Elizabeth O’ Ferrall: “Environs around us influence our decisions and pathways in life” | IWD 2020

In conversation with Eizabeth O’Ferrall, AIT alumna and senior scientific officer, National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI):

You were one of AIT’s first female mechanical engineering students in the ‘70s, paving the way for other women in a traditionally male-dominated industry. What was that like and where are you now?

I attended AIT (formerly ARTC) in 1979 and completed a National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering. My lecturers were fantastic and treated students as equally. I really enjoyed the course and used it as a stepping stone for further studies in the field. After AIT, I moved Dundalk, worked for a year in industry before completing a BEng in Materials Engineering at another university. I was one of the lucky ones and walked into a job upon graduating in 1986. I now work with the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) as a Senior Scientific Officer. I am responsible for the development of technical standards across a number of sectors such as safety of machinery, occupational health and safety, cabin air quality in aircraft, child safety products and accessibility . 

What is your greatest achievement to date and how has your life/educational experiences fed into it? 

Since graduating, I have been extremely lucky getting positions in industry in roles such as project engineer, quality engineer, and manufacturing across a number of industry sectors. One of my greatest achievements was being appointed as the Task Group Coordinator on a European Commission project on Design for All. I believe that the skills and knowledge that I learnt throughout my early years in AIT have supported me throughout my career.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

In my professional and private life, I strive to promote gender equality and equity for all. At the moment I am studying a Master of Law - International Justice to provide me with more skills and tools that I can use to promote an inclusive society, gender equality and equal access for all. International Women’s Day for me is about empowering women to follow their dreams, study what interests them and be the best they can be for themselves. 

Who are your female role models?

I don’t have a female role model per say. All my lecturers in engineering have been male. I would say they encouraged me and did not see gender as an important factor in being an engineering student.  This was very important to me.  I would say that I am encouraged by a number of women rather than influenced by them. 

What advice would you give to young women interested in pursuing a career in your field?

I wanted to study engineering from an early age, and I would say to prospective students, follow your dreams and natural interests. Do what you love and enjoy the experience.  AIT started me on a very interesting path, gave me skills and knowledge that I needed to pursue my career in engineering.

What can be done to inspire and encourage more women to pursue a career in STEM?

I do believe that the environs around us do influence our decisions and pathways in life.  People need to be exposed to the science subjects in primary and secondary school and having teachers that love and enjoy teaching the subjects which can instill an awakening in any student for future studies in that area. Parents, relations and friends can influence also what young people decide to study later in life.  Many girls especially in my time including myself were not offered the opportunity to study the science subjects in secondary school. I got my interest in engineering from my Dad who was a mechanic and I grew up in a household where taking motorbikes apart was an normal as having breakfast.  So, I would encourage women to study what they like and are interested in. There are lots of opportunity especially nowadays across diverse sectors of industry.

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