Women in STEM: I was offered a water management job straight after finishing my UK master's degree
2021-22 Women in STEM scholar Shilpa from India finished her master’s in hydrology and water management at the University of Newcastle in September 2022. She shares the ups and downs of leaving home for the first time, getting used to a new culture and education system and getting a job offer in her field straight after graduation.
‘Civil engineering is not just about building bridges - it can also be about conservation’
I did my undergraduate degree in civil engineering. Civil engineering is mostly understood to be the construction of building bridges or high-rise buildings, for example. But it also has another side, mostly concerning conservation, which still needs to be considered more in developing countries like India.
It was important for me to go to a place which recognises the conservation side of things, especially when it’s hard to find courses focusing on niche domains such as hydrology and water management. There are very few universities with this specialism and Newcastle is one of the top universities when it comes to working towards sustainable development goals in research. In the future, I’d love to work in rural water security.
‘I wanted to learn how water management works around the world’
In very simple terms, hydrology is the study of water. The domain is complex and requires technical and analytical skills. My course allowed me to explore sub-domains in the water sector. Out of everything, I was most inclined towards water management, which involved stakeholder management, policies, regulations and critical analysis of issues from different perspectives. In contrast, I also enjoy learning the technicalities of water treatment, sludge, removal and water recycling. Water is like an elixir for life. For Bangalore, where I’m from, the only future is to recycle water.
‘I lost my father two weeks before I found out I got the scholarship’
When I moved to the UK, it was the first time I left home and my family who I had been living with for 25 years. I lost my father two weeks before I found out I got the British Council Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Scholarship to study in the UK. I had mixed feelings as it was a point when everything had just dimmed, but it was a light for my entire family. I was one of only 15 Indian students who received it and one of only seven students at the University of Newcastle itself.
‘Getting the Women in STEM Scholarship made studying in the UK possible for me’
I am not from a very financially strong background and I have always wanted to do something more. Getting the Women in STEM Scholarship made it possible as it was fully funded. It covered my travelling, accommodation, food and tuition fees. In addition, it paid for any books, printouts, calculators, or other materials I needed for my course or trips for my dissertation research. It was never just about the money, though, as my reputation as a British Council scholar will help me in my future professional life and employment.
‘Getting used to a new education system takes time’
When I came from India, I found it difficult at first. I didn’t have to write academically before, so I didn’t have much practice in that area. The first coursework I did was demanding. I got 54 per cent for it, and back home, marks were a big thing.
When I spoke to my supervisor, she sat with me for an hour and went through my assignment, line by line, and told me how I could improve. She made it clear that I could go and knock on her office door at any point if I had any doubts and I’d do this without thinking twice. I’d also ask my friends if they could help me out. Even with that support, I’d still do three or four drafts to get to my final paper, but everything got better.
Since coming here, I’ve realised that learning is more important than grades alone and I’ve learned a lot in the last year. As the old saying goes, ‘hard work always pays’. By the end of my course, I got a distinction for my dissertation on analysing the water quality of River Bradford Beck.
‘My housemate and I often paint together to relax’
When I came to the UK, I went through a tough time with my grief. My housemates were so supportive. I used to sit and paint together to relax with one of them - Sophie from Germany. She’s been with me through thick and thin. I feel comfortable feeling how I’m feeling and being vulnerable with her. I’ve also had lots of support from my family back in India, so I haven’t felt like I’ve needed to reach out to the university services, but it’s good to know they are there. That said, I did tell one of my professors about my situation. Whenever I lost focus or struggled with my work, she understood. She told me I could apply for an extension and gave me the space and the time I needed.
When studying from Monday to Friday, no matter how I felt, I would always go out and see places or chill out at the weekend. It’s important to remember that there’s more to life than university - even if that is why you came to the UK.
‘My friends made my first birthday away from home amazing’
One of my favourite memories was when I celebrated my birthday in June. It was my first birthday away from home after my dad passed away and I had been going through an emotional roller coaster ride. Even now, I would say that I’m not entirely over my grief. Some of my friends didn’t know, but those who did were compassionate and looked out for me. They all showed up and made sure that my birthday celebration was unforgettable. I cooked Indian food and they brought me so many gifts. It made a huge difference when I was so far away from home.
‘I just got an offer to work at a leading water company in the UK’
I recently got a job offer to work with a leading water company in the UK. If everything goes according to plan, I will work with them in the South of England next year. For the first four months, I’ll mostly be working on sludge treatment, how we can use the treated sludge and the different treatment classes. And every four months, I will have the opportunity to work on a different project so I can learn along the way.
The career service at Newcastle University was excellent. They helped me create different resumes, review them and select the best ones. After submitting my dissertation, I started applying for jobs. I did mock interviews with my cousin Anita from Bangalore and lots of reading. I think the panel selected me partly for the honesty of my answers.
If you are determined and open to upskilling yourself, the opportunities here in the UK are immense.