Case study: Professor Cathie Rae

"The biggest outcome from my Industry Fellowship, aside from the research itself, was that it improved my confidence and my view of myself as a scientist."
Awarded: 2009 – 2013, Employer: University of Cambridge, Host: Rolls-Royce

Catherine is a Professor in the Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre of the University of Cambridge and a specialist in high temperature nickel alloys used in aero engines. She develops new alloys and studies their microstructure and mechanical properties. 

In 1982, Catherine was awarded a Rolls-Royce research fellowship at the University of Cambridge, full time for three years and two years part time after the birth of her son. “After an eight year gap in my career where I had two more children followed by a period of teaching foundation year physics, I came back to research in Cambridge in 1997 as a postdoctoral student.” Following this significant break, Catherine worked her way up the career ladder and achieved a lectureship position after 5 years. “I had quite a strange career, and it was very hard work.”

Catherine was awarded her Industry Fellowship in 2009, hosted at Rolls-Royce, with an eye to extending and deepening her already established relationship with the company. The Industry Fellowship gave her the chance to go and spend time in Rolls-Royce, sitting in the committees and meetings she wouldn’t normally attend as an academic.

“Though I had a realisation about how complicated the production of an engine is, I began to understand the sort of constraints that would frustrate me as an academic, such as why research projects are sometimes terminated. You then appreciate things are on very tight timelines and have to plug into production schedules.” 

The Industry Fellowship has given Catherine a deeper respect and more realistic view of what Rolls-Royce does, and has succeeded in strengthening her relationship with the company. She now better understands the context of her research and what Rolls-Royce’s drivers were. “I was able to see how my research fitted into the most enormous flowchart of an engine, from designing it to taking off on the runway, and how production schedules are absolutely key to the company’s survival.”