Beverly Bradley: From Engineering Student To CEMF Scholarship Winner

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Every year, the Canadian Engineering Memorial Foundation (CEMF) celebrates female engineering students across the country for their egg-straordinary endeavors in the engineering community.

To recognize these students, the CEMF grants scholarships to Undergraduate, Graduate, and Doctoral students. This year, the Doctoral scholarship (Claudette MacKay-Lassonde Graduate Scholarship) was awarded to PhD student Beverly Bradley.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Beverly and was astonished at how deeply involved and integrated she is in every facet of engineering. Beverly is a mentor, teaching assistant, researcher, vigorous volunteer, and is currently completing her PhD at the University of Toronto.

Beverly’s story is not only remarkable, it serves as motivation for students of all disciplines to work hard toward your career aspirations and to always challenge yourself.

What and who influenced you to study engineering?

Growing up, there actually were no engineers in my immediate family. My father was a high school mathematics teacher though, and so from a very early age he instilled in me a love for math and problem-solving. I also always took a keen interest in school projects that involved building and designing things (e.g. mouse-trap cars, Rube Goldberg machines, etc.) I think one pivotal moment for me was attending the Shad Valley summer program after Grade 12 at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. With this new sparked interest, I began to explore engineering programs when it was time to apply to universities during my last year of high school.

How do you balance completing your PhD, your extra-curricular involvement in engineering and your personal life?

I think it’s all about balance, knowing yourself, and knowing your limits.  The extra-curricular activities that I participate in are usually in line with my research, personal and professional goals. Otherwise, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, staying fit and trying to be a good time manager are all important too! I’m also incredibly lucky to have a very supportive partner and family, who are always there to help me get through the tough times!

Your doctoral thesis involves developing sustainable technology to provide a more reliable supply of medical oxygen in countries with healthcare challenges. What motivated you to choose this route for your thesis?

My research topic was borne out of an internship I had after graduating from my masters in Biomedical Engineering at Carleton University. At that time, I was keen to explore a new challenge that would combine my passion for biomedical engineering with issues of poverty and global development and was fortunate to be offered an eight-month placement at the UK Medical Research Council in The Gambia. During this experience I learned that most health facilities in low-income countries do not have a reliable supply of medical oxygen, an essential medicine for treating childhood pneumonia and other serious illnesses. My research project looked at the use of alternative energy sources to power oxygen machines.

What was it like researching and studying for your thesis in Gambia? What were some key things you were able to take away from this experience?

The experience has been truly eye-opening and inspiring! Seeing first hand the reality of scarce medical oxygen supplies in Gambian health facilities – which are challenged every day by a lack of technology, poor electricity supply, and limited human and financial resources – has added a vital dimension to the way I approach my research.

You’re currently a Mentor Coordinator for the Global Ideas Institute at the University of Toronto; why is it important for engineering students to get involved in a program like this?

In general, programs like this are a great way for engineering students to develop better communication, leadership, and mentorship skills. Since the Global Ideas Institute in particular is an inter-disciplinary program, I have been able meet graduate students from across the campus – from political science, to public policy, and public health, etc., which has been hugely beneficial and has broadened my own perspectives. Programs like this are a great way for students from different disciplines with similar passions and interests to come together.

Can you describe your involvement with Engineers Without Borders?

Engineers Without Borders is an excellent organization for young engineers to become involved in.  Its membership is predominantly made up of students, so it is a young and energetic community.  It is also the kind of organization that you can ‘grow up’ in – from a new member, to a volunteer, to a chapter leader, to an intern overseas or change maker in Canada. It provides so many opportunities for personal and professional development, with roles to meet anyone’s strengths. In general, joining student groups will significantly enhance a student’s undergraduate experience (and I wish someone had let me in on that secret when I was in first year).

If you could give one piece of advice to women aspiring to become an Engineer, what would it be?

My advice would be to not just think about ‘becoming an engineer,’ but to think about how an engineering education can help you become whatever or whomever you want to be – whether it be an academic, an entrepreneur, a teacher, even a doctor! Engineering provides you with a unique toolbox of skills that can be applied in so many different ways to so many interesting careers. Don’t just aspire to become an engineer – aspire to make a unique and positive change in the world!

What or who influenced you to study engineering? Let us know in the comments below!

Photo Credit: The University of Toronto

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