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Women in Engineering Day: A Spotlight on Women Engineers in Space

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Each year on the 23rd June, we celebrate the impressive and inspiring women in engineering careers. The day is hosted by the Women in Engineering Society and is designed to raise the profile of women who are excelling in engineering, as well as to inspire future generations of female talent to enter the field.

Recent reports by Engineering UK suggest that the workforce needs more than 124,000 people with level 3+ engineering skills and yet, each year, there is a shortfall of more than 56,000 qualified engineers. Not only that but this very report indicates that there are 20,000 fewer graduates studying engineering-related degrees than is required to keep pace with demand. And despite women making up more than 47% of the UK workforce overall, this figure drops significantly to only 12% when we look at women in engineering roles. The same is true for the space sector, in which this year’s Space Skills Alliance report indicates that women make up just 29%. 

Which leads us to International Women in Engineering Day; a moment in which we can highlight the gender disparity within the engineering sector, whilst at the same time showcasing the engineers that are working hard to make positive change. 

At the South Coast Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications we spoke with four incredible engineers who are working at the forefront of the space sector and who clearly demonstrate that women who choose engineering within the space sector, find that exciting, rewarding and flexible career paths are open to them. The possibilities within tech are endless, and if you are interested in new perspectives and enjoy problem solving – this field could be for you.

 

Pamela Anderson Head of Institutional Engagement AAC Clyde Space 

Pamela Anderson is a Chartered Engineer with a PhD in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from University of Strathclyde. Having worked as a Systems Engineer at Clyde Space, and was a ESA Business Applications UK Ambassador, a Researcher at Satellite Applications Catapult, with skills in research, mission analysis, mathematical modelling and much more Pam is now Head of Institutional Engagement at AAC Clyde Space. 

How do you feel about your job in engineering? 

I feel so lucky, I love my job and AAC Clyde Space is such an exciting place to work, we have so many thrilling missions that are coming up all the time, yesterday we had a satellite (MIR-SAT 1)  launched off the International Space Station which was the 1st Mauritian satellite ( designed in collaboration with MRIC and built by AAC Clyde Space) and although on this occasion I had no part in that, it is wonderful to be part of a culture in which things like that are always happening.”

How did you get into the field? 

From a young age, I enjoyed maths and science at school. I also had a great physics teacher who recognised that I had an interest in space even before I did – eventually encouraging me to partake in the  Scottish Space School, a programme which demonstrated to me the breadth of jobs available in the space sector – you can be an engineer / scientist – endless opportunity.  And that led me to mechanical engineering. 

Why is Women in Engineering Day important? 

Women in Engineering Day is an opportunity to show young girls  what is possible. The opportunities in engineering are endless and I would encourage anyone to pursue an engineering career. If you have an interest in problem solving or understanding how things work then don’t be put off by any perceived barriers. As an engineer you have the chance to have a rewarding career and make a difference.

What is your advice to young women today? 

If you are interested at all in maths / science / language / communications engineering has such a wealth of opportunities to offer you – and if that excites you – you should go for it! 

Anita Bernie Strategy and Business Execution at KISPE Space | Board Member of AAC Clyde Space | Honorary Group Captain RAF 601 Squadron |

Anita Bernie leads Strategy and Execution activities at KISPE Space Systems Limited she is also a member of the Board of Directors at nanosatellite pioneers AAC Clyde Space and an Honorary Group Captain in Royal Air Force 601 Squadron. She graduated with an Aerospace Engineering Degree and an MBA. Prior to working at KISPE she worked at Surrey Satellite Technology Limited as Director of Exploration Missions and Director of Platforms and Demonstration missions.

How did you get into Engineering in the Space Sector and what do you enjoy about it? 

I have always been a space geek and I have a real passion for what space can do. Reflecting on my job and engineering in general, I love the fact that I get to solve problems every day – it’s how I am personally wired. And that is one of the things I want to impress upon those that are considering engineering – it’s such a creative discipline giving you a wealth of opportunities to solve problems. 

I graduated with an Aerospace Engineering Degree – during that degree I also did a year in Industry, which is something that I want to highlight. The chance to gain relevant experience adds a real value and credibility to any job application – it shows how interested you are in that field, and also gives you the chance to see what it’s like to work in an engineering organisation. 

What do you enjoy about your job? 

I was attracted to join KISPE because of the opportunity that the Farnborough start-up offered to develop a team of systems thinkers and experts and to solve challenging space and telecoms engineering problems for the betterment and enhancement of mankind. Key areas include driving order-of-magnitude improvements in the price: performance point of small satellite systems to stimulate new missions, applications and services, Satellite 4.0 and Space Situational Awareness.

