Class of 2020: Becoming Leeds’ First Black Female Chemical and Nuclear Engineering Graduate


Gina Baker graduated this year in Chemical and Nuclear Engineering from the University of Leeds – she is the first black female to graduate from the course. In this piece, Gina highlights her experience of studying a STEM subject at Leeds and offers advice for those interested in pursuing a career in STEM.

As an 18-year-old, going to university was one of the things I looked forward to the most. Five years later upon graduating, I can definitely say this is one of the best decisions I made. University made me grow in so many different ways; socially, academically as well as gaining experience in the working world.

As the first black woman to have attained a Master’s (MEng) and Bachelor’s (BEng) degree in Chemical and Nuclear Engineering from the University of Leeds, my experience in studying a STEM subject was no easy journey. However, it was a valuable experience I will never forget especially in my last three years.

Engineering is quite a challenging subject and I remember having to be extra focused and determined in third year, as it was the first time I had to complete an engineering project by myself to attain my BEng. In fourth year, I completed a 13-month placement at one of the world’s largest FMCG company, Procter and Gamble (P&G) which shaped me a lot.

My final year at Leeds wasn’t quite what I would have imagined in first year due to the pandemic – nonetheless, the memories and knowledge that Leeds gave me opened my mindset, matured me as an individual and certainly changed my perspective on education and becoming an adult.

Advice for those wanting to pursue a career in STEM:

Firstly, a career in STEM is no easy task however, it is a very fruitful career if one has the passion and motivation to see it through. In the words of one of my role models Katherine Johnson, she states:

“like what you do and then you will do it best”

which is absolutely fundamental in any career path as it is a recurring theme in your life. For cohorts already pursuing subjects in the STEM industry, keep searching for roles especially in this unprecedented era we live in. Some companies only took a break from recruitment to strategise for the future due to uncertainties.

The earlier you start the better, you may need to find a role outside your industry to begin this new chapter in your life, but the skills and knowledge gained from employment is more than likely to be useful in your course of study’s industry – especially the soft skills.

When you look around everything we see, do and touch has STEM in its fundamental principles. Young girls and boys should strive to go to places and dream big even if they don’t see anyone like them there, as they are the future and can shape as well as change the narrative.

STEM careers will always be necessary and are important to pursue – they are needed to cater for our health, manufacturing industries as well as managing businesses as a whole. Take me for instance, I am an Engineer by degree but currently work as a Supply Chain Analyst because of soft skills and problem solving skillset I acquired from my placement year and course of study. STEM can bring out soft skills which are transferable anywhere.

Lastly, in regards my achievement, I have only opened the door with my degree in Chemical and Nuclear Engineering and I need my fellow young black girls to help keep it wedged open.

Tips for securing graduate roles:

  • Start applying early and receive alerts from several recruitment websites such as Debut, Gradcracker, Target Jobs and MyCareer.
  • Tailor your CV and cover letter to the role – too generic and the company will think you don’t care about them
  • Practice online aptitude tests – such as numerical, verbal and diagrammatic reasoning.
  • For interview support University of Leeds students and grad’s can book a mock interview via MyCareer. Or you can ask family and friends to practice interview answers on soft skill questions.
  • Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results) approach to structure your answers, this helped ease my nerves going into interviews as I felt more prepared and the STAR approach also helps the recruiter to hear your answers in a systematic and logical manner.

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