Are you an aspiring engineer? Or want to know more about how you can help to #ShapeTheWorld? We meet a group of inspiring women doing just that…

Today, the 23 June, marks the seventh annual International Women In Engineering Day, a day that exists to celebrate the good things women in engineering do across the world. The goal for 2020 is to reach as many people as possible and to celebrate how engineers make the planet a better, safer and more innovative place to be. This year’s theme #ShapeTheWorld encourages more people to become involved in the industry by showcasing women working at every level of engineering.

Elizabeth Donnelly MSc FRSA MRAeS MINCOSE, CEO of the Women’s Engineer Society (pictured below), says: “The Women’s Engineering Society is thrilled that Envision Virgin Racing is involved with Formula E. Our theme for International Women in Engineering Day 2020 (INWED) is Shape the World and we are celebrating the Top 50 Women in Engineering: Sustainability this year too. Engineers will be at the heart of solutions to climate change, and it’s great to see that motor racing can show that even some of the fastest cars in the world don’t have to damage the environment. It’s also fantastic that women feature as engineers and test drivers since diversity in any team always adds value.”

Elizabeth Donnelly, CEO of the Women’s Engineer Society

Envision Virgin Racing exists to accelerate the transition to clean, secure and affordable renewable energy and mass adoption of e-mobility and engineers are at the heart of this mission. The team works with a variety of engineers throughout its ecosystem and their inspiring stories explain the roles they play in developing technology to #ShapeTheWorld…

FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCE

Serena Potts is completing an MSc in Advanced Motorsport Engineering at Cranfield University and is currently completing her thesis in collaboration with Envision Virgin Racing.

Serena Potts in action [Image courtesy of Inked hand images motorsport photography]
What did you want to be when you were younger? ​I didn’t always know what I wanted to go into, I just knew that I was always up for a challenge and kept pursuing the science streams in college and then university. This led me to pursue Materials Engineering. But it was towards the end of my degree that I fell into motorsport through friends and started to make plans for working in the industry.

How long did this take and are there any professional qualifications you need for the role?
My engineering degree back in Canada was a four year programme that I completed in five years with the addition of an industrial placement year. My current MSc course is a one-year programme. Previously, I interned in flight simulation, metallurgy and most recently British GT3. I think these internships were invaluable in terms of experience and developing as an engineer.

Have you been supported at university and engaged in any STEM projects or women in motorsport initiatives?
​My undergraduate university had excellent engagement for women who wanted to pursue engineering, from university clubs to networking events. The materials programme itself had a high enrolment rate of female students, I think close to 45%. I always felt surrounded and encouraged by like-minded peers. Motorsport obviously feels different, but it is such a welcoming environment to new engineers. The technical director and the team manager from JRM, the British GT3 team, were both a source of support and motivation.

What does your day-to-day job look like? ​
During the season, my workdays were limited to race weekends as in between I was completing my MSc course. This involved working from the factory office in Silverstone during race days. We usually arrived about an hour before the first practice session and left after the actual race. At the moment, I am working on my thesis from home with weekly communication to my project lead at Envision Virgin Racing.

Have you been involved in any projects that inspire women to work in engineering?
I attended a Women-in-Engineering event at Mercedes F1 earlier this year through Cranfield University. Previously, in my undergrad degree I was a part of POWE (Promoting Opportunities for Women in Engineering). We ran everything from university social events to conferences for encouraging high school girls to pursue engineering.

INSTINCTIVE RACING

Eeti Sharma works as an AVP in data science for Genpact, working close with the Envision Virgin Racing engineering team to understand design and implement analytical solutions to improve driver performance.

Genpact’s Eeti Sharma works close with the team’s engineers

What was your favourite subject at school?
Ironically, the two subjects I found most interesting at school were poles apart – quantitative subjects like mathematics and physics on theone hand and languages on the other hand – the logic of one and the abstraction of the other.

How did you enter the motor racing industry?
When I was starting out in my career, there was growing appreciation in business about the value of data. Since then, the scale, scope and complexity of data generation, storage, analysis, and application have grown manifold. I have been in the industry of creating competitive advantage by generating insights from data for over 17 years now. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to apply my experience to the world of motorsport.

What does your day-to-day job look like?
Very exciting to say the least! With large doses of ideation, brainstorming and experimentation.

