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Women in science

Women in engineering

Supporting a diverse workforce for This is Engineering Day

NPL is keen to raise the profile of women in engineering, and strives to nurture and respect individuals to ensure they feel valued and supported in their chosen field. Find out about the range of amazing career experiences of female engineers at NPL and why they love working in engineering. 

The Royal Academy of Engineering has declared 6 November This is Engineering Day to publicly celebrate more diverse and representative images of engineers online and offline. 

 

Francesca Gandolfo

Francesca GandolfoTell me about your background and what brought you to NPL

I've been at NPL for about eight months and the experience so far has been wonderful. I love being close to science and engineering, albeit in a facilitating role. Science and engineering are my first love so it's great to be back, the people here are very clever, very motivated and trying to do great stuff, so it's amazing to be here.

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

I love problem solving and pragmatism. and I think women must be pragmatic because they have to juggle so many balls by nature. There is a huge amount of human capital and intelligence which is untapped and we should make it very clear that it is a very natural field for women to be in. Women like to build, women like to create things and make things work. I think it is a very natural field for women.

Who inspires you?

I don't like the idea of the big inspirational figure. I've drawn inspiration from many different people that I have come in contact with, read about or worked with. I think it is about looking at more role models and understanding what works for you, what makes sense for you and what you can learn from each individual. Taking a more holistic view is important as everyone has their own areas that they're good at or inspiring in. I wouldn't limit to just looking at iconic figures. Look all around because there are great examples out there.

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

Don't give up, be driven, self-motivated and ask for help. It is amazing what asking for help can do. Most people love to be asked and they will open a lot of doors and support, so don't think you have to do it all by yourself. Never listen to people who put you down or those who put themselves up. Just go for it!

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

To me, transforming your future can mean two different things. It can mean transform your future by discovering the new great innovation and be creative. But to me transform your future also means something on the smaller scale, I tell my team very often that I can't change the past but I can definitely shape the future. So, for me it's about keeping the optimism and thinking what are the things that when you look at the past you think you can do better, you can contribute to, you can improve, you can accelerate, you can innovate and just go for it. There are a lot less barriers in the future than you ever imagine and most of them seem to be self-imposed.

Alissa Silva

Alissa SilvaTell me about your background and what brought you to NPL

My background is in developing laser sources and laser engineering, and I specialised for a while in a type of laser called frequency combs. I was previously working in Japan and culturally the work life is quite different from what we’re used to in the western world. After three and a half years I was ready for a change and my old PhD supervisor recommended me this position. After coming for my interview, I realised it’s much more relaxed than I was previously used to, so I gave it a shot. I’ve been here for the past two and a half years. I work in the Time and Frequency Group with Helen Margolis on frequency combs.

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

I like working in engineering because I love to build stuff. I’m more classically a physicist and although you get to build things, you must find a physics application, whereas I am just interested in the building. It is a lot of fun and really relaxing. I think it is important to raise awareness of young girls to get into engineering because it’s true, there aren’t enough female engineers. It’s not as unglamorous as people think, possibly because it's not represented enough in media and that could be why they don’t pursue such endeavours. But it’s very fulfilling. The Japanese believe in doing everything yourself, so quite a lot of work that gets done in a typical engineering workshop you had to do yourself and machining is really relaxing!

Who inspires you?

I remember when I went to a conference and it was on lasers, so there were quite a lot of engineers there, probably more so than physicists. For me, they were all rock stars because I had read countless papers that they had written about developing crystals, for example, to be used in lasers/laser cavities. I remember just being in awe, I admire anyone who works in the field.

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

Explore. Go for it. I'm not sure what their qualms are but they shouldn't feel held back and this advice I give is for the parents too. My dad is an engineer and I just admired what he did with his life and he was completely supportive and didn't try to box me into anything.

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

Hopefully the work I do here at NPL does impact in some way the future, our projects are orientated towards applications. One example from the Time and Frequency Group is that we're working towards more accurate atomic clocks, which will have implications for GPS. More accurate GPS means we can start monitoring the shift of tectonic plates on a very small scale and therefore have better earthquake prevention.

Hannah Collingwood

Tell me about your background and what brought you to NPL

I’ve been at NPL for two and a half years. After studying physics at university, I went straight into finance actually. I was a programmer in a bank and just decided I wanted to get back into science, so here I am.

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

I like the freedom of being given a problem and being able to solve it however I feel best. So it’s no different from a maths problem, but it’s just more hands on. Women are just as good as men and there is no reason why they can’t be engineers.

Who inspires you?

My father was an engineer, so I have the maths and science influence in my life. I just went for what I enjoyed and that’s how I’ve ended up where I am.

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

I never planned to end up here, I just did. I can’t say exactly what you need to do, but my advice is to just do what you enjoy and see where you end up, which may not be engineering but could be science or maths. Just go for it.

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

At lot of work at NPL is cutting edge. I really enjoy the work that I do here at NPL and for now I want to carry on and see where it leads.

Perdi Williams

Perdi WilliamsTell 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 into 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 young 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 science labs because you’re taught that you’ll be working in a lab coat with a Bunsen burner the whole time, but in reality it’s very different. The stereotypes are still out there and as science isn’t the most open field, because it’s so commercially sensitive, you wouldn’t know what a science lab looks like or an 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 woman. We want more women in this field, but we also want whoever is best for the job. We need to go into schools and give parents and teachers the right tools to encourage their children, we don't want someone saying in the future, "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.

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