Category Archives: Meet the Scientists

Here you’ll find a collection of interviews and guest posts by real life scientists, engineers and STEM students, giving an insight into their world.

ROV Testing Session

The wonderings of an engineering student

Today we are featuring a guest post from Jun Wei Fan – a naval architecture student who tells us about his experience with the Newcastle University Marine Projects Society.

rover (noun) a person who spends their time wandering

Towards the end of my first academic year, I found myself wondering – how do I make my time in university more fulfilling? It felt as though there was just something lacking from my life. Lost, I was. That was until I made an impromptu decision to run for President of the Newcastle University Marine Projects Society, succeeding and becoming Team Captain of the Newcastle University ROVers. Perhaps it’s no mere coincidence that I joined the ROVers to both start and stop roving – as in start building ROVs and stop wandering around aimlessly like a lost soul.

At this point, the unacquainted might be puzzled. What’s a ROV? Who are the ROVers? Well, simply put, the Newcastle University ROVers is a competitive team comprising members of the Newcastle University Marine Projects Society coming together to build a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). 

We started off with our roots within the Marine, Offshore and Subsea Technology group. Initially, the competitions we partook in were very marine-centric and teams comprised of only Marine Technology students, but in the years since, we’ve evolved to take on bigger, more challenging projects. In line with the new integrated School of Engineering, and the Head of School’s (Prof. Phil Taylor) encouragement of interdisciplinary projects, the Marine Projects Society now cherishes the benefits of working in multidisciplinary teams. This has allowed us to harness the full potential of each member from the various field of engineering! Rather than having marine tech students attempting to do everything from ground up, we are now able to draw upon the expertise of students from computing/electrical/mechanical/etc., accomplishing more at a faster pace.

3D CAD model of ROV
Computer Aided Design (CAD) Model of the ROV

In the outside world, employers expect graduates to work in interdisciplinary teams, leveraging on the complementary skill sets of each individual. In university however, us students are, more often than not, confined to working within our respective courses. And that is why the Marine Projects Society has embraced Prof. Taylor’s vision for a truly integrated School of Engineering, with students and faculty working seamlessly across disciplines to produce ground-breaking solutions.

Joining the society has given me the unique opportunity to experience what it’s like to work with other engineers and to understand their concerns; and working on the ROV project has forced me to take a broader view of matters at hand. In the past year, I’ve learnt how to fully consider the different aspects of an engineering project and as Captain, I’ve had to balance conflicting demands from the different sub-teams (electrical, marine, mechanical, systems) to achieve the optimum solution for the ROV.

Team enjoying dinner after a work session
The Team out for a late-night dinner after a long work session

The ROV project has also taught me many valuable skills and lessons – things which you’ll find hard-pressed to pick up in your daily lectures – but most importantly, it has allowed me to become a practical engineer. Theory is indeed important and as engineers, when we set out to design something, we too rely on theoretical knowledge to produce an initial design. But you’ll find that many things often work theoretically and yet fail in reality. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the notion of producing the perfect design.

Realistically speaking however, a number of different factors will hinder one’s ability to achieve that grandeur. Budget, size, material availability, these are all limitations that affected us while designing & building the ROV – and these challenges will differ from project to project! But learning how to work within and around these constraints has allowed all of us to become better engineers, engineers who are not just tied down by theory but are capable of thinking on our feet, adapting to changing circumstances. 

The internal electronics of the ROV
Internal Electronics of the ROV sitting inside our watertight housing

One of the reasons why we chose to embark on this ROV project is the unique set of challenges associated with designing something for prolonged operation in water. Water is a harsh and unforgiving environment, something us Marine Tech students will gladly tell you all about. It’s also common knowledge that water and electricity don’t mix well, which is why our team spent considerable efforts to make sure everything was watertight, and waterproof where we were unable to keep water out. This involved extensive use of O-Rings, silicon grease, stinky epoxy, coating of exposed elements with resin, and slathering sealing points with more disgusting pump grease than we’d like to admit. All that was critical in ensuring that no water could come into contact with electricity for risk of rendering the entire water body live and electrocuting ourselves.

