The Royal Academy of Engineering has announced 50 new Fellows: its anointed of 2015. How representative is this cohort? Objectivity is always difficult: subjective, personal perceptions are always likely to be powerful. What the hell; let’s try.
Here’s a simple approach without over-analysis.
I have used four categories:
Gender [division into two only, I’m afraid],
domain as in commerce and government etc.,
discipline of original or basic degree, and
workplace by a coarse, geographic division.
Here’s two disclaimers. I realise that four categories do not give an intensely nuanced description of the new Fellows and you must also realise that it is also a relatively small sample especially in the case of the women.
Of the 50 new Fellows, four [8%] are women. All are University Academics; three are based in London and the other in Wales. Their disciplines are all different as Chemical, Mechanical, Materials and IT. The Fellow of the latter discipline is working in “Human-Centred Technology and Science of Cyber Security Research”.
The four domains are each to represent a distinct and somewhat different milieu for its toilers.
There is the Commercial domain: generally driven by the profit motive. There is the University Academic seeking knowledge. The Government domain is that of laboratories sponsored by Government: largely or completely funded by the public purse. Finally, the Infrastructure includes such bodies as the NHS, independent Registration bodies, and national transport networks.
50% of the new Fellows are in the University Academic domain whereas only 40% are in Commerce and 8% wrestling with the UK Infrastructure.
Once upon a time some decades ago, the Government, with such organisations as the National Engineering Laboratory at East Kilbride, employed rather more engineers than this 2%. Today, if the government employed more engineers, their effective engineering decisions would benefit. That is, if it sought out and took their advice.
This statistic is derived from the declared, first degree discipline of the Fellow. Technologically, this does not always map exactly onto their current position. Although their career may well have moved away ‘upwards’ somewhat, they still do not usually stray too far away technically. The degree of one Fellow was unknown from the published biography with no response to a query.
Mechanical —————————— 9
Civil —————————————— 10
Electrical or Electronic ———— 7
Chemical ———————————- 3
Aeronautical —————————- 1
Manufacture —————————- 2
The top three at between 20% and 14% are about what I expect given my perceived proportions of the professional engineering workforce. The aeronautical 2% seems low considering its, perhaps self-assessed, technical brilliance. Manufacturing is only slightly higher at 4% and, assuming that all the deserving have been found, UK plc could do with a higher proportion of such engineers.
Robotics ————————————– 2
Materials ————————————- 5
Oil and Gas ———————————- 4
Bioengineering —————————- 1
Information Technology ————- 5
Unknown ———————————— 1
The Materials discipline at 10% is not surprising and also encouraging. Vast engineering improvements are being gained. These stem from both our greatly improved understanding of materials at the atomic level and also from developing the complex and accurate process control needed to benefit from that understanding. The 8% for Oil and Gas seems about right if we need to get the most out of the apparently emptying North Sea fields. I say that not in order to burn fossil fuel but using it as feed stock for complex organics. The field of Robotics at 4% as a coming speciality needs more engineering intellectual horsepower [pardon the pun] as well as IT insight.
The 10% under the IT discipline [AI, computer vision algorithms, complex data analysis, medical image computing, and cyber-security research] involves much wrestling with mathematical logic and no bending of physical forces to the human will.
This is a division defined by place of work of the new Fellows according to their biographies.
London ————————————- 14
Midlands ———————————– 5
South —————————————– 7
South West ——————————– 5
North —————————————– 6
Wales —————————————– 1
Scotland ————————————- 3
Abroad ————————————— 9
Not to my surprise, or I imagine to anyone else’s, London apparently shelters the most new top engineers this year at 28%. Considering how little production occurs in London and how much elsewhere in the UK, the London 28% seems high. Not so much when we realise, firstly, that most engineers these days are not occupied in manufacture but perhaps in servicing the manufacturing process carried out abroad where costs are lower. Secondly, 14% of the ‘Londoners’ are University Academics. Indeed, the North/South divide is alive and well in that London, South and South West together account for 52% of all the new Fellows this year. This is more than all the rest put together: which is particularly striking because ‘the rest’ includes Abroad at 18%.
Talking of London University Academics, if I was mischief-making I would tell you that Imperial College blew the others away with 8% of new Fellows with only 4% from UCL and 2% from Brunel. Not only that but if I look at all the University Academics within the 50 new Fellows, Imperial has bragging rights over every one of the other Universities, none of whom has more than the 4% of Cambridge as well as UCL.