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Valerie Randle
materials engineer

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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Professor Valerie Randle has an international reputation for her work in the field of material microstructures. As the first engineer to be awarded the title of Welsh Woman of Year, she is committed to using her profile to change the traditional image of the engineer.

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