman on the ELR and become suitably qualified and experienced, I was placed on a fast-track course to learn their safety management systems, rules, regulations and route knowledge given that I already had firing experience from Llangollen. I passed my firing exam in September 2022, becoming the ELR’s second female fireman.

Like most heritage organizations, the ELR strives for diversity and inclusion in all of its departments. As a woman in a predominately male environment I was made to feel extremely welcome, included as part of the team from day one, nurtured throughout my journey to become a fireman and still continue to be supported during my volunteering today. Part of my role as a fireman will include teaching new cleaners and passing on knowledge I've gained from my fellow drivers and firemen at the ELR. My hope is to see more women join either the ELR or their local railway and help in contributing to the preservation of the heritage railway industry as a whole.

Also, since the COVID-19 lockdown, I’ve been learning Welsh with the University of Aberystwyth.

What do you enjoy most about being part of #OurJacobs?

There’s a wide range of opportunities throughout Jacobs with the ability to challenge you to learn, develop and broaden your skills and knowledge throughout your career.

  • Steph Elwood driving a steam locomotive
  • Steph Elwood on a locomotive
  • Steph Elwood on a locomotive

Join #OurJacobs team

What drives you drives us as we work to build a better world – together. At Jacobs, every day is an opportunity to make the world better, more connected, more sustainable. We’re always looking for dynamic and engaged people to join our team. Bring your passion, your ingenuity and your vision.

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