Why is Women in Engineering Day Important? 

Women in Engineering Day is a focal point in the year, to promote the work of female engineers all around the world – and to spread the message widely – engineering is for YOU!. I love getting involved in STEM outreach with  young boys and girls, who think that they can do anything, because it’s over time that many people – women and girls in particular – are socialised to doubt themselves and think that perhaps engineering and the space sector are not for them. That influence comes from society – so we need to catch and encourage people whilst they are young and to promote the message that talent comes from everywhere. Women make up 50% of society – how could we ignore that! 

What is your advice to young women today? 

Whatever opportunities you have, just take them – accept that engineering is a hard discipline, there will be challenges and problems to solve along the way – but don’t be afraid to say “yes”. 

Take the initiative to build your networks, you never know who might be able to help you out in the future – and you might also be able to help them, it’s important to remember that the human connection cannot be ignored. The space business is at heart a people business.

 

Kavitha Muthu Commercialisation and Business Development Lead – Earth Observation 

Kavitha Muthu is a Commercialisation and Business Devlopment Lead and previously was a ESA Business Applications UK Ambassador, a Space Innovation Facilitator at Satellite Applications Catapult, Earth Observation Engineer at CGI and much more. Her PhD in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Surrey developed a new integrated Earth Observation approach for producing landslide- hazard maps. 

How did you get into Engineering? 

I was inspired to study engineering by my father, who was a telecoms engineer. In some ways a typical Indian father, he had 3 children and he wanted us all to achieve great things and become engineers. For me it was important to have that role model and he was my first inspiration! Which is why I think that International Women in Engineering Day is so important because it gives the younger generation an opportunity to be inspired. And it’s a chance to reach out to people, to get in touch and to begin building those all important networks! 

What is your advice to young women today? 

I want to inspire not just the young women but also the parents of those young women who might be interested in engineering so that they learn – this is for your daughters too! I always think back to my mother, who completed her academic studies but didn’t pursue her career once she started her family and of course she had some regrets about that. If you are a young woman who is interested in solving problems – engineering is really for you! 

 

Rida E Zainab Spacecraft Algorithms Engineer -CGI 

Rida Zainab is a Spacecraft algorithms engineer at CGI, working for space on-board systems (ExoMars Rover). She with significant experience in scientific data processing algorithms and is interested in research and algorithmic development for space systems, particularly for interplanetary manned and unmanned missions. She graduated from the University of Westminster with a BA in Computer Systems Engineering. 

What do you do? 

I am a Spacecraft Software Engineer at CGI as well as being a STEM Ambassador and a volunteer researcher for the Space Generation Advisory Council. My main role involves working on complex scientific algorithms for mission critical software on-board ESA’s ExoMars rover. The main objective of this mission is to search for past/present life on Mars. And we are also working on a satellite called Smile – which is exploring the sun and earth connection, the interaction of the solar winds and the impact on earth. My time is spent doing the design and development for the spacecraft flight software. 

How did you get into Engineering in the Space Sector? 

I have always been interested in all things space since I was a child. I am from Pakistan, and growing up I used to sit on our roof  looking at the night-sky spotting the constellations and waiting impatiently for rocket launches. And all of this led me to think – maybe I can be one of those people working on the coolest tech – that literally takes you out of this work – and now I am! 

Later on my family moved to the UK and I got a chance to pursue my passion. During my A levels, a STEM ambassador visited my sixth form where she told us her story of how she changed her career 3 times to find the right fit for her – which was Nuclear Engineering. She also explained to us how every single unrelated job she had up until that point (even horse riding!) developed her skills and made her a good fit for her current role. Her story stuck with me over the years and even though I did not get to study my preferred degree in aerospace engineering for financial reasons, I made a decision to stick with engineering as it would eventually lead me to my goal of working in the space sector – and I was right! All  those hours spent reading research papers on different aspects of space, trying to land my rockets on Mun in Kerbal Space Program and of course my intensive engineering degree finally paid off and I am a much better engineer for it! 

What advice do you have for young women today? 

My message to every young person I meet has always been that if you are passionate about something, you will eventually find a way to get involved in it. Every job you do is going to teach you some skills that will be useful later in life so cherish them. And it might take you a while and it might seem impossible but you will get there. The important thing is to never lose hope.  I also wanted to mention that I myself suffer from imposter syndrome – but you should not let that voice telling you that you are not good enough stop you. Engineering and space are for you!


Chloe McClellan
Media and Communications Assistant
Chloe McClellan is an experienced communicator and social media specialist.