Nigerian Electrical Engineer, Dr. Ozak Esu, named the IET Young Woman Engineer of 2017 in the UK

Nigerian Electrical Engineer, Dr. Ozak Esu, named the IET Young Woman Engineer of 2017 in the UK
10 min read

Dr. Ozak Esu is an Electrical Engineer at Cundall, a multidisciplinary engineering consultancy in the UK. Her current role involves designing buildings’ electrical services.

Dr Ozak Esu – IET Portrait of an Engineer (Credit: The Institution of Engineering and Technology – IET)

“I grew up in Nigeria, the second of four children, and the first daughter of three. I would describe my upbringing as happy, disciplined and structured. It had to be, to keep my siblings and I engaged. Both of my parents worked full-time – my mum was an administrator in civil service, and my dad was a lecturer (Professor of Pedology). They both encouraged my siblings and I to excel and give our best in our education. Supplementary tutoring after school, and during school breaks were a common theme throughout each stage of our education.”

Ozak completed her primary education at Hillcrest Junior Special Needs School, and secondary education at Access High Schools both in Calabar, Nigeria. She went on to complete her Accelerated Advanced Level examinations in Mathematics, Physics and Geography, at Oxbridge Tutorial College, Lagos, Nigeria. In 2008, she moved to the UK and completed her Bachelor’s degree in Electronic and Electrical Engineering with First Class Honours from Loughborough University. Subsequently, she was awarded a Loughborough University Research Studentship worth £54, 000 for a three-year period to pursue her PhD in the same field.

“Aged 20, I began my PhD in October 2011, within the areas of advanced signal processing, and wind energy. In my research, I proposed an autonomous low-cost condition monitoring system for wind turbine blades, to reduce downtime, operations, maintenance, and capital costs associated with wind energy projects. I passed my PhD in October 2015, and graduated in July 2016.”

Dr. Ozak Esu – PhD Graduation

In 2017, Ozak was named on the “The Telegraph’s Top 50 Women in Engineering under 35″ list, and as The Institute of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year.

Dr. Ozak Esu, The Institute of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year 2017

  • Did you always know you would be interested in pursuing Electronic and Electrical Engineering?

“No, I did not always know that I was going to pursue a career in Electronic and Electrical Engineering. I went through phases in my childhood. There was the phase where I wanted to be a Professional Athlete and Footballer because I was good at it and it was fun. In my next phase, I wanted to become a Pilot, so that I could travel and explore the world. I moved on to the idea of becoming a Medical Doctor / Surgeon so that I could save lives and help people. However, my phobia for seeing blood in large quantities quickly dismissed this ambition. Also, I struggled in the sciences, especially Chemistry. I found Chemistry particularly difficult, and it was no further help that I disliked my Chemistry teacher. I loved Mathematics and excelled in it easily, so I knew I would end up in a career that was calculation based. It was frequent power cuts which I experienced that made me decide to take a keen interest in Physics, and led to my ultimate decision to study Electronic and Electrical Engineering. It is my ambition to work with other engineers to address this issue in Nigeria.”

  • What is the most important project you have worked on, and why?

“I work at Cundall, a multi-disciplinary engineering consultancy within the built environment. I joined as a Graduate Engineer in 2015, while I was completing my PhD and I was promoted to Electrical Engineer in 2017. I have enjoyed every project I have been involved in and deem all thirty-eight of them to be important projects, so it is particularly difficult to choose the most important one. I design electrical services such as lighting, power, life safety systems, security and access control for new buildings, and I also survey existing buildings to ensure that the installed electrical services comply with regulations and standards. These buildings include schools, offices, apartments, retail outlets, leisure centres and data centres. I generally enjoy projects where I am the lead engineer, responsible for driving all aspects of the coordinated design. I also enjoy projects where the client is keen, and matches my level of enthusiasm for implementing sustainable practices such as reducing waste and energy consumption.”

  • What was it like finding industry experience after your PhD?

“As most international students will agree, it is extremely problematic to secure employment within the UK. It was very difficult for me back then in 2014 when I began applying and it still is for others, as international students require work permits / visa sponsorships to undertake employment in the UK. I kept hearing of, and reading about the huge demand for engineers which the UK was facing, so I found it frustrating that engineering companies were unwilling to give me an opportunity to demonstrate my competence, and enthusiasm to contribute to the industry solely because of the inconvenience of visa sponsorship. It also did not help matters that I was on the verge of completing a PhD without any industry experience. After a long trail of rejected and unsuccessful applications, I was given an opportunity by Cundall to demonstrate my competence at an assessment day, which I passed, and I was offered a position and visa sponsorship which I accepted.”

  • What do your family and friends think about your career? Are they supportive?

“My family and friends are overly supportive of my career as I am of theirs. 65% of my family and 90% of my friends are pursuing careers in STEM. My sister is a Chemical Engineer, and my brother and father are both scientists and researchers. I do know that they are all very proud of me and my achievements thus far in my career.”

  • What has been your greatest disappointment as an engineer? And what would you change about this?

“Fortunately, I have not experienced any personal disappointments in my career. It has been a fantastic journey so far which I am grateful for. However, I am disappointed that fewer young people are taking up engineering as a career, based on newly published statistics in the UK. I do what I can within my abilities to engage with pupils, through specially designed activities or by talking about the work I do with a view to inspire them to take an interest in STEM subjects, and hopefully pursue careers in engineering in the future.

Another issue that disappoints me, is that there are not enough Returnship Programmes available for engineers who return from career breaks. With the accelerated pace, and advancements in technology within the industry, I sometimes worry about what it would be like for me in the future when I decide to take a career break. Would it be much easier than it is at present to get back into work, with the necessary support to update my skills?”

  • As an engineer, what do you suggest can be done about Nigeria’s energy supply crisis?

“It is my opinion that the energy crisis in Nigeria is hampered by combinations of inadequate policies, financing strategies, infrastructure, and its management. The large population means that the demand for electricity significantly outweighs the supply, leading to low reliability. Financing within the sector is ambiguous, with generating and transmission companies selling electricity in US Dollars to distribution companies who then charge bills in Nigerian Naira. Forex (FX) fluctuations mean that the distribution companies are therefore always running at a loss.

I believe over-dependence on crude oil needs to be scaled back, and there needs to be greater emphases and support for the uptake of renewable energy systems such as solar power, and energy from waste.

The existing transmission infrastructure and grid systems need upgrading, and further investment. The government needs to increase its efforts towards decentralising energy within the country. This will encourage new entrants to the energy market, create good competition, and diversity, and will improve energy supply. There should also be incentives for private individuals willing to contribute electricity to the national grid.”

  • In 2017 you were named one of the top female UK engineers under 35, and as The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year. How did you make this happen? And what piece of advice would you give to young women aspiring to be engineers?

IET Portrait of an Engineer – Group Photo (Credit: The Institution of Engineering and Technology – IET)

“I was nominated for The Telegraph’s Top 50 Women in Engineering under 35 lists and I put myself forward by applying for The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award. My application was followed by a stellar endorsement letter, which secured me an interview spot which I successfully passed, and led to my receipt of the award in December 2017.

If you are a young woman aspiring to be an engineer, I think that’s fantastic. Work hard to achieve success in your studies and don’t be put off by failure. Learn from your failures where they occur, and try not to repeat them.  Seek work experience opportunities in engineering, and speak to professionals within the industry you are interested in. Make sure you have fun exploring your interests, and don’t be afraid to put yourself forward for opportunities.”