We caught up with recently-chartered, new Mum, Nadine ElMallah, on her journey to becoming an engineer, and her career so far.
When did you decide to become an engineer?
Just like an old dream, I always knew that I wanted to be an engineer. I was just not always sure what type of engineer. At school I was good at maths, physics and chemistry, and I enjoyed them, so I thought the more suitable career for me would be something engineering-related.
I grew up and went to school in Dubai. When I was 16 I received a scholarship from McGill University in Montreal. I had never been to Canada before, but I was aware of the great reputation of the university, so I was delighted to be accepted and to make that big transition.
That’s quite young, did anyone accompany you?
My whole family was very supportive, and my parents and four younger siblings all moved to Canada with me. My Mum was a language teacher – Arabic and French, and my Dad had his own business. So they were both able to continue to work once in Canada, although my Dad had to travel back and forth a bit.
How did you settle into life in Canada?
It was cold, and very challenging, but I liked the university. It was very stressful at the beginning but I really enjoyed the classes. First year is a good time to make friends because everyone is just starting out like you, and you get to meet people from all over the world.
So how did you find university?
In my freshman year I studied all the science subjects, and I liked dealing with all the different mechanical problems, and the aspects of construction. I really enjoyed chemistry and physics, so I decided that chemical engineering would be a great fit for me for the rest of my degree. So I studied chemical engineering for four years, followed by a further year of computer science.
I followed that with a Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering and a study on Carbon Nanotubes Synthesis Technology using plasma and lasers. It involved enhanced production of certain materials. The subject was a quite advanced at the time and exciting to work on.
Once you completed your Master’s, what was your approach to finding an engineering job?
I applied to a few different international graduate schemes in different countries including France. I eventually accepted a graduate position with a large oil and gas service company in Sharjah. So I returned to the UAE, and worked as part of a process engineering team. I carried out detailed engineering tasks on a number of projects over a five-year period. I also met my husband around that time.
After five years in detailed engineering, I wanted to get some exposure to consultancy work. So I spent three years working for an engineering consultancy in Dubai. It was then I decided that consultancy work was more challenging and more rewarding for me, because I was exposed to different tasks, and different projects all the time.
So with your next role you were looking for something within an engineering consultancy?
Definitely. I really enjoy consultancy work. But I also enjoy the experience of moving to a new place and getting to know new people – and that’s why I decided to move to Aberdeen.
I heard a lot about Aberdeen as a major hub for the oil and gas industry. I had never worked on an offshore project, and I really wanted to enjoy that different experience. Aberdeen also had a reputation as a place with very experienced people – who I imagined I would learn a lot from. Someone I knew, who had worked at Ingen previously, recommended that it would be a great fit for me, and so I applied for a position here.
You’ve been working at Ingen for around three years now. How would you describe it?
Ingen is a very friendly place to work. You can see that it’s a people company – we’re more like a family, and the company is focused around us.
All of the projects are exciting, they all have ups and downs, and can be onshore and offshore, and different lifecycle stages. The range of work is quite wide – from concept to trouble-shooting. There are many different projects to work on, which require different skills and different perspectives – so it’s both challenging and rewarding to work here.
I also had the opportunity to work on proposals, which helped my engineering skills and gave me a more rounded experience and broader perspective of the commercial side of things. Usually, different engineers join a project at different stages the project, but at Ingen I get the chance to be involved in a project even before it becomes a project. That’s a unique experience that you don’t get at every engineering consultancy.
When did you decide that you’d like to become an IChemE Chartered Engineer?
When I joined Ingen the culture here was very encouraging and supportive towards becoming chartered, and the company has a great relationship with IChemE – it’s actually a Gold Corporate Partner. If becoming chartered is something you want to do, then Ingen is the best place to do it.
When people join the company they are assigned a mentor, who is already chartered, to support their chartership journey – so we get a lot of help. Daniel Becerra was my mentor through the process, and his support and influence was very encouraging. When I started the paperwork it took about a year to complete. It helped that I had varied engineering experience and had worked on different types of projects – so the process for me was quite quick.
Why do you think it’s important to become chartered?
The process of becoming chartered helps you to improve the way you think. It helps you to prioritise the important engineering aspects. You analyse different facets of engineering, safety, ethics and your behaviour as an engineer, so it makes you become a more complete, better engineer.
Has becoming a Mum changed you as an engineer?
Becoming a Mum six months ago has influenced me as an engineer. It has made me even more conscious of ethics and safety, and the future. I also have less time, so I schedule my day differently, and I need to manage my time very effectively and be more organised and focused.
Do you think you’ve ever influenced anyone to become an engineer?
Two of my siblings have since studied at McGill University and two have become engineers in the mining industry. They could be somewhat influenced by me to undertake engineering, but they both have the same love of the STEM subjects, so it was also a natural path for them. If one day my son becomes an engineer, I would be very happy – we will see!
Do you think the oil and gas industry has changed in any way since the beginning of your career?
I think engineering is a male-dominated industry generally, and it’s the same in oil and gas. Quite often I was the only woman at meetings in the beginning of my career. Over the years many more women have joined the industry which is great. At Ingen, the engineering team is around forty-five percent female – which is very high compared with other companies. I would encourage girls to pursue oil and gas engineering. There’s a lot of stress and challenges, but if you enjoy that, you will do well.
[todo: link here https://www.ingen-ideas.com/article/news/ingen-ideas-becomes-first-small-company-in-the-world-to-achieve-icheme-gold]
Find out more about Ingen’s Gold Corporate Partnership with IChemE
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