The ROV ready for testing in our towing tank 
The ROV ready for testing in our towing tank

But all that would not have been possible without a few key people. Having a dedicated advisor to guide us on this project was vital in ensuring that we could come as far as we did. Dr Maryam Haroutunian went above and beyond in her role, always setting aside time to advise us and listen to our updates and to join us on testing sessions. She even came back to the labs on a weekend just so we could drop the ROV into the water for ballasting and test runs!

We also have the hydrolabs team to thank for helping us with the more technical construction aspects and for tolerating us. Special mention goes to Bob Hindhaugh and Ian Howard-Row for their continued support in allowing us to use the hydrodynamics laboratory’s facilities and for offering insights from their wealth of experience, and for allowing us the freedom to exercise our creativity even when you know some ideas might not work out ultimately.

The Team during an overnight work session
The Team during an overnight worksession

But, it’s not just all work and no fun! (although work can be equally fun if you’re passionate about it) Members of the Marine Projects Society also had the unique chance to interact with the industry. The society hosted a talk by Nick Ridley, Principal Engineer of Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD), and we also got the chance to visit SMD for a site tour and see how they build ROVs up close. Both the talk and the trip gave our team some inspiration and guidance on designing ROVs, and was a delightful experience for all whom attended!

Site Visits to SMD 
Site Visits to SMD
More from the site visit to SMD
More from the site visit to SMD

Throughout this amazing journey, our team has gained valuable experience and knowledge that we now treasure deeply. Armed with this, we’re looking forward to the academic year 2018/19, where we hope to take the society to greater heights! In the pipeline are projects such as the ROV2.0 and other exciting (but still pending) ideas such as a Solar Car/Boat. It is our greatest wish that many new engineers will join us for a thrilling year of roving!

ROV Testing Session For myself, I’m equally exhilarated about starting on Stage 3 – a year where we begin to specialise in more advanced Naval Architecture concepts and reinforce our fundamentals through design projects and more. If anything, working on the ROV project has enhanced my desire to master not just the relevant technical know-how but also the interpersonal skills necessary for working on interdisciplinary projects after graduation! That is something I feel all Engineers should possess!

International Women in Engineering Day | #INWED18

Over the past few years there has been a global push to engage more women and girls in science and engineering in order to reduce the gender imbalance within the STEM industries. However, more still needs to be done to encourage and support women as they enter a STEM career and to highlight the valuable contributions women make to the field.

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, we spoke to some of the wonderful engineers at Newcastle University to find out why they decided to pursue a career in engineering…

Inspired to pursue a career in Engineering? Find out more about our undergraduate Engineering degrees here.

Work/Life Balance as a Mechanical Engineering Student

Ever wondered how to balanced a degree like Mechanical Engineering with social activities, relaxation and part-time work? It can seem tricky, but second year student, Will O’Donnell, has got it covered. In today’s blog post he explains how he manages his time. 

Life at Newcastle
I’m currently studying for a BEng degree in Mechanical Engineering, and as a Stage 2 student I remember what was important to me when choosing a university to study at. Something that mattered a lot was the work/life balance wherever I decided to go, which, thankfully, resulted in me choosing Newcastle. It is often difficult to see how to manage your studies and extra-curricular activities when looking in from the outside, which was true for us all as applicants. Fortunately there is no shortage of things to do here, as well as your studies (though as a Mech Eng student, the work is plentiful). Contrary to popular belief, there is definitely room for a life outside of an Engineering Degree, and it is remarkably easy to find a nice balance between the two aspects of university life when you get the hang of it.

