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When Veena joined the College as a lecturer in engineering, she was surprised to see she was the only woman in the department, having come from a country where engineering is seen as a job for all.
Born and raised in India, Veena was encouraged to work hard from an early age with the aim of one day having a career in medicine, science or engineering. For Veena, it was engineering that grabbed her attention, intrigued by the prospect of learning how things work and coming up with creative solutions to help improve people’s lives.
Veena said: “I am from a working-class family in India, and we were told from an early age that studying science or engineering is the best way of improving your prospects. I was always fascinated by how things worked – microwaves, phones – anything electrical. I went on to study electrical and electronics engineering at Bangalore University.”
As newlyweds, Veena and her husband moved to the UK 14 years ago; however, Veena said she found it difficult to get a job in engineering and eventually got a job in HR before having children. After a break to raise her family, Veena was desperate to find a role in engineering, but having struggled in the past, she felt disheartened about her prospects.
Veena added: “I really wanted to use my degree and I looked for inspiration about what to do. It was then it occurred to me that many of the people who had helped to develop my passion for electronics were my lecturers.
“Having relocated to Plymouth from Leeds, I decided to gain some voluntary work to see whether teaching was for me, and I approached the College. I was soon encouraged to apply for a position, and I’ve now been a lecturer here for four years.”
For Veena, it has been a surprise to see how engineering fails to attract more women, both at the College and across the UK. Figures from 2017 showed that women made up just 15.1% of engineering undergraduates in the UK and 11% of the engineering workforce.
She said: “When I started my degree in India, it was roughly 50-50; it really surprised me that it wasn’t the same here. I had plenty of female lectures at university, and I studied alongside many of my female friends.
“Students who come straight from school aren’t as surprised to see a female lecturer – they are used to being taught by women in school; however, for some of the older students and apprentices, I’m often not what they were first expecting.
“While there is a lot of work being done to attract more girls into STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths), I think some of them still believe engineering is a ‘man’s job’ and involves fixing washing machines or working in factories. This isn’t the case: it’s not all jumpsuits and spanners!
“Many fail to realise that anything electronic involves engineers: programming traffic lights using PLCs, designing and programming simple circuits for sensors and alarms using microprocessors, using 2-D and 3-D CAD to draw images for various manufacturing purposes – these are just few examples of the jobs being done by engineers. – neither of which involve getting your hands dirty.”
Studying engineering can lead to a career that has a median salary of £35,000 a year, and women working in the industry report high levels of job satisfaction. Female graduates can also expect to earn the same as their male counterparts thanks to a recent push to close the pay gap. While female students traditionally perform less well in their science and maths GCSEs, the statistics show they perform better than men at undergraduate level.
Veena would encourage any young women who are intrigued by the idea of studying engineering and where it could lead to research the possibilities and to visit the College during an open day or course taster session.