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Laura Kent

Laura Kent

Higher Research Scientist, Electronic & Magnetic Materials

Growing up, I pictured an engineer as a person, most likely a man, working on trains, planes and automobiles. I never imagined engineering as something I could do, or even something I'd want to do for that matter.

From a young a child I loved science and maths. My parents would buy me exercise books that would combine drawing and graphs, and I was never happier at school than when I was in science lessons.

Looking back, I was lucky. At all stages of school I had strong female role models. This was especially true in secondary school where my maths and chemistry teachers fed my curiosity in the subjects and made me believe that I could be like them – trailblazers in their pre-teaching careers.

When it came to applying for university, I saw chemistry as the obvious choice. But it was only when I started university that my understanding of the scope of engineering started to develop.

During my PhD I shifted my focus towards materials science and worked with teams in the engineering department. It was then that I began to feel a pull towards engineering – wondering "Can I make the jump?" I knew the lines between sciences and engineering were a lot less defined and that's what made makes it more of an incredibly exciting world to be a part of.

"I'm fairly local to NPL in Teddington and, growing up, it held a fascination for me and my whole family. So when a position opened up in the Electronics team I leapt at the opportunity.

For many, going from chemistry to electronics might seem an odd jump, but there are so many ways they're connected. From coatings for the protection of printed circuit boards, to new wearable sensors and corrosion mechanisms of circuit boards, we're seeing chemistry inform developments and become a key part of the process.

My job is really exciting and varies from day to day. One day I could be working with a customer to find a solution to their problem, the next I could be working on developing new metrology for emerging platforms, such as wearable technologies.

I'm not certain I'm an engineer yet, more of a chemist disguised as one, but I really enjoy the practical application of all the fantastic science that is happening up and down the country, and I'm excited that I'm part of that.

I have been fortunate in my studies and group that I do not stand out just because I am female. But I have noticed a few times that I have been the only female in the room at conferences and meetings and I have noticed the overall lack of diversity amongst attendees.

My outreach work at university meant I was able to visit schools and I saw so many girls eager and able to be involved. I think it's great that we're asking the questions as to why more women don't pursue engineering and science. But I think it's more important to act on the findings and make changes to the workplace. Thanks to initiatives like INWED, attitudes and awareness of people in STEM careers, who don't necessarily look like a man in a white lab coat, are evolving.