Stage 1
First year of Engineering, while undoubtedly a step up from school teaching, is not the hellscape it’s cracked up to be. Sure, there’s several new subjects that you’ve never considered before (e.g. Thermofluid Dynamics, Materials Science etc), but it’s important to remember that these are new to everyone else too. I worried that not taking Further Maths at A-Level would severely hinder me, but the point of Stage 1, I soon realised, is to bring everyone to the same level. For the Further Maths students the topics were very familiar, but the lecturers did a fantastic job of making everything clear and understandable for those of us who didn’t know our imaginary numbers from our eigenvalues. This was also true for mechanics, as the material taught was familiar to many, but not to the extent that it became boring or overly simple. There’s a lot of practical work, no shortage of trips, and enough fresh content to keep you on your toes. Busy though the days may be with learning, there’s still plenty of time after to blow off some steam in the various societies on offer, or in a nearby pub. I never felt particularly overwhelmed, and there was invariably room for relaxation and enjoyment over the year.

Stage 2
Second year is a bit of a gear-change. The complexity of the course content steps up, and the amount of work is greater than that of first year. While this may be the case, and it is certainly unavoidable, it was not the death of my life outside of the lecture theatre. In fact, I joined the Water Polo Society, and trained regularly every week. Keeping active helped me focus and introduced me to a bunch of new people. The nature of Stage 2 meant that our course spent a lot of time together outside of teaching time, and we became significantly closer as a result. More so than Stage 1, the sense of community in our year was present. Luckily we are all quite similar, with enough differences to keep life interesting.

Winding Down
Getting out of lectures and feeling the fresh air on your face is a wonderful sensation, unless it’s past October and the temperatures have plummeted again. The rest of the day is waiting to be filled, and provided I’ve done all my work (even occasionally when I haven’t), I go and enjoy a bit of rest and relaxation. As with most students, Netflix is my friend at times like these. If it’s sunny, some of us will go to the Moor and pass out for a bit/play a game of something.

When I want to do something more active, we will go the gym (for some unfathomable reason we’ve started going at 6am, but I feel great afterwards and oddly have more energy during the day) or hit the climbing wall. There’s also a local pool that’s great for a swim whenever I’m feeling particularly restless.

Part-Time Work
In second year, I got myself a teaching position in the local pool. It’s easy to fit around my studies due to the short hours, and the people there are fantastic. I wouldn’t say its strictly necessary to get a job in first year, as there’s a lot to take in and a job can only add to that feeling. That being said, it’s never a bad thing to have an income, and it takes some of the pressure off finances.

Time Management
I’ve certainly had some trouble with this, especially at first. Being by yourself for the first time, while liberating, is a minefield of potential pitfalls. In first year, it is crucial to develop some good habits in terms of self-discipline, as these will carry forward into future years. It’s tempting to stay up till all hours on a binge-watching session, or go out four times a week, but as the year goes on this can affect the uni side of life. I found it useful to work away from the flat, and especially in second year it is much easier to focus in the library. It’s also easier to go somewhere and do impending work straight after lectures because, lets face it, if you go home intending to do some work later it’s never going to happen. Basically, so long as you use some common sense and, that critical thinking that Mech Eng imparts, you can’t go far wrong.

Work/Life balance as a Civil Engineering Student

Organising your time on a course with high contact hours, such as engineering, can seem daunting. Farah Nabilah gives us an insight into how she manages her time as a Stage 2 Civil Engineering student. 

I am currently studying BEng Civil Engineering and something I often get asked about is how I find the work/life balance. Initially, I found University life to be very different to school in a sense that you must be independent. At school, the teacher would go through the material and after, we would go through the questions in class. At university, the lecturer will go through the material and a few examples in lectures, but you are expected to go through the practice question in your own time. We have the opportunity to ask the lecturers any questions during tutorial sessions. The tutorial session is more of an informal session where you can ask the lecturers or any PhD students one to one questions. After a couple of weeks of being at University, I started getting used to this system.

Stage 2 is different to stage 1 as there are less lectures to attend but more work to be done outside; in particular, group work. You also have more design modules as opposed to just learning mostly theory like in stage 1. For me, I did spend a lot more time studying outside of class to try and understand these concepts, so I do have to organise my time well. I usually volunteer on Sunday to give myself a break from doing University work.

To switch off I like to take walks and get some fresh air. The University is close to Leazes Park and the city centre which is great as I can take a walk there with my friends to refresh after a session of studying. I also like to watch TV shows when I have time. I work as a student ambassador and I help out during events such as open days and post application visit days. I really enjoy doing this as it helps me to develop my communication skills and I get to share my experience at University with other people.

