1) What is the Women in Engineering network, why was it formed and what are its aims?

The Women in Engineering (WiE) network was established in 2012 within the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford. Its mission is to support and promote gender diversity within engineering. The network has been revived in the year 2022 and organizes several one of an kind events such as networking gatherings, social events, career development workshops, educational seminars like the “Lunch and Learn” talks, panel discussions and outreach activities.

The WiE community is comprised of postdoctoral research assistants, graduate students, undergraduate students, and other academic staff, making it a diverse and vibrant group of female engineers at different career stages and from various engineering disciplines. Over time, WiE has grown into a supportive and dynamic community.

In collaboration with the Department, WiE addresses gender diversity issues and strives to encourage more girls to pursue engineering as a career. The network is dedicated to helping women achieve their professional aspirations and supporting them in realizing their goals and dreams.

2) How did you get involved in WiE – what is your background and what do you gain and also share from being part of the network?

I have always been fascinated with the idea of joining societies and networks that empower women, particularly women in engineering, as an engineer myself. My academic journey began with a B.Eng. (Medallist) in Materials Science and Engineering from the College of Engineering, Anna University, Chennai. I then pursued a Master of Science in Materials Science and Engineering from the National University of Singapore. Currently, I am working on my Ph.D. in Materials Engineering in the Department of Materials at Oxford University, focusing on polymer-based nanocomposites with enhanced dielectric properties for alternating current electroluminescent devices.

Being part of WiE has been an enriching experience. I have had the privilege of working with a vibrant and supportive committee comprised of members from various engineering backgrounds. This diversity has broadened my intellectual horizons and helped me develop key personality traits, as well as moral, professional, and work ethics.

As the President of WiE, I have honed my leadership skills, which come with significant responsibilities. These include networking, keeping members focused on our goals, creating new sponsorship opportunities, and collaborating on innovative events. This year, we will launch our first ever mentorship scheme, which is a wonderful addition to our initiatives.

I am thrilled to share that this year has been remarkable for WiE. For the first time in our history, we secured a record number of sponsors and witnessed an overwhelming turnout for our INWED( International Women in Engineering Day)  event. INWED’-24, held last Friday, included a range of activities such as outreach in the morning, a departmental lunch, a panel discussion with esteemed speakers, a quiz, and a poster session. Our efforts received massive recognition, turning what started as a small dream into a movement gaining significant momentum.

Additionally, we have revolutionized our logo and produced a one-of-a-kind banner that is eye-catching and represents our goals in three words: Inspire, Innovate, and Empower.

3) One of the WiE commitments is to raise issues relevant to gender diversity, what is the gender balance like in academia and how you go about supporting the community of women engineers to feel empowered in environments where they are in the minority?

In academia, there is still a significant gender imbalance, especially in engineering. To address this, we believe in the importance of various initiatives that promote and support women in this field. Creating awareness at an early stage of academic life is crucial. By introducing young girls to engineering through workshops, school visits, and real-life lab tours, we can spark their interest and provide a sneak peek into the life of a woman engineer.

Having more role models is essential. Women academics sharing their thoughts and experiences can inspire aspiring engineers. These interactions help demystify the field and demonstrate that successful careers in engineering are attainable for women.

At Women in Engineering (WiE), we are committed to organizing events that foster this supportive environment. Networking events, coffee chats, and our participation in events such as GENSTEM every year aim to uplift and promote women from minority sectors. These events provide a platform for women to exhibit and share their research, facilitating discussions on critical issues such as the wage gap and the challenges encountered in leadership roles. By inviting academics to these discussions, we create opportunities for mentorship and advice, which are invaluable for women at all stages of their careers, from Bachelor’s and Master’s students to PhD candidates, postdocs, and established academics.

Empowerment starts with us. Small steps, such as supporting each other through acts of kindness, collaboration, and teamwork, can lead to significant changes. Valuing and appreciating our peers’ research, motivating more women to become role models, and fostering a “we are in this together” attitude are key components of this empowerment.

One of our memorable events was a movie night where we watched “Picture A Scientist.” The film sparked a discussion about the challenges faced by women in science and engineering and what we can do to create the change needed to achieve quick wins in gender balance. These conversations are vital in shaping our approach and initiatives moving forward.

Together, through these initiatives and our collective efforts, we can promote a more inclusive and balanced academic environment in engineering, encouraging more women to pursue and excel in this field.

4) What are your experiences of being a female engineer?

The course I pursued—Materials Science and Engineering—enjoys a relatively better gender balance compared to Mechanical Engineering, which I was a part of during my undergraduate studies. Despite this, workshops and technical roles were still predominantly male-dominated. This gender disparity is prevalent in many developing countries. However, my experience in Singapore was notably different. There, I observed a more diverse and gender-balanced environment with many women professors and colleagues, which made the lab settings more inclusive.

Throughout my academic and professional journey, I have had the opportunity to intern in various industrial units, such as an Oil & Gas Company, a Petroleum Research Centre, and a Manufacturing Company. These internships were invaluable in developing my skillset and gaining practical career-related insights. Nevertheless, the gender imbalance was starkly evident, with only a few women engineers present. This environment often felt uninspiring and out of place, as I frequently found myself to be one of the very few women in these settings.

Additionally, I noticed a trend where the roles offered to me involved less fieldwork and more office tasks. This disparity further highlighted the gender-based biases within these industries. My journey has not been without its challenges. I struggled to find support from women and had to adapt to a male-dominated system, consistently exhibiting a strong mindset to deal with my male colleagues.

These experiences have fuelled my passion for promoting gender balance in engineering. By sharing my story and working within the Women in Engineering (WiE) network, I aim to support and inspire other women to pursue their passions in engineering and overcome the challenges they may face in this field. Empowering women through mentorship, networking, and creating inclusive environments is essential for fostering diversity and innovation in engineering.

5) Who is your inspiration and why?

Kalpana Chawla has always been my inspiration. Her legacy is one of courage, optimism, and incredible achievement. As the first Indian-origin woman to go to space, she broke numerous racial and gender barriers, demonstrating that women can achieve whatever they set their minds to. Her story inspires millions of girls from small towns in India and across the world, showing them that dreams can indeed become reality.

In addition to Kalpana Chawla, I draw immense inspiration from my supportive family. My father, in particular, has been a significant influence. Coming from a humble background, he accomplished incredible feats and—most importantly—introduced me to the field of engineering, especially metallurgical engineering. His journey and achievements instilled in me the values of hard work, perseverance, and the importance of pursuing one’s passions.

These sources of inspiration have fuelled my own journey in engineering, motivating me to break barriers and strive for excellence in my field.