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Gill Cooke

In September 2016 I joined the University of Warwick as Head of Teaching and Professorial Teaching Fellow. I would describe my career path to this position as steady, fulfilling and most of all enjoyable, although at times incredibly hard work!

At secondary school I enjoyed maths, physics, technical drawing and drama and in an ideal world would have studied a Drama and Technology degree. However, ever pragmatic, I realised that there was not much demand for one-handed actresses in the late 1980’s (note how times and attitudes to disabled people have changed) and decided I wanted to be a design engineer. So, at sixteen I left school and joined a local aerospace company on a 4 year Engineering Technician apprenticeship, during which time I completed my BTEC national certificate and higher national certificate. During that time I was the only female engineer in my apprentice cohort and at college. Yet, determined to show the boys I was as good as them, excelled in my studies and upon starting a full time position as a Quality Engineer, was sponsored to complete a degree part time at Coventry University.

Upon graduating I remained in industry and moved around a number of companies in a variety of quality management roles. I focused on quality as a career as I really enjoyed the day-to-day variety and problem solving challenges that presented themselves; it was a shop floor to top floor role from investigating product failures to briefing the management team on quality assurance. However, when a position became available to lecture in quality management I applied and joined Coventry as a Lecturer in 1997. Over the next 10 years I steadily built up my academic experience, developed modules, courses and embarked on a part time PhD and progressed to Senior Lecturer. Then in 2008 I was promoted to Principal Lecturer and also Associate Head of Department. During this time, I line managed a number of staff and managed the timetable and workloads of the department. I also led the ‘new’ pedagogic developments and implementation of Activity Led Learning which transformed the teaching practices in the department. It is fair to say that this role in conjunction with completing my PhD was the most challenging and hard work.

The opportunity of a secondment to the Higher Education Academy to be Discipline Lead in Engineering and Materials was a fantastic experience in which I delivered training and workshops in teaching and learning, travelled the UK exploring teaching and learning practices in the sector and also delivered consultancy both in the UK and overseas. I also contributed to sector projects including working on the QAA Engineering Subject Benchmark Statements. It was during this role that I have met a number of incredible women who are truly making a difference to engineering education, many of whom I remain in contact with. I think the strength of the female minority is in the networking and connectivity; I have never met anyone who has not been supportive. Upon return to Coventry I became Acting Head of Department; I thoroughly enjoyed leading a department of 60+ academics and supported by Associate Heads this was one of the most enjoyable times of my career. A restructuring provided the opportunity to apply for an Associate Dean position in Quality and Accreditation in the Faculty of Engineering and Computing, a role which I fulfilled until joining Warwick.

Earlier I noted how attitudes to disabilities have changed over time; yet in my experience in engineering there was never the need for the change only the need for the realisation and confidence amongst females that they can do great things and excel as much as the next person.