Take a walk around any STFC facility and you’ll find many female scientist and engineers working on our groundbreaking projects. But, as research and statistics show, women are less inclined to go into careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). For organisations like ours, this is a massive loss of talent in terms of technical skills and personal abilities.
That’s why we’re dedicated to attracting more women to study STEM degrees – and to come to work for us. STFC does everything it can to ensure we are a great place for women to excel and progress their careers. At the same time you can maintain a proper balance with your life outside work – as proved by the many STFC employees who are bringing up families and following an incredible range of interests.
As well as offering flexible working (and a very popular nursery/crèche at RAL), we provide networking and mentoring opportunities for our female employees, together with tailored leadership development. There is nothing to limit your potential or career choices.
Find out how some of our female employees feel about working at STFC.
We’re proud to be committed to the principles of the Athena SWAN Charter, which addresses gender inequality in academic and related organisations.
Barbara joined STFC in 2004 as a research scientist in the Computational Science and Engineering Department, and was promoted to senior research scientist a year later. Born in Italy, she studied and worked in her home country, Germany and Belfast before making the move to STFC.
As I embarked on my Physics degree my intention was to become a school teacher. When I had the chance to do research as an undergraduate I discovered that I loved it. Science is an immense playground for people like me who like solving problems and applying their logic to disentangle complex matters.
Have you ever asked yourself why materials look and behave so differently? For example, why is iron magnetic and aluminium is not? My area of research is computational materials science. I seek to understand how the properties of materials arise from their atomic structure. I do this by running complex programs on supercomputers. I then apply my analytical skills to the data I obtain, until I find a pattern that leads me to understand the origin of a certain property.
Over a decade ago I invented in my mind a fictitious material as the simplest system to test our theories on. Unknown to me, scientists elsewhere were already making this in the lab and were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work a few years later. They named this material graphene. I was among the first scientists to study the magnetic properties of this fascinating system.
I have access to state of the art computational resources and to a great community of dedicated scientists and administrators. STFC is a very family friendly employer (I am a mother of twins), strongly committed to promoting diversity and equality in the workplace.
The learning and development opportunities are also fantastic. I have, for instance, been selected for the Accelerated Development Programme, a special programme aimed at training STFC employees to become the future directors of the organisation.
Do not be put off by the fear of not being able to combine your career with having a family. Seek instead to create the circumstances in which what you want to achieve can become reality.
Having studied Electrical & Electronic Engineering in Aberdeen, Lisa started working at STFC in 1985 and has been here since, apart from a 4 year career break for maternity. In 1995 she completed a MSc in VSLI Design and became a chartered engineer.
I wanted to do electronic engineering because it was at the forefront of technology. CAD design has become increasingly complex and challenging associated with major recent developments. I like that I am continuously learning new things and nothing ever lets you become complacent.
I work as a microelectronic engineer and have seen my role evolve over the number of years I have been here. I started coding rules for verification of design before manufacture, but I now increasingly support engineers across Europe working with various design kits. I became a chartered engineer in 1995.
Completing my STFC sponsored MSc project, while working full time and having to look after a 3 year old is my proudest achievement. It gave me an immense sense of satisfaction.
I find the STFC work environment very stable and flexible. I feel that the training provided here is excellent. There is a huge satisfaction associated in working with users, especially when I receive thank you cards from them telling me that they wouldn’t have completed the design without me.
Hard work is the key to success. The sky is the limit when you aim for it.
Sarah joined STFC in 2000 in the Space Science Division of RAL Space as an instrument scientist on a European mission to the Moon. She subsequently worked in Head Office on strategic issues before moving back to RAL Space as a project manager. She became Electronics Group Leader in the Imaging Systems Division and recently took on the role of Division Head.
I’ve always loved looking at the stars. From a young age I wanted to travel to them. Although becoming an astronaut has not been possible for me, it was the desire to become one that drove me to the science and engineering role that I have now. I am very fortunate to be working in an area that I have loved since childhood.
I’m a project manager building camera electronics that will fly into space to look at the Sun and planets. I’m also the Group Leader of a team of 16 electronics engineers. No day is ever the same and that’s what I like about my job. My day may consist of running meetings, checking progress of hardware manufacture, liaising with my customers, writing proposals or reporting to senior management. My biggest sense of achievement comes from “getting things done”, whether that be day-to-day tasks or the final delivery of flight hardware.
From a personal perspective, the fact that I have a great work life balance is my greatest achievement, made possible by a very flexible and understanding management. I am the very proud mother of two young children and am fortunate to be able to balance the demands of both aspects of my life very well indeed.
It’s the variety of work and the fact that it is possible to switch career path to match your skills. There can’t be many places where you can do that and it is great to know that I have the chance to achieve my potential here.
Make sure it is something that it is that you enjoy doing otherwise you will never be able to give it 100% and achieve your potential. Most of all, go for it – you’ll never get to where you want to be unless you try.
After A Levels, Lauren went to University to study English. A few months in, she realised it wasn’t what she wanted to do. She found the ideal alternative in STFC’s Apprenticeship Programme. On its completion, she was offered a full time role at RAL Space. As well as working full-time she is also studying for a degree in Electronic Engineering at Oxford Brookes University.