I think that in order to be able to manage your time whilst still having fun, it is important to stay organised. I keep a planner, so I know what events I have on each day and make sure that I don’t miss out anything important. Also, I try to prioritise tasks; I do tasks that are more important first. Most importantly, I think it’s beneficial to do the work as soon as possible so you are not left with a large amount of workload and don’t end up being stressed.

Find out more about Newcastle University’s Civil Engineering degrees here.

Work/Life Balance as a Chemical Engineering Student

Amelia Pettitt tells us how she balances her Chemical Engineering degree with competitive running, hobbies and part time work.

I’m currently in my fourth year of study of Chemical Engineering, specialising in sustainable engineering to complete my masters degree. I am also a highly competitive runner and therefore when I first came to university I was unsure of how I would manage the work/life balance of studying an intense degree like engineering with my sporting commitments. However I soon realised that although this would be a challenge, my involvement in both would complement each other.

In stage 1 the typical contact hours were 9-1 each day, which I found worked really well for me. As the course requirements weren’t too intense, I enjoyed going to the gym at 1 after my lectures to give myself a break, before completing tutorials and any assignments later in the afternoon. I was catered therefore I had another break to go to dinner with my flatmates. I didn’t realise it then, but all these breaks were really benefiting my studies and I felt I was constantly socialising!

Being surrounded by other students in halls with less contact hours didn’t phase me and I didn’t feel I missed out. If I wanted to go out, I could often manage one night a week, which I found was enough for me. I would always choose the sport night on a Wednesday as this allowed me to see my running friends as well as my flatmates. My flatmates would often go out more than this, but my halls were so big that there were other chemical engineers nearby that wouldn’t be going out, and there is something quite satisfying about seeing them hungover and missing out on a free breakfast when you wake up feeling fine.

In stage 2 the contact hours increased slightly, but the days were more spread out with lectures spanning the day 9-5 with multiple breaks. From stage 2 onwards I began to work in uni 9-5 and complete my training and gym sessions outside of this. I found this worked really well for me, as I could switch my brain off and socialise with friends not on the course after a full day in university. I found I had less time to go out, but this was mainly because of my training commitments rather than the course. I became more disciplined and structured with my time, and this provided me with a healthy lifestyle. I also applied for a placement year for after second year. I found I spent a lot of time preparing for interviews with help from the careers service. The course was structured to enable this, with majority of the weighting of the year based on January and June exams rather than assignments, giving me time before Christmas to secure my placement. I still worked at weekends if I needed to, however this probably wasn’t essential – definitely if you aren’t applying for placements and training once or twice each day!

After my placement year I found the 9-5 routine was ingrained in me and I wasn’t looking to change it coming back to university! It is difficult to have every weekend off, as things do come up in the week and I always want to try to make up for this lost time. However overall, now in my last year of study, I tend to take weekends off. I’m either travelling to races or exploring Newcastle – making the most of my last year in the city.

I’m also part of the baking society. I enjoy baking as its almost like engineering in the way you have to plan in advance and follow a schedule to ensure your bake will be successful. However I also find it very relaxing and a chance to be away from the computer for a little while. I bake on the university campus which is ideal – the society provide all the equipment and ingredients and I just bake for a couple of hours and head back to the library with my fresh library snacks. It’s perfect, and doesn’t take up too much time out of my day. I find adding hobbies into my day at specific times really helps my studies as I am more motivated to work hard if I know I need to leave at a set time.

Engineering has a lot of contact hours, which although this may lead people to believe it would be less social, it actually results in having a lot more friends! I know everyone in my year at university and I live with Chemical Engineers. This is ideal for asking for help and feeling at home at university. If I need help, I can always find someone in the computer cluster. I have other friends too, from the university triathlon team, cross country team and baking society, all of which hold social events for when I do want a break from any chemical engineering talk. I’ve been to Edinburgh, Sheffield, Stirling, Brighton, Manchester, Leeds, and London – all over the UK with the teams competing.

