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Perdi Williams

Perdi Williams

Research Scientist

Tell me about your background and what brought you to NPL.

I started at NPL in 2015 as an apprentice and before that I was in school. I started here when I was 16 and I did a Junior Science apprenticeship and graduated in February 2017. I am now a Research Scientist in the mass group.

What do you enjoy about engineering and why is it important to raise awareness of women engineers?

I love that it’s different every day. One day I could be in the lab and the next at a school talking to people, so it changes completely and there is never a lack of creativity. I like having a problem and trying to solve it and the projects we’re working on are going to change people’s lives and make a difference. I think it is important to encourage all young people in engineering because no one came to me when I was at school and told me I could be a scientist or an engineer. We need to raise the profile of the different jobs in engineering, and even within an engineering or science company all the different roles that make the work happen. Encouragement at a younger age is very important, the stereotypes of a scientist or an engineer need to be removed. We need to not only encourage young people to pursue a career in engineering or science but do more to make them aware of all the different options.

Who inspires you?

Personally, my grandad was a scientist and he used to do science experiments with me when I was young. He’d throw salt in the flames on the hob and it would change colour and I used to think that was the most amazing thing. It sparked my curiosity. My mum has always encouraged me with her ‘go get it girl’ attitude and told me I can achieve anything I set my mind to. In a work capacity, Dr Ian Robinson is such an inspiration. He’s so clever but so kind and personable. He really takes the time to help you understand it, not just for the project but your own knowledge. He’s always trying to improve everyone for their own benefit not just so they can get work done.

What piece of advice would you give young women and girls who are interested in exploring a career in engineering?

Definitely go to open days and have a look around at science labs because you’re taught that you’ll be working in a lab coat with a Bunsen burner the whole time and in reality it’s very different. The stereotypes are still so out there and because science isn’t the most open field because it’s so commercially sensitive, you wouldn’t know what a science lab looks like or and engineering workshop. Research the career more too, I originally wanted to become a forensic scientist and did two weeks work experience in a forensics lab and hated it. Try everything because even if you’ve got an interest in science but don’t want to be a scientist there are lots of other options around a scientific field.

This year’s theme is Transform the Future, what does that mean to you?

My main aim for the future is just to make a difference; make things easier, simpler and have a more collaborative way of working. But also, I am so supportive of Women in Engineering and the ones who haven’t been told they can do it yet. The people who are already here have worked so hard and I don’t think any woman in science or engineering wants to be the token women. We want more women in this field but we also want whoever is best for the job so at the beginning we need to go into schools and give parents and teachers the right tools to encourage their children rather than in the future someone saying ‘you only got this job because you’re a woman’. No one wants that and we’ve all worked incredibly hard to get where we are now, I’d like it to be easier for women in get into science and engineering. I just want more encouragement and transparency because it can be quite intimidating.

Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Top 50 Women in Engineering. Can you tell me about some background to being shortlisted?

Paul Shore, NPL’s Head of Engineering, nominated me and it’s the WE50 women in engineering who are former or current apprentices. Paul and I sat down and filled out the nomination form together, it was very high on what impact have you made with your work, what projects are you working on, what’s your ideas for the future and also how are you trying to encourage women and raising the profile. It was a couple of weeks after we filled out the application that I got told I was shortlisted for the top 50 women in engineering and then a couple of weeks after that I got another email telling me I was one of the top 50.

What does being part of WE50 mean for you? Why is it so important?

One it is an honour, it’s insane that I’ve been nominated and awarded this but you never think of yourself as being that special but when someone else says to you that you’re doing a really good job, it’s quite endearing. The WE50 campaign is working closely WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) and that is raising the profile of female engineers and scientists. It really does make a difference because seeing a picture of 50 women who work in engineering who are all different is very relatable. That’s why I think it’s important. I’m so honoured that my achievements are being recognised. It is good for the profile of NPL and the projects we’re working on too. It’s trying to make people interested and get them excited about engineering and allow them to realise that they can do it as well.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

A lot of people assumed that once the kilogram was redefined we were just going to throw it away but there is still a lot of work that needs to go into the maintenance of the mass scale and the traceability chain. We still need to build Kibble balances so we’re still trying to streamline the processes, make everything as good as we can. My main work is with kilogram stability long term because even through it won’t be the standard it is still important as it can be used in comparison and it will help to make the supply chain a lot more robust. We’ll be working internationally to make sure we have a robust mass scale so that everyone gets better measurements.