Dr Vannessa Goodship
Principal Research Fellow, Nanocomposites Research Group, WMG
Chances are… unless you are reading this naked while floating in an empty anti-gravity environment, you are currently completely surrounded by the numerous types of plastics materials that Vannessa has spent the last thirty years working with. Have a look around and you will quickly realise just how important plastics engineering is to our modern lifestyles with everything from pens, plugs, washing-up bowls, computers, mobile phone cases, toys and probably even the clothes you are wearing are all made of fantastic plastic materials. Here is Vannessa's take on life as an engineer working with plastics:
As a football mad girl I had planned to be the next Kenny Dalglish (a legendary footballer for Liverpool FC). That did not happen, (but I still live in hope). I really did not set out with any plan that I would be a plastics engineer; it was more that plastic engineering found me. I was sent by the job centre for a position as an apprentice technician and saw my first plastics laboratory. I can still remember how it looked to me; it really did look like something straight out of a Frankenstein movie- simply awesome. I got the job.
In industry as an apprentice, I spent my formative years battering plastics, with hammers, flames, electrocution and lots of very nasty chemicals to name just a few of the testing methods we used. I was 16 years of age, with a group of very cool other teenagers, of course I loved it! I am still in touch with fellow apprentices from this time 30 years later. (That is why I have had to say they were cool – in case they happen to read this!)
I went on to develop my technical skills in both technical service and research and development (R&D) functions within the plastics industry. Since I got a job at WMG, University of Warwick, I have very much focused on delivering R&D projects. To do university research requires funding, so I have also learnt to apply for research funding over the years as well. This job has involved a lot of change, a constant requirement for learning lots of new skills, and within this role I have been privileged to work with, and learn from, a lot of very talented people.
Within a core polymer engineering research remit I have had the opportunity to get experience in a diverse range of other activities from forming and running a polymer recycling network, to filing a patent, writing academic research papers for a very specific expert audience to writing plastics books for a wider audience to help show just how exciting plastic materials can be. I have also helped develop the infrastructure within my department to help mentor and develop the next generation of engineers. I am still continuing to develop my own core expertise. You never stop learning and yes, I still do get to beat-up plastics occasionally.
One of the highlights of my career was working on and getting a PhD whilst working at WMG. I did actually have a Eureka moment in the bath where it all fell into place – at 16 years of age, I would have told you there was more chance of me playing for Liverpool!
One of my funniest memories is the time I tried to impress someone and very proudly told a friend’s grandmother that I worked at the University of Warwick, only for her to reply by asking me if I was a cleaner. I love that story, not only because it taught me a very valuable lesson in humility, but because it also made me think about the way we perceive ourselves, and the ways in which we could change that perception. A woman automatically assumed a non-professional role to me. I would like to think when I am elderly (perhaps I should write ‘more elderly’), I would automatically ask a young woman if she was an engineer.
I still cannot help but smile every time I get to put on a lab coat and see something new. I am now old enough to be sure that I will always be that excited apprentice at heart.
My job is to bring my imagination to life to try to make things work better – who would not like doing that?