If you are worried about the financial side of university, Engineering opens doors to many scholarships which are definitely worth working towards! If you feel you need a part-time job, then there are many opportunities on campus including those to be a student ambassdor and street scientist. As a student ambassador I show future students around the university. As a street scientist I perform simple science experiments to explain everyday concepts to children aged primary school to A level, on campus and at local schools and events. I thoroughly enjoy them both, and they add to my communication and presentation skills, as well as my scientific knowledge!

If I was to choose to come to university again, despite how challenging chemical engineering can be at times, I don’t believe there is a better degree to do. Chemical engineering gives you so many transferable skills, providing a technical background and supportive learning environment. There are so many opportunities to get involved in through extra activities on offer at university, and with an engineering degree, you can still fit these in by prioritising the most important which is an essential skill to set you up for the working environment.

Find out more about Newcastle University’s Chemical Engineering courses here.

 

Meet the Expert | Dr Richard Bevan, From Penguins to Puffins

Today, we talk to Newcastle University’s Dr Richard Bevan about where his research has taken him throughout his career. In order to better understand the overall ecology of animals, Richard Bevan’s research focuses on the way that animals interact with their environment both physiologically and behaviourally. Richard’s specific areas of study include: the physiology, ecology and behaviour of aquatic animals; foraging behaviour of seabirds; animal conservation.

   

Describing how his career began, Dr Bevan says: “Born and bred in the valleys of South Wales, I ventured to the north of the country to take Zoology at Bangor University. After completing my BSc, I spent a couple of years in Denmark working on an animation film, “Valhalla”, before returning to the UK to start my PhD on the physiology of swimming and diving in aquatic vertebrates (Tufted Ducks, Barnacle Geese and Green Turtles) at Birmingham University.”

Luckily, Richard finished his PhD at the right time to take up a post-doctoral position studying the energetics  of the higher Antarctic predators. This involved him spending three summer seasons on Bird Island, South Georgia on a joint project between Birmingham University and the British Antarctic Survey. This small island, just 4.9km long and 800m wide, is home to hundreds of thousands of birds – making it one of the world’s richest wildlife sites. Among it’s diverse population of wildlife, it is home to some 50,000 breeding pairs of penguins and 65,000 pairs of fur seals. Richard spent his time on the island studying Gentoo Penguins, Black-browed Albatrosses and Antarctic Fur Seals.

Richard continued to study penguins and other seabirds, but moved on from Bird Island: “This was followed by a project studying King Penguins on Possession Island, Crozet Archipelago; a joint project between Birmingham University and CNRS. I then spent a couple of years as a Principal Scientific Officer with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge where I was in charge of the their fish-eating birds research (mainly inland Cormorants and Goosanders).”

“In 1998, I moved to Newcastle to take up my position as lecturer in what was the School of Biology, Newcastle University. It was early in the new millennium that I first became involved with the Farne Islands and I have been conducting research on the birds (Puffins, Shags, Arctic Terns, Kittiwakes etc.) and grey seals since then.”

Much closer to home than the likes of Bird Island or Possession Island, the Farne Islands are just a few miles from the coast of Northumberland. Touted by David Attenborough as one of his favourite places in the UK to see “magificent nature”, the Farne Islands are rich in wildlife. The Farne Islands are one of the best places to see and study puffins, now a red listed bird, meaning that there has been a severe decline in the population of puffins over the last 25 years. Some of Richard’s research on the Farne Islands has involved attaching hi-tech tags, which include GPS, geo-locators and time/depth recorders, to puffins. These tags provided a detailed record of the bird’s locations and habits to help understand why the puffin population is in decline.

A lecturer for many modules within Newcastle’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Dr Richard Bevan includes a trip to the Farne Islands in his “Introduction to Marine Vertebrates” module, which provides students with a first hand encounter of a range of seabirds and seals, allowing them to make observations of marine vertebrates in their natural environment. If you’re interested in finding out more about the biology and zoology courses that Newcastle University offer, you can do so here.

