Eleanor Watson

IEEE Senior Member

Q: What inspired you to become an engineer? Were you always interested in technology? If so, why? If not, when did you become interested and why?

A: My father was a rocketry guidance engineer and was a real mechanical and electrical boffin also. He could build or fix anything, be it a lawnmower, polarized laser or custom-designed computer circuitry. He was keen to cement a love of engineering in me, and taught me many principles. He died when I was rather young, before I was even a teenager, but I retained his passion for efficient designs and elegant solutions, and this has driven me to pursue a career in engineering and a doctorate in that same subject.

Another of my influences is engineer Thomas Andrews, architect of the Titanic, which was famously built in my hometown of Belfast. Andrews’ streamlined designs inspire many to this day, but what captivates me was his interest in lesser-known stakeholders, such as the stokers. He took care to listen to their needs, making expensive retrofits to ensure that they had plenty of water to wash with on their way back from the boiler rooms. The stokers rewarded Andrews with a special party in his honor, as a way of saying thanks.

This humanitarian aspect of engineering stuck with me, along with the ironic tragedy of the tremendous loss of life later on that voyage, and the gross inequity of who was able to survive. Andrews was a good man, but was cowed by his bosses into providing only the minimum regulatory requirement in terms of lifeboats. I often think of poor Andrews standing graven at the fireplace of the smoking room, wishing forlornly that he had been more insistent on the safety of life at sea.

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