How is this structured?
We work with the engineering team to understand design and implement analytical solutions to improve driver performance. Specifically we work with four streams of data : 1) Meta data from the racing car 2) Drivers’ reaction and cognitive data to understand their mental decision making models 3) External data such as weather conditions, track conditions, wind speed and direction etc. 4) Data on competitor’s driving style using machine learning and AI. These form the input to our model that comes up with near real time analysis and insight that the driver can act upon to perform in  the race.

How have you seen the industry change in recent years?
The industry has seen and continues to see a massive change.  The most dramatic shift has been in “how” the business is conducted – the technology, the leverage of data; how the sport engages with its fans and, the growing prominence of sustainability. There is also a deliberate and conscious effort to draw more women across the variety of roles that the industry offers.

UNDER THE SKIN

Maria Persson is a Senior R&D Textile Expert and Teijin Aramid, who are currently supporting the development of new fabric solutions which may be worn by the drivers and mechanical crew.

Teijin’s Maria Persson

What did you need to study/what qualifications did you need?
I completed both a BSc and an MSc in mechanical engineering specialising in textile technology at the Swedish School of Textile, including an exchange semester at the University of Manchester, where I studied polymer and textile science. During this time, a guest lecture on textiles in medical applications inside the body spoke to my passion for textiles in extreme environments. I completed my master’s thesis on the use of three-dimensional scaffolds for bone tissue engineering. I continued this research for my Ph.D. at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Oulu in Finland.

What are the key skills you need to work in your role?
Good communication skills and cultural understanding are critical. Working in an international environment and interact with different roles e.g., customers, sales, engineering etc requires that you can adapt the way you work and communicate. Within R&D, it is important to be curious, creative, and analytical. One definitely needs to enjoy solving problems!

Do you continue to have training or education suitable for your role?
Yes, definitely. My three first months within my current position was dedicated to training.  Each team member shared their knowledge and gave me different task to solve. During my time within Teijin I also had the opportunity to take training in marketing as well as Dutch language training since I am based in the Netherlands.

What is the best part about working in engineering?
Working as an engineer one can be both creative and analytical – a balance I appreciate in my daily work.

What is your dream role?
I already have my dream role! I love being an R&D textile engineer. One dream application would be space suits. I would love to be part of a team to develop the next generation space suits. This would be an amazing challenge and a great opportunity to further apply my skills and passion.

FAST APPROACH

Elizabeth McBeth is a design engineer for STANLEY Engineered Fastening where she works on the new product development of fasteners.

Stanley’s Elizabeth McBeth

What did you want to be when you were younger?
When I was much younger, I wanted to be a herpetologist or an astronaut! I was that little girl who had her head in the clouds and was constantly watching documentaries like Crocodile Hunter and Blue Planet, while building cardboard cut-outs of the ISS or making robots out of Lego. I honestly didn’t have a clue what was going to happen after school, but then, who does? When I got a bit older and started having to make those all important decisions on options for GCSEs and A levels, I had one rule: stick to the subjects that you enjoy and then hopefully the paths that present themselves to you, will be of interest.

What did you need to study/what qualifications did you need?
I studied BEng Hons Aerospace Engineering with Space Technology at university, which needed an A level in at least mathematics and physics (or equivalent collage qualifications) as prerequisites.

What are the key skills you need to work in your role?
Constant communication and transparency within the teams is vital. Engineers are often naturally introverts (as I am), and so it can be difficult to keep that constant flow of communication when you are buried eye-deep within the details of a project. Also, there is this strange balance between flexibility and being concrete in an approach or thought process and knowing when to switch between the two. In the early stages of design, the scope can change very quickly depending on the many different factors that weigh into it and it’s easy to get lost in the details early on. When finalizing a design there is a certain point of no return and that is where the eye for detail comes in.

What is your dream role?
Ultimately, I want to be working as a specialist in the industry. I would like it where people will feel comfortable coming to me with questions about my expertise as part of a fully integrated member of a Research and Development team.

What is the best part about working in engineering?
The detective work and the satisfaction of finally getting to the right answer. Engineering I have found is often more about problem solving than anything else – which I love.

Have you been involved in any projects that inspire women to join STEM?
I was invited to shadow the GreenLight4Girls event back in October 2019. That was an interesting day and everyone seemed so involved in the events that were going on. I remember thinking “I would have loved to come to something like this when I was at school”.

You can learn more about International Women In Engineering Day or to gain a better understanding of how you too can help to #ShapeTheWorld here