Work/Life Balance as a Civil Engineering Student

The latest in our work/life balance series sees Jasmine Tendaupenyu discuss how she manages her time as a second year Civil Engineering student at Newcastle. 

I’m currently studying BEng Civil Engineering at Newcastle University and as a stage 2 student I remember deciding what mattered most to me when choosing a university to study my passion.  One thing I often get asked is how I find the work/life balance.

In stage 1 we mostly did theory, I found it to be interesting in general, but especially because we occasionally had guest lecturers. The workload wasn’t too intense and that gave us the opportunity to get to know our lecturers and learn more about the different sectors within Civil Engineering. One of the aspects of stage 1 I found to be quite difficult was not knowing where lecture rooms and offices were and not knowing how to go through certain procedures like sending in a PEC form.

This year has gone much more smoothly as I know more about the city, the university and the course. The workload, however, has increased tenfold. One thing that I have been able to do this year is manage my time better so that I can focus on my academics and my social life while not putting too much on my plate. There is a lot more group work this year which takes some time to get accustomed to, but it is a good way to meet other people from your course who you might not normally interact with. There is also a lot more lab and practical work, being able to put the theory that we learn into practice is one of my favourite things about the course and stage 2. I also really appreciate that in stage 2 there are several opportunities put together by the university for us throughout the year to meet people who are working in industry.

I think being part of societies and organisations that I really enjoy is helpful, so participating in their events is one way for me to switch off. I also go to the gym and watch a lot of documentaries.

I had a part time job in the first semester of stage 1. I hadn’t learned to manage my time well yet, and I had taken on a lot of hours. I also worked as a student ambassador for the school and participated in a number of societies and on a committee. It was definitely fun, but it didn’t leave a lot of time for hobbies or just to relax. This year I still work as a student ambassador and I’m committed to only a couple of societies – this gives me more time for myself.

I’ve come to realise that managing my time is a lot easier when I organise my priorities and deadlines by writing them down. I try to start all of my academic work as soon as I can and make sure that I complete it before I go out to do something fun. If it’s a larger piece of coursework and there are weeks or months before the due date I break the work up into smaller tasks and set mini deadlines to meet. If I am quite busy I try to use the little breaks that I have between lectures for things like meeting friends for lunch.

Find out more about Newcastle University’s Civil Engineering degrees here.

Work/Life balance as a Marine Technology Student

Marine Technology student, Verity Thomas, tells us about her experiences so far studying at Newcastle University and balancing her workload with her extra-curricular activities.

I am currently a stage 2 student studying Marine Technology with Naval Architecture. The work life balance on the course is definitely manageable. Stage 2 is quite different to Stage 1, in which we had a 9am start every day. In fact, being in Stage 2 can lead to much better study habits. You will no longer live on campus so popping home during every gap in your timetable is not an option, meaning that you’re more likely to go to the library or one of the many study areas on campus. The quantity of work in Stage 2 is the same as Stage 1 and although comparatively harder it is as equally challenging as Stage 1 because you know more about the subject.

To ‘switch off’ I watch a lot of Netflix and take walks in Exhibition Park with my friends. There is a lot to do in Newcastle and surrounding areas so occasionally I will go to Tynemouth or South Shields. There is so much to get involved in and I recommend people looking at the Student Union’s ‘Give it A Go’ service, where you can try anything from surfing to making baths bombs at Lush…whatever you find relaxing.

I have many hobbies and am part of eight societies Newcastle University and one club this year. That includes: 20-minute, Archery, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, GigSoc, NerdSoc, RAG, Vegan & Vegetarian, and WetSoc. As well as this, this year, I have taken part in Fresher’s Crew, written for the Tab, and am working towards my NCL+ Careers award. I have three part time jobs, which include being a Student Ambassador, Private Tutoring, and being part of the Universities Northumbrian Naval Unit.

