Spotlight Feature – Catriona Savage

Cat Savage (MSc CEng FRINA MIMarEST DipIOD) is the Technical Assurance and Capability Director at BMT. She is responsible for ensuring the right people with the right skills are delivering quality products and consultancy to our international customers in Maritime, Environment, Defence & Security, and Asset Management & Sustainment.  In addition to this, Cat is an Honorary Professor at University College London and President Elect of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects.  Cat trained as a Naval Architect at the University of Southampton and has spent just over 25 years working in industry, the MoD and academia which has provided her with a really exciting and varied career to date. 

What attracted you to a career in Maritime/Engineering? Are there subjects or activities at school that guided you towards this path?  
I really enjoyed science and maths at school, and this meant I pursued these subjects at A-level.  Even though I went to a very forward-thinking, co-educational school, I was still the only girl studying physics at A-level and engineering wasn’t my initial interest. I’m not sure at that stage I really knew what it was.  Once I realised that applied Maths and Physics were the subjects I enjoyed most, I love problem solving, I started thinking about how I might use them in my future.  I had been passionate about sailing for a few years, and, in those pre-internet days, I had heard about aeronautical engineering and thought there must be an equivalent for ships and boats.  After many hours in the career’s library, I found the name of the subject I wanted to study – Naval Architecture.  I was so set on that direction that when my careers advisor asked me whether I should also apply to other courses in case I didn’t get the grades, my response was – if I don’t get the grades I’ll retake. 

What are you most proud of in having a career in Maritime/Engineering?  
I never thought I would ever get the opportunity to work in academia having chosen a path that had led to working in industry for 20+years.  However, I was successful in my application for the position of Professor of Naval Architecture at University College London, it was certainly an unusual career move and not without challenge.  Having taken that step it became clear that the benefits far outweighed any concerns I had, and it was very rewarding to work with a great team and educate the next generation of complex ship designers, whilst getting involved in research as well. Out of this experience I am really proud of seeing the achievements of the students I taught whilst at UCL.  In addition to this, I applied and was successful in obtaining a scholarship from the Royal Institution of Naval Architects whilst at university.  Throughout my career I’ve given back to the institution through Chairing the Membership Committee, sitting on Council and as a Trustee.  This year I will become the first female President of the Institution and Chair of the Board of Trustees, hopefully the first of many! 

What is the biggest misconception about your job? 
People often expect that as I am responsible for Technical Assurance, I like to add time consuming processes to the way we work but my philosophy is that process should reduce risk, or increase efficiency, or both.  If it does neither of these things, you should be questioning its worth.  Separately to this, as a woman in a leadership role, I still sometimes feel like a novelty in the industry.  This has reduced in recent years but the percentage of women in Engineering in the UK is still incredibly low and there are a limited number in leadership roles.  I no longer get looks of surprise when I turn up at a meeting but that has been a relatively recent change. 

What is the most exciting part of your day-to-day job?  
I still get excited when I get the opportunity to go on a site visit or get on board a ship, but I do less of that in my current role.  What I enjoy most is doing something that solves a problem and really adds value to our people, the business or to the profession in general.  I really like to help people succeed and often that’s about helping them to look at a problem in a different way or just letting them know that when they are doing something that is outside their comfort zone, they have backup and support. 

What would you say to young females thinking about a career in Maritime/Engineering? 
Just do it!  There is so much opportunity and variety in the careers you can pursue in the Maritime Industry.  Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, so many people are keen to share their experience to help you progress and finding a good mentor through either a company, industry or professional institution can be really helpful.  One of the mentors I had earlier in my career really helped me to think differently and I credit him with much of the success I’ve had since.  Never forget that interviews are an opportunity to learn and gain feedback. Not being the chosen candidate doesn’t necessarily mean you weren’t good enough, somebody else was just a better fit or had slightly different experience.  What is certain is you won’t get the job if you don’t apply, and you don’t need to tick all the boxes on a job description to be the best person for the role! 


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