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Zofia Gawor, Railway Signalling Design Engineer

Zofia Gawor

Name: Zofia Gawor

Age: 24

Job title: Railway signalling design engineer

Company employed by: Transport for London

Zofia’s role model as a child was her Grandma, who used to say that girls can do anything they want to do, and if you really want something, then you “go out and get it done girl!” As Zofia grew up, she wanted a job that combined science and art, so a design engineer was the perfect fit. Now, Zofia takes great satisfaction from knowing her work helps millions of people get to work, school and holiday shopping on time and most importantly, safely!

When you were a child, what did you dream you’d be when you grew up?
When I was little I wanted to be a ballerina, however as I grew up I knew I wanted a job that combined science and art, so a design engineer was the perfect fit.

What is the biggest impact your work will or could have in the future?
The work I am doing will help to relieve congestion on the underground and make everyone’s journey times shorter and more comfortable. But most importantly it will keep millions of travellers safe as they explore one of the most interesting cities in the world.

What excites you most about STEM?
The incredible opportunities it offers. I have had such a varied career so far and I’ve only been working for a few years! I’m so excited to see where I will end up and what I will have worked on by the end of my career.

What do you love about your job? What would you change?
I love puzzle solving so signal design is the perfect job for me; I find it so satisfying when the puzzle I’m working on is finally solved. The work is so varied that you never know what puzzle you’re going to get next! I would change having to work on the tracks at night in the winter; it gets very chilly.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?
Knowing that the systems I am working on will help millions of people get to work, school and holiday shopping on time and most importantly, safely!

What does a typical day at work involve?
If you’ve ever played the sliding block puzzle game, where you have to slide the red block out of the grid by first moving all the other blocks out of the way, then you’ve got a good idea of what signal designers are trying to do (except they’re using trains not wooden blocks). I am currently on the apprenticeship scheme at TfL, which means that my days are very varied! I could be in the office working with the project engineers who are delivering major signal upgrade programs across the network. I could be down on the railway tracks with maintenance engineers fixing track circuits and signalling equipment. Or I could be in a control room routing trains and dealing with technical issues from the trains or the signalling system.

What’s the most unexpected thing about your job?
The amount of creative thinking required. Most people think of engineering as purely maths and physics, and while there is a lot of that, there is a huge element of creativity and design that goes into my role that most people tend to overlook.

Did you have any role models when you were younger? What inspired you to do the job you’re doing now?
I used to binge watch ‘How it’s made’ when I was off sick from school. I always found the manufacturing processes of random every day objects fascinating. The role model that played the biggest part in getting me to where I am today is my grandma; who instilled in me from a young age that girls can do anything they want to do, and if you really want something then you ‘go out and get it done girl!’

Any influential toys during childhood?
Scooby-doos, Lego, Marble run and Polly pockets.

Your favourite subjects at school?
Physics (although I didn’t admit it to anyone else at the time), Design Technology and Textiles.

Qualifications (school/college/university):
For A-level I did Design technology: Product design, Physics, Art and design: Textiles and Maths. I then did a degree in Industrial Design and Technology BA. And now I am back at college completing an HNQ in Engineering alongside my day job. The great thing about an apprenticeship scheme is that you can come into it from any point in your education journey; we have people that joined straight out of school having just done their GCSE’s.

Your reason for choosing this career?
When I left school I couldn’t decide between art and science as I enjoyed them both equally. Through research online I discovered product design and design engineering which incorporated both into one profession, perfect!

Tell me about your career path to date?
I studied Industrial Design and Technology at Loughborough University where I decided to take a year in industry in my third year. I went to work for Avon Protection as a design engineer, designing gas masks for the military, firefighters and police. After finishing my final year of university I found a summer job working for Qioptiq who design and manufacture weapon sights and night vision goggles for the military. Working there as a design engineer was so interesting and I learned a huge amount, however at the end of the summer I decided that I needed to move closer to home. So I found a job in London working for TfL as a railway signalling design engineer.

If you could have any job what would it be? How does it differ from what you’re doing?
Design engineering is my absolute dream job but I do enjoy performing musicals in my local drama group, so maybe an actor in the West End!

Your advice to a young person considering a career in STEM?
Try it! Get a work experience placement in an engineering company; get them to show how the whole process works from concept design through to manufacture and commissioning. There is such a huge range of job roles within engineering, I would recommend getting out there and giving some a go. You never know till you try!