It is important to manage your time whilst still having fun. You need to remember why you are at university and you’re ultimately here to get a good degree, and that if you work hard now life will be easier later. It is easy to forget your priorities when there are many other reasons why you are here too. Sometimes, you’ll get behind on work because you are doing those activities, because you get sick, because you have interviews and assessment centres to go to. Once this happens, try to catch up as best as you can. If you feel like you can’t and don’t have the time to watch RECAP or see your lecturers then draw a baseline and allow yourself to focus on the new information that you are learning and realise that this often doesn’t require the old knowledge that you missed. Talk to your tutor about the situation, as they will put it into perspective, especially as so many people go through the same thing. Try to talk to people about how you feel because it is comforting to find out that you’re not the only one! And try to remember that there is still time even if it feels like it is running out before exams.

To stay disciplined whilst still having fun I recommend treating university as a full time job. If your lectures don’t start until midday then go in at 9am and do some revision for them. If your lectures finish by 3pm then go to the library until 5pm. Study in a group and then it’ll be more fun and social. Take a packed lunch and snacks and then you’ll be more inclined to work rather than having to go home or into town because you’re hungry, plus it’s cheaper! Whilst at university only dedicate your time to university stuff i.e. not replying to general emails or applying to jobs because then you’ll always be doing other chores and not your actual studying/coursework. Take your evenings and weekends to relax doing nothing in regards to university work and catch up on non-university chores such as washing and food shopping.

Find out more about our Marine Technology courses here.

Inspiring Women in STEM | #PressForProgress

Today is International Women’s Day. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report tells us that at the current rate, true gender parity is still over 200 years away. This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #PressForProgress, reminds us of how important it is to keep pushing forward and to “motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.

Looking at statistics, it can be easy to feel frustrated at the imbalance in representation within the STEM industries. Women make up less than one quarter of all people employed in the STEM industries, and whilst there are nearly 22,000 more women working as science and engineering technicians now than in 2016, women still only make up 27% of the total. However, instead of being disheartened, we can #PressForProgress by celebrating the successful women that we do have in STEM who’s achievements can inspire the next generation of young women to follow in their footsteps.

Newcastle University are hosting a number of International Women’s Day events including two screenings of Great Unsung Women of Computing today, as well as a Maths, Stats and Physics Afternoon Tea tomorrow afternoon, to provide female staff and students with a networking opportunity.

In the Spotlight: Women in STEM

We’re proud to support many fantastic women throughout their studies and careers within our STEM subject areas here at Newcastle University. Today we’re putting a spotlight a small selection of these women and the vital research they conduct.

Hayley Fowler, Professor of Climate Change Impacts

Hayley Fowler’s research specialises in “the analysis of the impacts of climate change and variability on hydrological and water resources systems”. She teaches on Civil Engineering and Geosciences modules at Newcastle University.

Hayley highlights the challenges engineers face in the future:

“I think that the greatest engineering challenge is around climate adaptation – building low carbon cities and adapting to heat and weather extremes.

Engineering is crucial for everyone, we need to build infrastructure systems and buildings for the modern world, and design new systems to cope with our ever changing climate and extreme weather events. We need young people with bright ideas. Don’t believe that it’s only men who can do engineering, some of the best and most inventive engineers out there are women.”

 

Ann Daly, Professor of Pharmacogenetics

Ann Daly, a Professor of Pharmacogenetics, teaches on Newcastle University’s Pharmacology and Biomedical Sciences degrees. She was recently awarded the International Society for the Study of Xenobiotics (ISSX) European Scientific Achievement award. This award celebrates Professor Daly’s “substantial and sustained scientific contributions to the field of xenobiotic disposition spanning more than four decades”. She is the first woman to ever receive this award.

Ann explains that she was inspired to pursue a career in STEM having been fascinated by the sciences at school:

“I was originally interested in chemistry, however, I found human biology and biochemistry fascinating at University and have been an active researcher in this general area now for many years.

 I enjoy my job because it’s so varied – no two days are the same. There are great opportunities to train young scientists and also to work with other researchers world-wide.

If you’re interested in a career in STEM, go for it. There are a large number of different opportunities. The subjects you will need to study are not easy but there is plenty of help available and few barriers now to rewarding careers in STEM for women.”

 

Dr Marion Pfeifer, Lecturer in Ecology, Conservation & Management

Working within the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Marion Pfeifer’s research focuses on ecology and conservation, exploring how different species may react to climate change and human-modified landscapes.

