Role Model Campaign 2023: Evren Unsal

Evren Unsal

As part of our Role Model Campaign, centred around International Women’s Day 2023, we are getting to know Role Models from different organizations. In this article we get to learn more about Evren Unsal, who works as the academic partnership manager for Shell.

Evren was born in the northwest of Turkey, near the Gallipoli area. As a child, she always liked to create and build; she especially enjoyed jigsaw puzzles (still does). Perhaps this is why she chose to study at the mechanical engineering faculty of Istanbul Technical University. She was passionate about her studies which was reflected in her earning the highest grades of her class. On the day of her graduation, it was announced that she had been awarded a scholarship to do PhD research in the USA. This came as a surprise to her: the graduation ceremony was in July and schools in the USA started their semester in August, giving her only one month to make the decision, find a department and move. Evren was hesitant at first, she never saw herself doing a PhD because this was synonymous with becoming an academic, and her career interests had always been in the industry. But she took her time, did her research, and weighed her options. She saw it as a fantastic opportunity to live in the USA and experience a new culture while earning a new qualification. Evren also realised that it would still be possible to have an industry position after she completed her study, and so she took a leap of faith and made the move.  

Becoming DR. Unsal  

Moving to a completely different country alone was both exciting and nerve wrecking. Evren had to adjust to a different way of life, as well as speaking English full time, she was living in Auburn (AL) where the local people had very strong accents. This meant communicating at first was challenging, but she found the adjustment period passed quickly. She excelled at school and had no difficulty with the assignments or exams. Her PhD focused on how porous materials, such as membranes and protective textiles, interacted with the flow of fluids (such as gas and liquids) that we are commonly exposed to in our daily life. The study involved both experimentation and computational modelling to determine the performance of various porous materials for different industrial applications. In parallel, she also completed an MSc degree in Computer Science.  

In the back of her mind, she remained questioning whether she made the right decision about pursuing a PhD. When she started applying for jobs, she found that she had a better chance of success with academic positions. One challenge that she did not anticipate was how her title of DR. made it harder for her to get the industrial positions she wanted. For regular engineering jobs in the industry, they would not necessarily consider someone with a PhD. When applying for these jobs Evren was told that she was overqualified and instead they would hire someone who had just finished their bachelor. Others imagine that with her training as a researcher, she would be overly focused on details and methodology whereas the commercial aspect of engineering requires more quick thinking with an attention on making profit. Her qualifications meant that she was barred from some engineering jobs in the industry.  

However, this didn’t stop her, she moved to the UK, and did a post-doctoral degree in the Earth Science Department at the Imperial College London. Here, she worked on the computational modelling of fluids once again, but the application area was the earth. The mathematics and physics she researched in her PhD were universal, and so she used this knowledge and applied it to a different domain. This is where she was also introduced to geo- and earth sciences for the first time.  

Entering the industry  

It was after this that Evren finally made her way into the industry. She got a job at Schlumberger in Cambridge, UK, an oil field services company. She then worked at Total in Aberdeen, Scotland, as a research engineer. In 2013, she met her husband at a scientific conference in Switzerland. He was already working for Shell in the Netherlands, and when they decided to get married, she moved here and joined Shell. At first, she held various research roles, and started her current role as the academic research manager in 2021. In this role, she is based at Energy Transition Campus Amsterdam and she supports Shell’s technology programs to form strategic research alliances with external partners such as universities, industry and governmental institutions. Her particular focus is to establish alliances for accelerating the energy transition with development of sustainable technologies such as electrification of industry, hydrogen, plastic circularity, smart materials and more. Evren manages this research collaboration portfolio in Continental Europe, which is sizeable and comes with a lot of responsibility, but she truly enjoys the challenge.  

Life at Shell  

Shell has 80,000 employees worldwide, it’s a company with many technology departments and many entities. This occasionally feels overwhelming and slightly chaotic for Evren, since there are multiple departments in Shell that she’s involved with. In her current role, she is given plenty of freedom to be flexible with shaping new research alliances and is always encouraged to use her creativity and imagination to solve upcoming challenges which really allows her to thrive. Evren is also the editor of Shell’s technology magazine, called the TechXplorer Digest, which she wants to grow further to become a recognised publication in the industry and academic world. Evren admits that she can be a workaholic, because she truly enjoys what she does. Since her husband also works at Shell, they remind each other to leave work at work and simply have a quality time together while at home (doesn’t always work, but they try!).  

Outside of work 

In her free time, Evren enjoys reading and solving jigsaw puzzles. Large puzzles, 1000-2000-piece, are her favourite as she enjoys watching the individual pieces coming together collectively to create something new. She organises jigsaw parties at her home with a few jigsaw-lover colleagues. Maintaining a good sleep schedule is also important to Evren, as this way, she can adequately recover from busy days and get ready for the next ones.  

Final lessons 

When asked what she would like to share with other women who are amid building their careers, Evren says that it’s important to define your personal boundaries. She advises women to be conscious of what they will and will not tolerate, and to strike a balance with their negotiables and non-negotiables. She encourages everyone to be very selective when choosing partners (private and at work), and to seriously consider whether that person(s) is going to be supportive of you or controlling. Rushing into a relationship with the wrong person can take valuable time and energy from you, so Evren recommends that we always practise patience and discernment 

Find out more about the participation of Evren Unsal in the Role Model Campaign here.

Want to read more stories? Visit this page for an overview of all our Role Models from the Role Model Campaign 2023.