Katie Winkle is studying for a PhD in assistive robotics, designing robotic systems for caring roles, such as looking after older people. She graduated from a four-year mechanical engineering degree at Bristol University with a master’s in engineering.
“Growing up, I was interested in cars, in how machines work, stuff we can build using science in an applied way. My dad was a car mechanic and he encouraged my curiosity,” she says.
She thinks a mechanical engineering degree is the key to a wide range of careers and experiences in engineering and beyond. Some students who graduated alongside Winkle got jobs in the finance industry, which is looking for problem-solving and numerical skills. Others have gone on to engineering roles in the automotive and aeronautical industries.
Winkle took science A-levels plus maths, and originally wanted to study chemical engineering, as she thought it would be about inventing new materials. But she later found out that it is about building factories and chemical processes. “I switched to mechanical engineering because the more I read about it, the more I saw it really is one of the broadest types of engineering. All the fundamentals of engineering are there, so you could go into civil engineering afterwards or chemical engineering. It really is the broadest and oldest type of engineering.”
She says the course was intense, like studying three separate degrees in maths, physics and chemistry. “In chemistry we studied right down to the crystalline structure of metals, which is very chemistry based. But that has served me well, so now, when we are dealing with materials, we have a deeper understanding of how they react.”
During her degree, Winkle spent summers as an intern at Jaguar Land Rover. She says internships for engineers are paid and many of them lead to a graduate job, giving you the chance to have hands-on experience.
“The most interesting time I spent was in research, looking at alternative fuels, electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell cars and thinking about what the car industry is going to look like in 50 years’ time,” she says. During her final year, she took a module on robotics and “got totally hooked”, so she applied to stay on and do a PhD in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.
She wants to continue working as a researcher in assistive robotics, which combines engineering, psychology and computer science. She is proud that her work is helping older people stay at home longer, rather than going into care. “I’m helping people to have a better quality of life,” she says.
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