It’s Women’s History Month, and to celebrate I have a great new interview to share with you for the Women in Engineering Interview Series! Women’s History Month is a month in which we come together “commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” (https://womenshistorymonth.gov)
Celebrating women’s achievements makes me think of how far women have come in the engineering field. There are more women going into engineering now than ever before. And to get more girls interested in engineering (and keeping them interested as women), I’m sharing stories of remarkable women engineers.
Today’s interview is with Rebecca Hawkins. She is a Validation Engineering Consultant and Subject Matter Expert. She’s had a wide ranging career as an engineer, she’s a mom to triplet daughters, and she has a blog called Pink Tools and Pearls. Talk about a superwoman. I know her story will inspire you as much as it has inspired me, so keep reading to learn about Rebecca’s engineering journey.
Engineering Emily (EE): How and when did you decide to become an engineer?
Rebecca Hawkins (RH): In high school when I’d had enough of people doubting my abilities. I elevated my major from Chemistry to Chemical Engineering because I had heard it was the most difficult major commonly offered, and I wanted to prove the haters wrong. I turned out to be cracking good at it.
EE: What was your college major?
RH: Chemical Engineering
EE: What was your university experience like as an engineering student?
RH: I went to a smaller university, so we had a lot of camaraderie and collaboration. There were only 24 of us in Chemical Engineering so we were all close knit. Professors knew each of us individually. We still know each others’ birthdays and we get together for drinks whenever we are in town with one another.
EE: Did you do any engineering internships during college?
RH: Actually, no. There just weren’t a lot of opportunities where I lived for engineering students.
EE: How did you find/get hired for your first engineering job?
RH: Believe it or not, an ad in the newspaper. My mom found it, I interviewed for it, and aggressively pursued it. (Turned out to be a mistake, haha.)
EE: What industry do you currently work in?
RH: Life Sciences (Pharma/Medical Devices/Biologics)
EE: What has been your career path from college graduation up to today?
RH: 1 year process engineering in plastics
14 years validation contracting/consulting in life sciences
5 years in house validation in life sciences
Now back to validation consulting
EE: Have you travelled for work, and if so how often and to where?
RH: From Tampa to North Carolina every 2 weeks for 8 months
From Cincinnati to Columbus for a few weeks here and there
Now traveling from Tampa to Houston for 3 weeks out of each month.
EE: Have you had to move for work?
RH: Yes! All the time before we had kids.
From Tampa to Indianapolis (7 years in Indy)
From Indy to Tampa, where I traveled to North Carolina (1 year in Tampa)
From Tampa to Cincinnati (2.5 years in Cincinnati)
From Cincinnati to Columbus OH, with infant triplets! (2.5 years in Columbus)
From Columbus to Tampa, where we currently live.
EE: What has been your best experience working as an engineer?
RH: My best experience has been my favorite project, which was my North Carolina job. The project centered around construction of a new facility for manufacturing of medical grade fibers, and the technology transfer from the mother facility in the Netherlands to the North Carolina plant. I was the site lead for validation, working directly with the client and ensuring that milestones and deadlines were met. The entire project team knew what they were doing, what they were responsible for, and what their deadlines were. The whole thing ran like the proverbial well-oiled machine.
EE: What has been your most challenging experience working as an engineer?
RH: My most challenging experience was my first in-house experience in validation. I was working in a contract manufacturing pharma facility that needed to be brought up to code, while the company was still in production AND adding new products to their portfolio. I was working long hours, under pressure-cooker levels of stress, trying to make the facility and its processes capable of passing an FDA audit. We described working there as “performing open heart surgery on a runner in a marathon.” I crumbled under the pressure and was forced to leave the position for my mental health.
EE: Do you feel women are treated equally to men in engineering?
RH: Like all answers in engineering, it depends. It depends on the industry, the location, the project… In my experience, I have been treated like one of the boys, and I have also been treated like “a woman who has no place in a man’s job”. Is it right? No. But you roll with the punches and develop an arsenal of zinging one liners to combat the bull.
EE: How do you balance career and home life?
RH: I am married to superdad. I get to go out and work and be a badass engineer because he works from home and raises the kids. I also have a planner that I built myself (see my blog for details) to help keep track of life, the universe, and everything.
EE: What do you consider the challenges and advantages of being a working mom?
RH: Challenges – there’s never enough hours in the day. You have to accept that some balls will be dropped. You just have to decide which balls to put aside in order to manage the highest priorities.
Advantages – project management! If you can manage a household and a family, there is nothing any project can throw at you for which you will not be prepared.
EE: If you are no longer working as an engineer, why did you leave engineering? And do you plan to ever return to engineering in the future?
RH: I’m one of the few who are still in engineering at the 20 year mark. I made it!
EE: What advice do you have for girls interested in becoming an engineer?
RH: Don’t be afraid of the stereotypes. You’ve gotten this far by being yourself, now bring that attitude to engineering school and subsequently the workforce. Don’t be afraid of being the only girl in class – the boys should be afraid of you. Be yourself. Be fearless. Be independent. Be unafraid of being intelligent. Don’t hide your talents. Make like Nike and Just DO It.
EE: What advice do you have for working moms?
RH: How many engineers does it take to write a manual for raising kids? One – you. There’s no right way to do it. As long as you can keep them fed, clothed, sheltered, and loved everything else is gravy. Keep life simple, make it memorable.
EE: Would you still become an engineer if you could do it all over again?
EE: Any other information or stories you’d like to share?
RH: I am the proud mom of triplet girls who are being raised to believe that STEM careers are just another job, and that there is nothing stopping them from following their dreams. I want them to understand that they can be engineers in heels or princesses in spaceships, whatever their hearts (and minds) desire.
I love Rebecca’s no-nonsense go-getter personality. She is a woman who doesn’t let anything stand in the way of her goals and dreams. I am so impressed how she has a successful engineering career, runs a blog, and is mom to triplet girls! I also love how she thinks of being a working mom as project management experience, it’s so true!
Reading stories like Rebecca’s help me believe that I can go back to work as an engineer one day and still be a great mom too. I hope you found something to inspire you too in Rebecca’s interview, and be sure to check out her Pink Tools and Pearls blog and social media pages.
If you’re a woman engineer and you’d like to share your story on my blog, please contact me here!