Zoe senior design engineer

UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science 

In recognition of this important day to encourage and support females in science, our general manager, Kate, a Design and Technology teacher of many years chatted with our longest standing member of staff, Zoe, senior design engineer and master in mechatronics. This article explains how Zoe’s science interest was initiated and fostered and what she does today as an engineer and to pass on this interest to young girls in her role as a Brownie leader.

How did it start, what were your interests at school when you were younger? 

I didn’t necessarily have a clear direction from early on. I was always interested in understanding how stuff works, taking things apart and doing things with my hands. My dad was a design and technology teacher and my mum a maths and physics teacher. I was lucky to have those influences around me. My dad did all sorts of stuff with me fixing bikes, mixing concrete and wallpapering. We even built a swimming pool once. He got me involved in machining and welding and all kinds of practical skills.

Academically I enjoyed science and maths. I remember getting a prize in what would be year 9 now. We had to do a personal project and I was the only person who elected to do electronics. It was very simple, just a little alarm on a door with a reed switch and a magnet. The design motivation was simply to keep my sister out of my room! I remember feeling proud at the recognition.

So how did you get involved in electronic engineering, what was the journey?

It was just one thing followed by another. I enjoyed engineering and went that way academically. I took the traditional route of A-levels – physics chemistry and maths.  I was quite interested in robotics, but eventually choose a degree in mechatronics. This was a mixed course with mechanics and electronic elements. It was a Masters sandwich course and involved a year working for Merck, Sharp and Dohme, a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Newcastle in their automation department.

You’ve been with EMP Designs for 17 years, since the really early days, so what do you do here and what projects have really stood out?

I’m in the R&D team doing all kinds of things from 3D product design work to software programming, PCB design etc.

I’ve particularly enjoyed the motion control projects. I mean it was exciting when we first did the moving giant rig for Casino Royale some years back, it was a great achievement. And I was just looking back at a 35-axis motion control platform we created a little while back for another big movie. It was a real challenge and great to solve. Then we eventually get to see the design in action on the big screen. The motion control work is different to everything else and brings real variety into the design work.

What advice do you have for girls thinking about getting into science and engineering?

Go for it, you really have nothing to fear and I’ve been supported along my career. I found out only a few years back that my mum wanted to go into engineering, but she was advised not to because in the early 1970s engineering was considered most unsuitable for a woman  and it was very unusual for a woman to study physical science.  At that time, married women stopped work as soon as they had children and career breaks were unheard of.  It was also before the growth of electronic technology so engineering was seen as a heavy industrial and a dirty environment to work in.  Obviously, they were different times and fortunately she had a great teaching career in maths and physics but I felt really sad that she was advised it was not a career for her as a woman.

The industry has moved on significantly. When I joined, women were at a ratio of around 4 in 50 or 60 on my university course, but I believe it’s improved somewhat. But it still has a way to go. There’s such a range of tasks, activities and areas in engineering, it involves all sorts of multi-tasking and skills, so it equally needs a variety of people doing it. Girls should see it as an open door with plenty of different opportunities for them.

And what about encouraging the younger generations?

Yes, that’s important. I’m a Brownie leader and we make a real effort to get girls interested in all sorts of different technology, from computer programming and chemistry activities to exposure to tools – last week we were screwing and hitting nails into potatoes! Although opportunities are pretty equal in schools here, peer pressure and expectations can still have a stifling effect. As much as anything it’s about looking at the attitudes and trying to impress on today’s girls that they really can do anything they want to.

To find out more about the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science click here.

If you are a female electronics student in the Camberley area looking for work experience or an apprenticeship, find out more about opportunities at EMP Designs here.