SMITHA UNNIKRISHNAN, Manager – Electrical Department based in Sharjah, and her daughter Nanditha
Smitha Unnikrishnan seemed destined to become an engineer from an early age. Her father worked at one of the biggest design engineering firms in India at the time, Tata Consulting Engineers, and she recalls visiting his office when she was only ten years old.
“I used to admire the people working on the large draughting boards – it was around 1983 so there were no computers,” she remembers. “I could see the pride in their eyes – and they commanded so much respect in society as they were designing huge power plants. I used to ask my father what it would take for me to become an engineer in his office. He said that if I studied hard, got good grades at school and passed the entrance exams I could become an engineer. That kept me focused.”
Smitha met her aspirations and joined her father at Tata Consulting Engineers a few years later as a graduate engineer. Now she has more than 25 years of experience in electrical engineering – initially working in the power plant sector before moving into oil and gas. She joined Petrofac in 2007 in Sharjah and describes the last 13 years with the company as an “incredible journey”.
“Engineering is a field where you have the opportunity to build and create something important,” she says. “I feel I’ve been a small LEGO block in the process of designing and building plants and facilities that will serve society for years to come. I feel proud that engineering gives me an opportunity to make a difference.”
A desire to make a difference is a quality that Smitha’s daughter Nanditha also has in abundance. Nanditha is in her second year of university studying medicine at Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, India, and in the future she hopes to become a neurosurgeon.
WORDS CHRISTINA McPHERSON
PUBLISHED JUNE 2020
“I’ve always been very fond of maths and science, I liked that they are driven by logic,” says Nanditha. “In addition these subjects do hold immense potential to make the lives of people around us better, be it by discovering a new life saving drug or simply finding ways to use technology to make difficult tasks easier.
“Medicine is a branch of science that saves people’s lives and that is why I chose to become a doctor,” she says. “I want to be able to contribute to the advancement of medical knowledge through research. Medical professionals and scientists are expected to lead the fight against many dangerous diseases – including the pandemic that has currently brought the world to a standstill.”
Nanditha believes that people’s perspectives of STEM subjects have changed: “They are often portrayed as boring and difficult but in reality this is far from the truth – in popular culture nerdy is the new cool! You certainly do need higher grades to study them – but with hard work and your family’s support, this can be a piece of cake for a person with a scientific aptitude.”
While women are encouraged to pursue engineering as a career in India, Smitha says that many often feel they need to prove themselves in some aspects of the role. “There is a preconceived notion that women can’t do certain tasks, but to break that you need to really stand up and prove that you can do it. Encouragement and support from colleagues and your family makes the journey easy,” she says.
“I feel that my mum is the true embodiment of power and resilience, she is always sure on her convictions,” adds Nanditha. “I might not have made her journey easy for her as a child but as I grew up I understood her infectious enthusiasm for her career. What inspires me the most about her is that she hasn’t lost her motivation and still wants to make a difference – while being able to find a balance between work and family.”