Most academic career paths are fairly well
mapped out, leading from school to university to postgraduate
work. Valerie Randle left school at sixteen and married
two years later. Aged twenty-seven she entered Cardiff University
and nearly twenty years later she is Professor Valerie Randle
of the Department of Materials at the University of Wales,
Swansea, with an established international reputation in
the microstructure of materials. In addition to a series
of distinctions in her chosen specialisation, she was awarded
the title of Welsh Woman of the Year, the first time an
engineer had won it.
Such a journey tells of ambition, will
and talent. But Valerie suggests her specialism happened
by accident. Metallurgy was a subsidiary subject in the
first year of her chemistry degree. 'I thought I might as
well choose that as anything else. But it soon became clear
to me that it was much more fascinating, and I could really
take to it. There was no big life plan, and I didn't really
have a lot of long-term vision at the time, bringing up
two children with not an awful lot of cash to spare.'
Her life is an inspiration to anyone with
a dream. It's never too late. And she is committed to using
her public profile to illustrate the opportunities in engineering.
As Valerie admits: 'The image of the engineer is very poor
in Britain. I remember a survey where people were asked
to name a famous engineer. Rather than,say, Brunel, the
most popular answer was Kevin Webster, a motor mechanic
from the television soap opera Coronation
Street. That's an attitude I hope I can help to change.'
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