I’m interested in Astronomy, so the chance to work at RAL (home of RAL Space) was what led me to STFC. I’ve also always enjoyed hands on work, taking things apart and putting them back together.
Assembly work of space flight electronics to ESA (European Space Agency) standards. I’m also qualified as an ESA Inspector which means that I occasionally inspect flight hardware to ensure it meets the strict requirements!
In 2011 I received the ‘Apprentice Achievement’ award at the annual awards evening – this was for balancing the demands of my apprenticeship with playing ice hockey for Team GB at international level. I’m continuing to balance work with playing for my local team and Team GB now.
Being able to work on projects that are at the leading edge of science and space exploration is infinitely rewarding. For example, last year I completed some of the electronic assembly for the International Space Station – which has now been fitted, so to know that something I was a part of is now in space is incredible.
For a career in engineering I’d definitely recommend an apprenticeship. This has enabled me to gain invaluable skills and experience whilst achieving all of the necessary qualifications.
Barbara studied in Italy and came to the UK at the end of 1997, and subsequently worked on an experiment at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre in California and then on one of the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva. In September 2009 she joined the STFC Futures Programme and took on leadership of developing a strategy for cancer care for STFC.
When I was 14 I was captured by a television programme on the life and work of Albert Einstein. I became fascinated by the quest to discover the workings of the Universe and its composition. My love for physics grew with time and I decided that a career in physics research was what I wanted.
I lead the development of an STFC strategy for cancer care. The main part of my job is to network with the oncologists, medical physicists, and other NHS employees and with university groups supported by STFC as well as STFC staff across the country. I am also responsible for a project that investigates the application of particle physics technologies to cancer imaging and that is part of a large European Collaboration.
Having found a role that allows me to use physics and technology to provide better diagnosis and treatment for one of the most diffused and threatening illnesses of present times, cancer, and for the benefit of the wider society. I know that this role will allow me to make a difference to the lives of many people.
I find it great and fulfilling that I have the freedom to organise my work in a way that makes the best use of my strengths. I also believe that, in STFC, everybody can find a niche, a place for their key strengths that was not filled before. This was certainly the case for me: STFC provided an opportunity, I was able to take it, and this is why I enjoy working here.
There will always be difficult moments. But you will live through it and come out at the other end much stronger. And remember, no matter how difficult a situation may be, there is always a way out.
After leaving school, Sonya explored a number of careers, including enrolling on a Beauty Therapy course. Ultimately she decided on customer services, which led to role as a Human Resources Administrator at STFC. It was during this time she came across a vacancy for Cleanroom Optical Technician.
I had reached a point in my Customer Service career where I felt I needed a new challenge. I saw an opportunity to do something new and exciting with my life and decided to take a chance. I feel it was one of the best moves I have ever made. This new role has allowed me to continue my learning and broaden my career path for the future.
I have a range of responsibilities within the Central Laser Facility Cleanroom and the Vulcan Laser Area, such as assembling equipment and controlling stocks. I also carry out alignment work on the laser system and rectify any faults, inspect optics and replace any damaged ones and work with colleagues to provide laser shots to experimental users’ targets.
The 3 Year Apprenticeship which I enrolled in when taking on my role as a Cleanroom Optical Technician. It was a tough 3 years going back to education along with trying to learn a new job, but it was definitely worth it when I received my results back from College saying I had been awarded a Double Grade Distinction.
Everything from the people I work with (and even the ones I don’t), being friendly helpful and supportive, to the enjoyment of achieving new things at work and learning new things every day. At STFC you are made to feel like a valued member of staff which is very important and helps to keep me motivated.
Do it! Every day is different and throws up new challenges. I’m surrounded by some very intellectual people that are very inspiring. That helps me to keep progressing myself. My confidence has also grown hugely, which is something I always lacked before. It’s very empowering and has also helped me to achieve new goals outside of the workplace which I may have never attempted otherwise.
Sarah attended secondary school in Ireland, where she was one of only six girls taking Physics at Leaving Certificate (the Irish equivalent of A-levels) and only one of two doing applied mathematics. After a BSc in Physics and Music, she joined the Radio Communications Research Unit at RAL in 1999 – and has been at STFC since.
At the end of the day, I wanted to be able to feel like my job was making a difference to the world, no matter how small a difference that was. Science gives you the opportunity to learn things that no one else knows yet, and that’s really cool (as far as I’m concerned anyway).
I’m currently a project manager for the British Atmospheric Data Centre. One day I can be presenting at a meeting or workshop somewhere in the UK, or farther afield, the next I’ll be in the office having teleconferences with people from the USA, Europe, South Africa and Japan. Another day I’ll be drafting a journal paper, or writing up guideline documents, or interviewing other scientists about their opinions on a topic, or writing a bid proposal.
I’m really enjoying the work I’m doing to make data citation and publication a part of the scientific process. This work is important because it gives the scientists who spend an awful lot of time carefully creating datasets the chance to be formally recognised and rewarded for their efforts. It’s also good for science as a whole, because in order to formally publish a dataset, it needs to be stored in a safe archive where it can be found and read again, rather than on a CD in a desk drawer somewhere.
Don’t feel like the only way to get into science is by doing a university degree, then a PhD at another university, then moving into research. Sometimes the non-standard routes provide the best experience.