Why aren't there more women engineers?

Every year there is a nationwide shortfall of 10,000 engineering graduates but the problem is particularly acute among women. Just seven per cent of the UK’s 2.3 million engineers are women, the lowest in Europe. As a job, engineering fares even worse in attracting women than other traditionally ‘male’ careers, such as politics (where 22 per cent of MPs are women). So why is this?

To help meet the government’s aim of doubling the number of female engineering and technology graduates by 2030, the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) has set up the first National Women in Engineering Day on 23 June 2014, promoting engineering as a career for women.

To coincide with this, we are delighted to announce the creation of three new women’s fellowships in the Faculty of Engineering and Design:

Dr Marianne Ellis from our Department of Chemical Engineering was recently named as an Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) ‘Rising Star’ – an award that recognises and celebrates scientists and engineers leading research innovation in their field.

She has received a Royal Academy of Engineering /The Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship in order to further her research exploring ways of using tissue engineering to prevent rejection of skin transplants. Her work focuses on the production of cells that ‘teach’ the body to accept the skin grafts, preventing the need for the often problematic immuno-suppressant drugs which leave patients highly susceptible to infection.

Commenting on the issue of recruiting women into engineering, Dr Ellis said: “Unfortunately engineering can sometimes suffer from a bit of an image problem - especially among girls - and it is not widely recognised for the exciting, dynamic careers that it offers. Role models of successful female engineers are really important. At the University of Bath we are trying to raise awareness of engineering as a subject through our schools outreach activities, in order to increase the proportion of girls considering engineering."

Dr Alicia Kim from our Department of Mechanical Engineering will lead a five year project in aerospace research under the EPSRC’s Fellowship for Growth programme, working with partners such as Airbus and NASA Langley.

Dr Kim said: “In order to meet drastic demands and ensure affordable air travel in the future, it is essential that aircraft are made lighter and use minimal fuel. Future aircraft concepts will look very different from present day models. A wing is a highly complex structure to design as it needs to consider the complex interaction between aerodynamics and structural behaviour. This fellowship will allow me to determine the best combination of advanced material and structure configuration, and therefore design an optimum aircraft wing to support different flight missions.”

Dr Laura Torrente Murciano from our Department of Chemical Engineering has been awarded a five year EPSRC-funded fellowship to create a novel manufacturing process to enable the large-scale production of metal nanoparticle-based catalysts and nanostructured materials.

Her cutting edge engineering research will deliver innovative technology to bridge the gap between laboratory experimentation of nanomaterials and their industrial applications with direct social and sustainable benefits. The technology will promote distributed manufacturing and provide competitive advantages to the UK.

The Dean of the Faculty of Engineering & Design, Professor Gary Hawley, said: “It is hugely encouraging to see promising women researchers recognised for their work and furthering their careers in engineering. The University of Bath is committed to engaging with activities at all levels to promote engineering as an exciting, inclusive and rewarding career for young women.”

Earlier this year our Faculty of Engineering & Design launched a set of web pages to support and celebrate the Faculty’s female students, staff and alumni. In April a Student Women in Engineering Group was also formed to build a stronger support network around women studying engineering and further career development and mentoring opportunities.

To find out more about life as a female engineer, follow the Twitter feeds of Dr Ellis (@MarianneJEllis) and Dr Kim (@OptimiserAlicia).

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