Marion’s current research investigates the resilience of ecosystems and human /wildlife conflicts. Marion explains:

“There are a lot of arguments about how authorities should approach protected areas, whether they should be fenced or not.

Fencing, for example, can interfere with the natural territories and habitat of the wildlife. The counter argument is that people have to live with these animals, which may pose a danger to life, ruin crops or create hazards on the roads and so on. It’s an interesting topic for our research group.”

 

Emma Stevenson, Professor of Sport & Exercise Science

Emma Stevenson joined Newcastle University in 2015 to lead the developments in Sport and Exercise Science in the Faculty of Medical Sciences.

Emma’s work concentrates on the role of nutrition in exercise performance:

“Initially I got into sport and exercise science through my love of sport and wanting to further understand how the body responds to exercise training and activity.

My research focuses on nutritional interventions to maximise exercise recovery and the effects of exercise and nutritional interventions on appetite regulation and metabolism.

I really enjoy the diversity of my job. It is fantastic to be involved in the development of students and seeing individuals progress through their careers from undergraduate students.

If you’re looking to pursue a career in STEM, talk to as many different people working in the industry as possible. There are some many exciting career opportunities in STEM and many female role models to take inspiration from.”

Work/Life Balance as a Chemical Engineering Student

As a student it can sometimes be difficult to effectively balance your studies with life outside University. In this blog post, stage 4 Chemical Engineering student Sophie Murta tells us about her experiences so far, and how she finds time to unwind.

I’m currently studying MEng Chemical Engineering as a stage 4 student. My main drivers when selecting a university were the staff. This was a huge draw of Newcastle as the staff were all really friendly and down to earth on the open days and this has continued during my time here. Everyone is happy to help whether it be academically or personally. The support in offer at Newcastle is great – not only from the staff but from fellow students also.

Stage 1 – I found stage one a great introduction to university life. The lectures and lab sessions were well structured and allowed the transition from school to university to be as easy as possible. I was also able to quickly make a good group of friends on the course as we would always have lectures together so spent a large proportion of our time together. The Chemical Engineering society was also a great way to make friends and settle in as advice from other students always helps. I always attended the society events as well which is a great way to relax with course mates and spend time together that is not work related.

Stage 2 – I found stage 2 not too different from stage one as the structure was very similar – just a larger workload and some more chemical engineering content. The contact hours slightly drop due to fewer lab sessions and the higher level of independent study required for group assignments and individual work.

Stage 3 – I enjoyed this stage the most so far as I was able to combine the skills and theory I learnt to design a plant from scratch as part of a team and a unit operation in detail. This was a great way to see the standard and quality of work that would be carried out in industry and having one project to focus on that included so many different aspects was really interesting.

Stage 4 – In the masters year the course caters for further learning and specialisation. I chose the standard chemical engineering route with an optional module of process control. Not specialising allowed me to gain a broad understanding of each sector, which I found gave me flexibility when applying for jobs. The other main part of stage 4 is the research project which has allowed me to develop further lab and research skills as I have designed my own experiments and project, which I am able to dictate the direction of. This gives a sense of freedom and autonomy that I feel is preparing me well for the world of work.

To switch off from my course and work I like to get involved with a lot of things that Newcastle has to offer. My hobbies include participating in the student brewing society (StuBrew) which I have been involved in since stage 1. In stage 3 I was elected president of the society, which was a great experience as I was able to work with a fantastic team on a project we were all passionate about. I also enjoy watching sports, going to gigs and eating out with friends all things Newcastle is great for.

During my time at university I have had many part time jobs, from working as a student ambassador at the university to working in bars and restaurants. I have mainly taken these over the summer to allow me to focus on studies during the academic year.

I manage my time by trying to treat my course like a job – I will work 9-5 on weekdays which allows me evenings and weekends to relax or to catch up if I need any additional study time. This allows me to switch off from work and allocate my free time to socialising or other hobbies and interests.

Find out more about Newcastle University’s Chemical Engineering courses here.